Hlengiwe Mkhize | Gender-based violence: Communities must not collude in silence

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Anti-GBV picket near Parliament (Supplied by Pearlie Joubert)
Anti-GBV picket near Parliament (Supplied by Pearlie Joubert)
Pearlie Joubert

Hlengiwe Mkhize writes that there are some cultural practices which step on the rights of girl children, such as "Ukuthwala". 

I remain with some hope that one day South Africa will be free from the gender-based violence pandemic.

This stems from the commitment I have seen in recent days from communities and civil society propelling government policy. The National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) is gaining momentum through implementation of programmes by both government and civil society.

Just last week, I had the honour of being part of a panel among young people from different communities who are passionate about the fight against GBVF.

It is these kind of discussions that bring us together to ideally identify risks and concerns about GBVF and reflect on strategies to address them. That event was organised by renowned civil society group Afrika Tikkun, which brought about an extremely necessary conversation about the pandemic of GBVF which we face as a country today.

It is evident that, just like the government, the organisation places emphasis on pillar two of six of the National Strategic Plan (NSP), Prevention and Rebuilding Social Cohesion, but at the same time, not reducing the other five pillars to just written text. Other pillars are Accountability, Coordination and Leadership; Justice, Safety and Protection; Response, Care, Support and Healing; Economic Power; Research and Information Management.

Delivery capacity

Pillar two talks to, among others, strengthened delivery capacity in South Africa to roll out evidence-based prevention programmes, changed behaviour and social norms within key groups as a result of the rollout of evidence-based prevention interventions.

The conversations of such nature appreciates that every community experiences different challenges, and the rollout of the District Development Model (DDM) in relation to the fight against GBVF is relative.

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Representatives from different communities such as Tembisa, Orange Farm, Soweto, Diepsloot and Soshanguve were among those present at the dialogue, where risks of gender-based violence are entrenched. We appreciate that young women within those townships are standing up so that they too are counted in the fight against GBVF.

The rollout of the DDM will underpin access to justice for victims and survivors, a change of norms and behaviour through local government level prevention efforts, urgently responding to victims and survivors of GBV. It is at district and local government level where the National government could be able implement policy to realise a maximised response to the scourge of GBV.

Colluding in silence

It is clear, in order to combat the scourge, communities should not be colluding in silence, fuelling the perpetration of cowardly acts of chauvinism by vile men, but initiating conversations that will assist detection and prevention. When young men are raised to know that women are as equal to them and that sexual violations are a hideous crime, then we will surely be making strides in the fight.

Revolutions have never begun nationally, but at district and local levels, where communities draw their own agenda in the fight against any ills. It is at our communities where ambassadors of government policies could best rise further, and change patriarchal norms that seek to dehumanise women.

In the quest to change those norms, it should be made clear that the experience of GBV takes away inherent rights, particularly those of women. Not all forms of violence leave visible scars. Some, have a greater physical and or emotional impact than others, and could lead to loss of self-esteem, depression, self-harm, lower educational attainment, increased risk-taking behaviour, physical injury, suicide or even death

Amnesty International sets three clear ways of dealing with human rights violations within communities by community members.

Firstly, the organisation stipulates that organising or joining a campaigning group in one’s local community is a great way to meet like-minded people and take action on the issues you care about.

Secondly, try to push elected leaders to be part of campaigns and speaking out within communities. Those are councillors, mayors, and MMC’s alike.

Thirdly, there is a need to engage … activists, members and other local groups..and allocate roles.


While communities engage among themselves, it is however critical that research is conducted on how culture is defined and which traditions are authentic. For example, "Ukuthwala" is one of those cultural ways that steps upon the inherent rights of the girl child within communities.

Ukuthwala is a criminal offence and violates the United Nations Convention on The Rights of the Child, which was signed by SA in 1993 and ratified on the 16th of June 1995.

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I strongly condemn this act, as some practices embedded in custom, significantly affect the girl child and women’s lives. The Children’s Act provides that in all matters involving children, the best interest of the child are of paramount importance. It also stipulates the age of consent to marriage as 18 years.

I am calling upon change makers of all ages and genders within communities at the local government level, to tackle the unfinished business of empowering women. We can achieve this through a multi-generational campaign, under the slogan: "Be a part of the generation that ends gender inequality."

Again in those communities, I hope conversations of the importance of coalitions to empower women and the youth so as to make them self-sufficient get encouraged even more, so that women could be more independent and have strengthened resilience and financial independence.

- Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize is the Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.

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