’Plain is GBV hotspot

Many organisations, including retailer Spar – through its virtual women’s challenge – have joined the fight against gender-based violence through pamphlet drives and other initiatives. PHOTO: Samantha Lee Jacobs
Many organisations, including retailer Spar – through its virtual women’s challenge – have joined the fight against gender-based violence through pamphlet drives and other initiatives. PHOTO: Samantha Lee Jacobs

Mitchell’s Plain, along with seven other Western Cape areas, have been named in the top 30 gender-based violence (GBV) hotspots in South Africa.

For months now, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been addressing the topic in his national addresses.

In his September address on moving the country to alert level one of the risk-adjusted strategy, Ramaphosa had also indicated the government had compiled a list of gender-based violence hotspots which would receive attention and intervention.

This list was made public by Police Minister Bheki Cele at a media briefing on Tuesday 22 September.

Of 30 areas on the list, eight are in the Western Cape.

Along with Mitchell’s Plain, Delft, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein, Gugulethu, Mfuleni and Bellville were listed as GBV hotspots. It was also revealed that of the 4 035 arrests during the lockdown, only 130 had been convicted.

This translates to a mere 3% conviction rate nationwide.

In the Western Cape, 1 093 arrests were made, linked to 534 cases since the start of the national lockdown in March.

Gillion Bosman, member of provincial parliament and spokesperson on social development for the Democratic Alliance (DA), says policing and investigating of GBV and domestic violence cases must be improved.

According to a response to a question posed by Parliament at a parliamentary portfolio committee meeting, police revealed training of officers for gender sensitisation in the Western Cape had declined from 1 036 in 2015/16 to less than half of that – 462 in the current financial year.

“This is in spite of the provincial government’s willingness to facilitate further training at stations with especially low levels of compliance to the Domestic Violence Act. And yet this further follows the recent announcement by national Police Minister Bheki Cele on the government’s efforts to curb the GBV pandemic, including new victim support desks at hotspots,” says Bosman.

Bosman says the provincial department of community safety’s plan to assist in bolstering and sensitivity training for officers must be accompanied by a strong Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP), especially in these hotspot areas.

“Against the backdrop of only a 3% conviction rate for GBV cases during the lockdown, the situation is dire and the government must play catch-up with haste,” says Bosman.

“It is, therefore, with a view to continuous, constructive oversight that we cautiously welcome the bolstering of anti-GBV measures, and look forward to support from national police resources as the province takes up minister Cele’s call to identify our own localised hotspots. Neither minister Cele nor the president has given any indication of the amount of funding available for the fight against GBV, either in totality or for provinces.”

Mitchell’s Plain’s position on this list did not come as a surprise to officials working in the GBV space.

Mareldea Sonday of the Mitchell’s Plain Network Opposing Abuse says there has been an overall increase in GBV cases.

“We expected the announcement due to the increase of GBV’s on the whole, we use our casework and statistics as indicators, also the intensity of the cases speaks for itself,” she says.

“We consulted around 1 200 cases (since the start of lockdown) compared to 1 077 last year for the same period.”

The Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association (MURA) too were not surprised by the announcement.

“Considering the high unemployment rate, drug abuse and the out-of-control gang violence in the community, even children are exposed to the violence in society almost on a daily basis,” says Deirdre Petersen of MURA.

The organisation is also currently planning and running subsequent awareness campaigns at community halls on how to access courts for protection orders, marches and support campaigns during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based violence which will begin later this month.

Although based in Mitchell’s Plain, the network assists clients from Johannesburg, Steenberg, Philippi, Khayelitsha, Kenilworth and Delft via a helpline and also facilitates counselling or help to their social media community.

“Factors (contributing to GBV) include alcohol and substance abuse, unemployment and poverty. Then there was the lockdown with people being confined to their spaces, further job losses, lack of space, lack of finance, lack of understanding, lack of value–centred role-models,” says Sonday.

“Power and control as the perception of discipline are being confused with punishment and in the process, self-esteem is broken down. Also, when the basic needs are not being met, then people tend to turn to false satisfiers.”

Community workers Joanie Fredericks and Ursula Peters are some of the many who have spoken out on GBV beyond the recent announcements.

According to them, other community officials and victims who have spoken to People’s Post, GBV and domestic violence have long plagued the area behind closed doors.

Strandfontein community policing forum (CPF) chair, Sandy Schuter Flowers, says GBV and domestic violence are the most prominent cases in the precinct. 

“I have personally spoken to victims of abuse and prompted them to seek protection orders, which they did. Strandfontein police strive to ensure perpetrators are served with their interdicts and that it is delivered on time,” she says. 

Minister for community safety Albert Fritz explains that the use and serving of protection orders is vital in the fight against GBV and domestic violence.

“An interim protection order provides proof that the victim followed the steps for the incident/s of domestic violence to be reported. Once the order is made final, and the respondent contravenes the conditions of the order, the police must arrest the respondent,” he says. “A protection order is an order issued by a court ordering a person with whom one has or has had a domestic relationship to stop the abuse.”

Fredericks, who had personally witnessed her mother being sexually abused by her father and also suffering at his hands while he was intoxicated, was also a victim of sexual violence early in life.

“I will never stop being an advocate for victims of GBV because I see what it has done and experienced it,” she says.

Fredericks further said to People’s Post that alcohol plays a big role in the increase in GBV in Tafelsig where she is based, as abusive partners were locked in their homes with copious amounts of alcohol. 

Peters, who is also a safety parent, says the situation is dire. Working in early childhood development as the owner of a kindergarten, Peters says her door is always open to assist any victims of abuse.

She has also hosted several women empowerment initiatives in the community that encourage women to speak out and seek help. At these initiatives, former victims are invited to share their stories and encourage those who don’t have the strength to walk away.

Petersen calls on any victims of abuse to seek help from organisations which has been established to assist. 

These organisations include Mosaic and the Saartjie Baartman Centre, among others.

Earlier this year, in the first month of the lockdown, provincial social development minister Sharna Fernandez announced upgrades and expansion of services to victims of abuse during the lockdown, with several centres prepared for a possible influx of cases.

Sonday encourages victims to speak out.

The network offers support groups and advice to victims, a process that, although affected due to Covid-19 protocols, continue to assist.

“You are not alone and, most importantly, it’s not your fault. Don’t feel ashamed or scared to reach out. There is help,” she says.

“It is never too late to take that first step to claim your rightful space, you have a purpose, you have potential and you have the power to change your circumstances.”

  • For help, call police on 08600 10111, the department of social development on 0800 220 250 or the domestic violence helpline on 0800 150 150.

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