SA waits with bated breath on measures to wrestle femicide

Thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria last week under the #TotalShutdown movement to protest against gender-based violence. /Thulani Mbele
Thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria last week under the #TotalShutdown movement to protest against gender-based violence. /Thulani Mbele
Image: Thulani Mbele

President Cyril Ramaphosa will this week make his maiden ANC January 8 statement which will outline the governing party's programme and priorities for the year.

The event will also launch the ANC's 2019 election manifesto and reports suggest that Ramaphosa is expected "to send a clear and an unambiguous message on critical policy issues".

These include clarity on expropriation of land without compensation and strategies on economic growth. Poverty, unemployment and the bane of inequality are likely to feature, as well as the scourge of gender-based violence.

Speaking of gender-based violence, women are waiting with bated breath to finally hear of the president's action plan against gender-based violence. I do hope that the president, when addressing the issue of gender-based violence during his speech, will actually go beyond the usual proclamations: "Gender-based violence is an affront to our shared humanity," and "gender-based violence is a global phenomenon".

Women and children need more than that; they need real action. How do we also move past campaigns and special summits?

During the summit in November, following a call by the Total Shutdown Movement during a march to the Union Buildings on Women's Day, Ramaphosa assured that women are being heard and promised that they will not be failed.

He assured women that the government was "conducting a review of the national plan against gender-based violence and constructing a revised plan against gender-based violence," and that the action plan will be launched this year.

If indeed Ramaphosa takes women seriously, I expect him to at least give a date when this action plan will indeed be launched.

This is critical because women continue to be failed by a sleeping justice system.

Reports state that during the summit, Ramaphosa acknowledged that our country faced high levels of violence and crime.

He mentioned that "SA's femicide rate was 12.2 per 100,000 in 2016, this is five times higher than the global level", and he concluded that "we cannot, should not, and will not stop until we put an end to this scourge. Our objective must be to bring these high rates to zero, we must aim for a femicide rate of zero per 100,000 women."

It should be of grave concern that South Africa's femicide rate is five times higher than the global rate. But fundamentally, it will require real action if we are to bring these high rates to zero, as Ramaphosa wishes.

I have written previously that in order to deal effectively with femicide, our lawmakers should enact legislation that focuses on femicide, which is unlike other murders or homicide. It is a crime that must be prosecuted and investigated in a particular way.

For instance, when sexual assault legislation was introduced, legislators accepted that legislation was indeed warranted because "the legal mechanisms to address this social phenomenon are limited", and found that our common law fails to deal with sexual offences "adequately, effectively and in a nondiscriminatory manner", and feared secondary trauma and victimisation, according to the preamble of the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act.

It is also warranted to have femicide laws. Moreover, I remain hopeful that the summit was not merely a gathering aimed at hearing women tell their horrific stories of abuse and sexual violation.

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