'It's genocide' - deputy minister of social development on gender-based violence

Deputy Minister of Social Development Henrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu demostrates the Memeza, a panic button for women and children in danger.
Deputy Minister of Social Development Henrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu demostrates the Memeza, a panic button for women and children in danger.
Azarrah Karrim, News24

Deputy Minister of Social Development Henrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu says violence against women in South Africa has reached a genocidal stage.

Speaking at an event hosted by Joko Tea and People Opposing Women Abuse in Johannesburg on Tuesday, which aimed to provide safe spaces for survivors of domestic abuse to speak out and "end their silence", Bogopane-Zulu called for an end to the scourge.

"When we say an 'epidemic' we've reached a stage where we are seeing it's genocide. It's no longer something that we can give reasons for and every day we try different things," she said.

The event was attended by mainly women, as well as government officials, including Western Cape Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez, representatives of the NGO sector, Unilever SA CEO Luc-Iliver Marquet, and others.

Bogopane-Zulu called for more to be done to end the violence, saying the government had a big problem to tackle. 

"As the government there is an acknowledgement that the problem is big, is deep and definitely we need different intervention strategies.

"There is an acknowledgement that some of our systems have not worked the way that we wanted them to work. There is an acknowledgement that we need to fix this car, but we can't afford the car to make a pit stop," she added.

Bogopane-Zulu spoke about interventions by the government to end violence against women, as well as challenges it was facing.

The main challenge, she said, was gender-based violence often occurred in homes and it was difficult to get into that private space.

"But right now, we are all in agreement that that space isn't as private as all of us thought anymore. It's a space that we will have to enter.

"Unfortunately, we are going to be getting into your bedrooms, we are going to be getting into your kitchens, we are going to get into every space that is supposed to be private because right now that is the only way…"

Bogopane-Zulu also spoke about the projects the government have worked on to not only spread awareness, but to bring men and boys into the conversation as well.

"We have launched, last year, the men and boys championing change programme. We are taking the fight back to the men because women have been at it for so many years."

She said the programme was being led by Deputy President David Mabuza and to date, it had interacted with "a lot of men".

"We have forced men to have the conversations ... and part of the conversations they are forced to have is also for them to take responsibility for each other, to hold each other accountable and create an environment where there isn't space for men who abuse women."

Bogopane-Zulu also explained her department had launched the memeza (shout), which is a panic button that creates a loud noise. It is a small device which can track where you are and send help should you press the button.

Bogopane-Zulu also took the opportunity to call on Unilever to help distribute the alarms through their products.

Speaking to News24 after the event, Bogopane-Zulu reflected on the government's work in trying to end gender-based violence.

"The government could do better but the government has done a lot," she said.

"It is important that we acknowledge the good that the government has done so that we can say that this is good, but it's not good enough and can you do more?

"We are beginning to find each and we are beginning to have a responsive nation. The reporting is increasing … as we talk to each other in the different spaces we empower each other, more cases are reported," she said.

"We've improved the training of magistrates and judges, and we've reopened the sexual offences courts … we are increasing our shelters for abused women. We have now taken the battle to the footsteps of men, ordinary South African men, men who are traditional leaders [and] men who have committed the crimes."

Bogopane-Zulu also explained the government was looking at interventions that dealt with the root cause of violence, as well as accommodating men and the LGBTI community in shelters across South Africa.

During her speech at the event, she sent a message to all South Africans to band together in the face of violence.

"We are not there yet, the journey is long, the frustrations are high but we are in a space in SA where we need to pull together. Pulling together means the little that we have … we need to bring it together so that we do more with less."

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