The President said that progress has been made on the implementation of decisions of the Presidential Summit on GBV and Femicide, held in November 2018 (Presidential Summit on GBV), and that the State is working with civil society in establishing a “national machinery” to fight GBV. The President made various promises, including:

The question is, is the State really saying: Enough is enough? How do we measure the State’s sincerity to wage a war on GBV?

A little more than a year ago, on 1 August 2018, thousands of women and gender non-confirming people, in an outcry against the alarming rate of violence against women and children, protested under the banner #Totalshutdown across all provinces. A memorandum of 24 demands was handed over to the Presidency. These ranged from never appointing an individual implicated for GBV to run a State institution or hold a post in Cabinet, to developing a National Action Plan to fight GBV. A desperate need for strong political will, proper funding and an integrated approach to fight GBV, coupled with oversight and monitoring mechanisms to ensure implementation, underlined the demands. 

In line with the memorandum, the Presidential Summit on GBV was held in November 2018 and attended by 1 200 delegates from Government, civil society and social movements with the goal of finding solutions. 

At the opening of the Presidential Summit on GBV, the President recognised that despite progressive laws and international commitments to fight GBV, South Africa does not “have an effective, coordinated response” to GBV, and failure to implement policies and laws had done a “disservice” to GBV survivors. The President made a commitment to eradicate GBV and to bring the country’s femicide rate – which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) was five times higher than the global average in 2016 – down to zero. 

Following the President’s gusto at the Presidential Summit, the war on GBV featured prominently in his first State of the Nation address in February 2019 (February 2019 SONA). 

The President announced that the State was expanding support services such as Thuthuzela and Khuselekea Care Centres, and that more funding would be made available to these Centres. The President also said that “we have listened to calls to make funds available to combat gender-based violence and have allocated funding in the current budget to support the decisions taken at the Summit.” However, in the Minister of Finance’s Budget Speech delivered on 20 February 2019, funding to fight the war on GBV was glaringly absent. No mention was made of this crisis in the tasks to be prioritised by the Budget. 

The Thuthuzela Care Centres (Centres), singled out in the February 2019 SONA to receive additional funding, were, according to media reports in June 2019, facing a serious lack of resourcing. This was apparently intensified by a funding cut from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. According to media reports, half of these Centres were without counselling services.

Currently, there are 55 of these Centres, and they form a critical response measure in the fight against rape. The Centres are run by the NPA’s Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit, in partnership with other departments and they receive donor funding. The idea is that services to a rape victim – including medical examinations, counselling and statements taken by the police – all occur at a single place to ensure an integrated rapid response. In feedback session by the NPA on its 2019/2020 Annual Performance Plan in July 2019 in Parliament, questions were raised about the media reports on the lack of counselling services at these Centres. The NPA admitted that there had been difficulty with NGO-related funding. 

The strength – and downfall – of the Thuthuzela Care Centres lie in their inter-disciplinary  nature arising from the fact that they are no one entity’s sole responsibility. The question remains to be asked: how can we believe the sincerity of the battle against GBV if a critical project – such as these Centres – hinges on NGO funding? 

Although there has been progress on the Presidential Summit outcomes – with a declaration signed by the President in March 2019 and a draft National Gender-Based Violence & Femicide Strategic Plan 2020-2030 (described as a “cohesive strategic framework to guide the national response to the GBV crisis”) released on 4 September for public comment – one must ask, where are the immediate preventative measures? Where is the money to fund current response measures and services already in place? This surely cannot be dependent on the Action Plan being finalised? 

The human cost of GBV has left us – as a country – deeply traumatised. Tragically, it took the recent senseless deaths of Uyinene Mrwetyana and Leighandre Jegels for the war on GBV to once again grab Government’s attention. The heart-breaking reality is that there has also been ample evidence for years of the economic cost of GBV for South Africa – which should have been further motivation to make the war on GBV a key budget priority. In a 2014 KPMG report on the economic cost of GBV to South Africa, it was estimated that GBV cost South Africa between R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion for the year 2012/2013 (between 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP annually). This was not only based on legal, medical and social services to be provided but also the loss of productivity and lower earnings caused by GBV. What more incentive did the State need to prioritise the fight against GBV in the Budget?

Any sincerity in fighting the war on GBV should be matched by an immediate financial commitment from the State to ensure that current response measures and services are adequately funded and, importantly, that they are effectively implemented. The wheel does not need to be reinvented to do this. In South Africa’s dire economic state – capacity of the State to do this is a harsh reality. However, at the minimum, it requires a tough stance by the State on Departmental spending. The fact that the largest portion of the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities’ budget is spent on the compensation of its employees (38% of their total budget, according to its latest annual performance plan) – simply cannot be accepted. 

If South Africa is to take the President’s words seriously, immediate prevention measures must also be announced. The President’s speech focused on response measures but very little on prevention. The public needs to see urgent preventative measures taken by the State to ensure the safety of women and children: for example, fix the street lights, provide adequate public lighting.  In saying this, the complexity of fighting GBV is not diminished. The draft Action Plan is a serious attempt to address this deeply-rooted societal problem, requiring all of society, the Government and NGOs to work together – but more needs to be done now to combat the scourge of GBV.

By Ms Christine Botha: Manager, Centre for Constitutional Rights
12 September 2019