Members of the PPF,
Everyone on the platform this afternoon,
Gender-based violence is plaguing our country and traumatising our communities. One has to agree with the sentiments expressed by President Ramaphosa when he referred to GBV as the second pandemic that our country is facing.
Not only do the victims suffer, but also their family members, friends, communities and frontline officials are negatively affected by violent crime in the form of trauma which has long term psychological consequences for all involved.
Children who grow up in violent homes are often emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives.
I want to commend the PPF for its efforts to respond to the scourge of GBV through the launch of their GBVF campaign in July this year.
I know that provincial structures are having provincial launches and that they have appointed provincial and regional convenors, as well as identified ambassadors or champions to work with the PPF in this important campaign.
Government can never fight GBVF alone.
These crimes often happen behind closed doors, perpetrated by the very same men who are supposed to be in relationships of care and trust with the victims – fathers who abuse daughters, husbands who assault wives, partners who murder their loved ones.
Violence and abuse often happen at places which should be safe – like schools, churches, workplace environments, tertiary institutions, homes, and so forth. For example, here in the Free State, the Brandfort Regional Court recently sentenced a man to two life sentences in prison for raping a 7-year old and a 9-year old. The man had lured the children to church.
Research has also confirmed that often the perpetrators of GBVF are known - mostly acquaintances rather than strangers.
Law enforcement and the justice system can only do so much. I recently heard a person remark that Government cannot put a police official in every house. This is true and that is why we need communities and society as a whole to play their part in fighting the scourge of GBVF in our country.
Looking at the Free State specifically, I was encouraged to read about the work of Bethlehem-based activist Sekhosana Elizabeth Mabuya who - together with Soul City, the Dihlabeng Municipal Youth Developers, the Catholic Community services organization, the Justice and Peace Social Institute, Government departments and Golden Gate Hospice - has been leading various GBV awareness campaigns in the Dihlabeng Municipality.
I am advised that the awareness campaigns include workshops with reformed gender-based violence perpetrators, GBV victims, Government officials and also traditional, community and religious leaders.
I’ve also read about male artists and professionals in Botshabelo who have united under the Sejakane Foundation to speak and raise awareness about GBVF in their area.
To the many activists, NGOs and religious institutions who work to fight GBVF in their respective communities, we applaud you.
In September last year, President Ramaphosa expressed the country’s commitment to address the scourge of GBVF in South Africa and he announced a 5-point emergency plan to do this.
One of the key elements is enhancing the legal framework in order to strengthen the response of the State to GBV.
The law can never, on its own, completely prevent or eradicate GBV, but it can create an enabling legal framework to bring perpetrators to book and to ensure justice for victims.
With this in mind, there are currently three bills in Parliament which seeks to achieve this goal.
The Domestic Violence Amendment Bill proposes a number of changes to the existing law, such as widening the definition of domestic abuse to include amongst others elder abuse. It sets out the services victims of domestic violence can expect to receive from government. It imposes a duty on a third party to report domestic violence to a social worker or police official. It also allows applications for protection orders to be submitted online.
We all know that alcohol abuse fuels domestic violence.
The Amendment Bill therefore recognises the role that alcohol plays in violence and enables the court to hold an enquiry whereby a perpetrator can be referred for treatment. It also obliges a court to order the seizure of any weapon.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill proposes improvements to the Sexual Offences Act. Amongst others, it introduces a new offence of sexual intimidation.
Currently the law provides that there is an obligation to report to the police the commission of a sexual offence against a child or a person who is mentally disabled.
With regards to the National Register for Sex Offenders (“the NRSO”), the law currently provides that the particulars of persons who have been convicted of sexual offences against children and persons who are mentally disabled, are to be registered on the NRSO and it prohibits persons whose particulars are on the NRSO from working with or having access to children or persons who are mentally disabled.
The Bill now expands the scope of the NRSO to include the particulars of all sex offenders, in other words anyone who is found guilty of a sexual offence - not only those sex offenders who commit crimes against children and persons who are mentally disabled.
It expands the ambit of the employers who must check the register to include other persons, working with women between the ages of 18 and 25, persons with disabilities and persons who are 60 years of age or older or who, for example, receive community based care and support services.
