The Hon Thembi Nkadimeng, Deputy Minister of COGTA,
Mr Bernard Ray of the European Union Delegation to the Republic of South Africa,
The Board Members and Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights,
Representatives from Lawyers against Abuse,
Representatives from civil society and from community advice offices,
Distinguished guests and friends,
President Ramaphosa has referred to Gender Based Violence and Femicide as South Africa’s second pandemic.
Data from Stats SA tell us that that, on average, one in five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence by a partner.
Almost 50% of assaults against women were committed by someone close to them, such as a friend or an acquaintance (22%), a spouse or an intimate partner (15%) or a relative or other household member (13%). Less than a third (29%) of assaults were committed by unknown persons.
We know that GBV, femicide, and domestic violence do not take place in a vacuum and therefore we need to look at the larger context. Domestic disputes at home usually turn to violence, some with fatal outcomes.
Substance abuse and specifically alcohol is a massive contributing factor in cases of GBV.
Violence often happens at places which should be safe – like schools, religious institutions, workplace environments, tertiary institutions, homes, etc.
Following the Total Shutdown movement in August 2018, the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Plan (the NSP) was produced to respond to the GBVF crisis, following the historic 2018 Presidential Summit on the subject.
The Summit produced a Declaration which resolved, among others, to fast-track the review of existing laws and policies on GBV, to be victim-centred and that ensure all other relevant laws respond to GBV, to implement recommendations that had been identified from reviews and address legislative gaps, and to revisit and fast-track all outstanding laws and Bills that relate to Gender-Based Violence.
The National Strategic Plan provides a multi-sectoral, coherent strategic policy to strengthen a coordinated national response to the crisis of GBVF by our government and the country as a whole.
The NSP addresses the needs and challenges faced by all - especially women across age, sexual orientation, sexual and gender identities; and specific groups such as elderly women, women who live with disabilities, migrant women and trans women - who are affected and impacted by the gender-based violence scourge.
In short, the NSP is South Africa’s roadmap to ending GBVF.
Government has put in place a number of interventions to try to combat and prevent GBV in all its forms.
We have Sexual Offences Courts which offer a number of victim-support services such as, amongst others, court preparation services and intermediaries who convey questions and statements received from the court to the victim in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner.
The infrastructural requirements include the establishment of testifying rooms and child and adult waiting areas separate from the accused’s waiting areas – this is aimed at setting the victims at ease whilst awaiting their turn in court.
In 2020, section 55A of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act was signed into operation meaning that for the first time Sexual Offences Courts are being established in accordance with a statute.
Section 55A of the Act empowers the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services to designate, not only a selected regional court, but also any Division of the High Court, as a Sexual Offences Court.
The Minister approved Regulations relating to Sexual Offences Courts. These Regulations set out a catalogue of support services and resources that must constitute a section 55A Sexual Offences Court.
These services include court support, court preparation, emotional containment, trauma debriefing, counselling, private testifying service, intermediary services and information services.
Our Sexual Offences Courts also work closely with the National Prosecuting Authority’s Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs).
The focus of the TCC model is aligned with our victim-centric approach and is to ensure a holistic integrated service being provided to victims at these sites. They are facilities attached to hospitals where victims of rape or sexual assault can go to get treated and to have evidence taken.
At the TCC a social worker or counsellor is there to provide counselling, medical examinations are conducted, an investigation officer will interview the survivor and take their statement, treatment and medication is given, follow-up visits are arranged and long-term counselling can also be arranged. Court preparation services are also provided.
In January this year, President Ramaphosa signed into law new legislation aimed at strengthening efforts to end Gender-Based Violence, with a victim-centred focus on combating this pandemic.
The President has assented to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Act.
So what do these Acts do and how do they work?
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act expands the scope of the National Register for Sex Offenders to include the particulars of all sex offenders and not only sex offenders against children and persons who are mentally disabled.
It also expands the list of persons who are to be protected to include other vulnerable persons, namely, certain young women, persons with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities and persons over 60 years of age who, for example, receive community-based care and support services.
