16 Days of Activism against GBV: MPs want more than just a 'meaningless box-ticking exercise'

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Protesters wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus, seen during a gender based violence protest outside parliament on June 30, 2020 in Cape Town. Photo by Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images via Getty Images
Protesters wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus, seen during a gender based violence protest outside parliament on June 30, 2020 in Cape Town. Photo by Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • MPs questioned the usefulness of the 16 Days of Activism against GBV campaign.
  • Opposition MPs slammed the government, pointing to the recent crime statistics for sexual violence.
  • Some ANC MPs complained that the opposition was "politicising" the debate.

As the National Assembly debated the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence (GBV) on Thursday, as it does every year, opposition MPs slammed the government and questioned the futility of debating it while the scourge continues, seemingly unabated.

Opening the debate, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said: "Year by year, we come to this honourable house to repeat almost the same thing, with the hope that the nation, overall, will finally hear the cries of women and children, who finds themselves under these difficult conditions of gender-based violence."

She then outlined the government's GBV plans.

DA MP Nazley Sharif said it was rather laughable that the government had adopted "Moving from awareness to Accountability" as the theme for this year's campaign.

"What does this even mean, though? Who is this government that will come here today and take accountability for their failures?" she said.

"What accountability are you talking about? If you are going to run with this theme, you must submit yourself to be held accountable here today, without sounding defensive and pathetic."

She said the fight against GBVF was stagnant, and a plan meant nothing if it was not implemented with precision, political will, efficient teams and strong leadership.

"Your theories, your plans, your repetitive speeches, means nothing. And, for this, you must take accountability. Stop with your rhetoric. No one believes you anymore," Sharif said.

"You can have all the themes you want. You can have all the debates you want. It doesn't change the fact that we live in a country where I can leave Parliament right now after this debate, and I might be harassed, raped, assaulted or murdered. This is the country we live in."

READ | Ramaphosa calls on men to do more to prevent gender-based violence, following staggering rape stats

EFF MP Omphile Maotwe said not only was violence against women growing, but the "level of brutality was also getting more sadistic". 

"The institutions meant to protect women against these crimes seem to be folding their hands or are woefully out of their depth, and do not know what to do with these crimes."

She said the 16 days campaign had become a "meaningless box-ticking exercise", offering no reprieve to women.  

She said:

We are tired of having to participate in this box-ticking exercise every year while women are being killed on a daily basis. We are tired of lip service and expensive functions, yet no results to the protection of women in this country. We are tired of this rhetoric and thinking that gender-based violence and femicide is an occasion and must be looked at within a period of time. We need action manje [now], not tomorrow, not later.

"We need decisive leadership and not the clownish conduct of SAPS and the minister of police."

IFP Magdalena Hlengwa said, while they gathered for the debate, "the women of South Africa are still waging a war against the monster of gender-based violence".

"We cannot begin to debate socio-economic empowerment while our women and children are being slaughtered almost daily, like animals."

FF Plus MP Tammy Breedt said the National Assembly debated gender-based violence and femicide at least 12 times since the start of the Sixth Parliament in 2019.

"And what tangible difference has these debates, these campaigns, these talk shops brought to the female and child victims of abuse? None."

"I am frustrated by the lack of change," she said.

"South Africans are frustrated by the lack of change."

Most opposition speakers used the latest crime statistics to illustrate the government's failure to address the problem.

Between July and September, 897 women were murdered, an increase of 7.7% from the previous year, 287 children were murdered, an increase of 31.7%, and sexual offences increased by 4.7%, with 9 556 rapes, up 7.1% from the previous year's second quarter of 8 922.

MPs also mentioned the backlog in DNA cases and the government's failure to establish the national gender-based violence council. 

READ | Crime Stats: Child murders increase by 31.7% year-on-year, sexual offences up

ACDP Marie Sukers added another issue to the mix – the election of convicted child rapist Jeffrey Donson of Icosa as Kannaland's mayor, with the ANC's backing.

Sukers said:

The Kannaland debacle should have never happened. The African National Congress has further tarnished the legacies of people like Charlotte Maxeke and Albert Luthuli in their support of Icosa. And only after tremendous pressure, it took the decision to withdraw from the agreement.

"This was a terrible example of moral leadership that also tarnished the credibility of President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC as the so-called progressive movement.

"In Kannaland, there is a culture of exploitation that resembles the past, a culture of impunity where young girls are being exploited by men for economic survival – sex for gifts or money.

"The ANC should apologise to the nation for its support of Icosa in that municipality for it endorsed the sexual abuse of minors, the exploitation of women, and it continues to excuse the rape by powerful men in the name of political expediency."

Only one ANC speaker responded to this issue.

ANC MP Simphiwe Mbatha said: "We have distanced ourselves. We are not supporting that mayor."

ALSO READ | ANC withdraws from coalition with Icosa in Kannaland Municipality

Indeed, the ANC, on Wednesday, announced that it would no longer work with Icosa in Kannaland.

Donson was convicted in 2008 of statutory rape, which was widely known before his re-election as mayor.

ANC MPs Jane Mananiso and Xola Nqola complained that the opposition was "politicising" the debate and "playing the blame game".

"It is indeed that, as the ANC, we always emphasise that creating safer communities, healthy and stable cities, it is our responsibility," said Mananiso.

"As government, we have a duty and responsibility to devote the necessary resources to combat crimes of gender-based violence."

She claimed the ANC Women's League adopted programmes that disrupted "national, social and gender oppression".

"This 16 days of activism, it is 16 days of action. As we have seen, we have problems and loopholes in our institutions," she said.

Mbatha said: "Through our words, we have denounced the people who abuse women, children and vulnerable persons, but the violence does not seem to be abating. How should we understand this? 

"How do we explain the fact that our powerful words and condemnation have not had much impact in terms of changing behaviour? My explanation is that evil prevails when the good do nothing."

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