It also makes provision for certain particulars of persons who have been convicted of sexual offences to be made publicly available and increases the periods for which sex offenders’ particulars must remain on the NRSO before they can be removed.
Finally, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill seeks to tighten existing laws on bail and sentencing and aims to reduce secondary victimization of vulnerable persons in court proceedings.
Evidence through intermediaries is widely recognised as an effective procedure in criminal proceedings to protect a child witness or complainant. Currently, the intermediary service is available to a child witness or complainant in criminal proceedings.
It is currently not available to any other witness or complainant who may be exposed to similar undue mental stress, trauma or suffering.
The proposed new amendments aim to extend the intermediary service. It provides that a presiding judicial officer may appoint an intermediary in order to enable a witness under the biological or mental age of eighteen years, a witness who suffers from a physical, psychological, mental or emotional condition, or a witness who is an older person to give their evidence through that intermediary, if it appears to the court that the proceedings would expose the witness to undue stress, trauma or suffering if he or she testifies.
The Bill further provides that in respect of an offence against a person in a domestic relationship an accused may not be released on bail before his or her first appearance in a lower court.
This is because alleged perpetrators were sometimes released on police bail or prosecutorial bail when the authorities were not aware there was already a protection order against the person.
In bail proceedings, the accused is compelled to tell the court if they have a protection order against them and may forfeit bail if they are later found not to have done so.
Minimum sentences are also extended to include certain Gender Based Violence cases.
These are but some of the main interventions that will ensure that the law provides adequate protection to the survivors of GBV.
Legislation, on its own, is not enough. We need to do more to change societal attitudes, patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
Here in the Free State, if we look at the crime statistics for 2019/20, it is encouraging to see that murder has declined by 6,1% from the previous year – from 1000 cases to 939 – but 939 cases of murder in a province is still unacceptably high.
Of particular concern is the fact that, for 2019/20, sexual offences in the Free State have increased by 8,4% from the year before – from 3457 cases to 3746. In instances of rape, in the Free State, over the same period, reported cases of rape have increased from 2646 to 2936 – which is an increase of 11%.
What is interesting to note is that if one compares Quarter 1 of this year, which is from April to June, to Quarter 1 last year, rape cases in the Free State are down by 42% – from 664 to 383 cases; sexual assault is down by 30% - from 100 to 70; and sexual offences are down by 40% - from 818 to 491.
Of course the Covid-19 lockdown may well offer an explanation for this.
What is important from a provincial point of view is hotspot identification. Where in the province are the problem areas?
For example if we look at the Quarter 1 list of Top 30 police stations in the country with the highest numbers of different types of cases, when it comes to rape cases, the only Free State station which is on the Top 30 list is Bloemspruit - which is at number 15, with 26 cases.
When it comes to sexual offences, Bloemspruit is, once again, the only Free State station on the list – this time coming in at position number 11, with 34 cases.
Patriarchy and toxic masculinity play a significant part in GBV. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to address men and boys. President Ramaphosa expressed it best when he said:
“We conveniently refer to the attack on women as Gender-Based Violence. This is too vague, too euphemistic, and too simplistic.
We should call it what it is. It is the despicable and deplorable violent attacks by men on women, girls and babies. It is more appropriate to refer to it as Male-Perpetrated Violence.”
He also said thatis a problem of men and that our young men and boys are exposed to patriarchal attitudes and practices on a daily basis, and are often encouraged to prove their masculinity through domination and violence.
We need to continue to talk to men and boys, because men have been the dominant perpetrators of GBVF. Men are often the problem – and therefore men have to be part of the solution.
Our Department has embarked on a dialogue programme called “Under the Tree” dialogues. The aim is for dialogues to be undertaken to vigorously engage with men and boys to change the toxic attitudes and beliefs around masculinity and patriarchy that lead to violence against women and children.
It is also important that communities and stakeholders know where support services are available to victims of GBV. For example, here in the Free State there are four Thuthuzela Care Centres – Bloemfontein, Bethlehem, Welkom and Sasolburg. Community leaders, public representatives and anti-GBV champions need to be able to direct victims to these services.
And where service delivery is found wanting, for example, if a woman is turned away from a police station and denied assistance, we need to know about it.
Gender-based violence affects us all. Together we hold the key to unlock the chains which hold so many women captive.I thank you.