It also increases the periods for which a sex offender’s particulars must remain on the NRSO before they can be removed from the Register. The Act also introduces a new offence of sexual intimidation.
The Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act amends the Magistrates’ Courts Act to extend the appointment of intermediaries for witnesses in additional categories as well as providing for the giving of evidence through intermediaries in proceedings other than criminal proceedings.
It also amends the Criminal Procedure Act to further regulate the granting and cancellation of bail, the giving of evidence by means of closed-circuit television or similar electronic media and the right of a complainant in a domestic-related offence to participate in parole proceedings.
It further amends the Criminal Law Amendment Act to regulate sentences in respect of offences that have been committed against vulnerable persons.
The Domestic Violence Amendment Act amends the Domestic Violence Act to address practical challenges, gaps and anomalies which have manifested since the Act came into operation in 1999.
In particular, the amended legislation includes new definitions, such as “controlling behaviour” and “coercive behaviour”, and expands existing definitions, such as “domestic violence”, to include spiritual abuse, elder abuse, coercive behaviour, controlling behaviour, and/or exposing/subjecting children to certain of listed behaviours.
It also introduces online applications for protection orders and imposes obligations on functionaries in the Departments of Health and Social Development to provide certain services to victims of domestic violence.
The enactment of legislation that protects victims of abuse and makes it more difficult for perpetrators to escape justice, is a major step forward in our efforts against this scourge and in placing the rights and needs of victims at the centre of our interventions.
In addition to the new laws, we are currently working on a number of Pillar 3 interventions – meaning Pillar 3 of the NSP. Some of these interventions include GBV Service Delivery Training and support to be provided to all service providers such as police, prosecutors, magistrates, intermediaries, court preparation officers, court clerks, heath care providers and policy makers to strengthen victim-centric survivor-focused services and prevent any forms of secondary victimisation.
We are also continuing with the establishment of Sexual Offences Courts in line with the Regulations relating to Sexual Offences Courts and working with SAPS and the NPA to finalise backlog DNA reports.
It is also envisaged that we fast-track the vetting process of persons providing services directly to children and mentally disabled persons in terms of the National Register for Sex Offenders and also develop a Victim Support Services Bill.
These are but some of the interventions and measures to combat GBV.
But what do these interventions mean to women in communities and to the people on the ground?
This is where the work of civil society organisations and community advice offices is crucial.
The main advantage of community advice offices is that they are community centered and thus able to offer community centred interventions. They are nearly always the first port of call for help or front line assistance.
It is vital that communities know where to go for help. Community advice offices can help survivors by telling them where to go for a protection order or where their nearest TCC is.
They should be able to liaise with the shelters to which GBV survivors can be referred.
Victims of GBV should be made aware that they can call the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre toll-free on 0800 428 428 for assistance. They can also contact the Command Centre by way of a “please call me” at *120*7867# with a request that a social worker contact them. They can also sms the word “help” to 31531.
If a community advice office or members of a community are aware that services are not being adequately provided, they can serve as a vital role-player in bringing a lack of service delivery to the attention of government.
We cannot have situations where women go to the police station to report domestic violence and are turned away, or where they cannot complete the lengthy domestic violence protection order application form, because the form is only available in English.
These are factors which result in women not reporting cases of abuse. The criminal justice system should make it easier for them to report – not add to their trauma and stress.
I want to conclude by commending the Foundation for Human Rights, with the support of the European Union, and Lawyers against Abuse for the way in which they continuously strengthen and support community advice offices and other civil society role-players in capacitating them to assist our communities in the fight to prevent and combat GBV.
We are fully cognisant of the fact that, very often, CAOs and CSOs can reach where government cannot.
We wish you all the best for the launch of this very important programme and you can be assured that we are ready to partner with civil society wherever we can to prevent the scourge of GBV – a scourge which is plaguing our communities and creating intergenerational trauma which will have a severely detrimental effect on future generations, if we do not stop it now.
Let us do whatever we can to make sure that women and girls feel safe in their homes, in the schools and in their communities.
I thank you.