The president apologised for arriving so late and thanked the protesters for presenting the memorandum.
“Minister Naledi Pandor is sensitive to the issues being raised here. I had asked her to receive the memo on my behalf and when I saw that this was not satisfactory, I made it a point that I come and offer my apology. I’m here not only to receive the memo, but out of respect,” he said.
“As president, I have deep respect for the women of our country and I want to listen to the issues you raise. Not only should you be respected as women because you are in the majority, you deserve respect because you are human beings.
“You matter in the life of our country and for that we respect you.”
Ramaphosa also thanked his social policy adviser, Dr Olive Shisana, DG Dr Lubisi, his security adviser Charles Nqakula, Minister Nosivise Mapisa-Nqakula and Minister Bheki Cele for accompanying him to the late-night meeting.
“We feel the pain that you feel. I feel the hurt and the anger quite deeply. Let me apologise for what happened here earlier today – for how you were treated by police officers,” he continued.
“We are going to deal with the police officers severely, because not only is it the first day of Women’s Month, but it is unacceptable for officers of the law to deal with women in the way that you describe. We will ensure that they are dealt with.
“Let me also say that yes, we accept that as women who are victims of gender-based violence and femicide, that you have the solutions. This memorandum is comprehensive and details the challenges and issues that women face.”
Ramaphosa assured the protesters that he would be going through the memorandum very carefully to consider each demand they had made.
“We are going to pay close attention to the all issues you raise,” he said.
He added that men should demonstrate that they respected, honoured and support women.
“We must intensify the campaign against gender-based violence. Today’s demonstration must make a huge contribution to raising the level of consciousness among all of us,” he said.
This afternoon, thousands of angry women and victims of abuse were involved in a scuffle with police when they tried to push their way through the Union Buildings’ gates to see Ramaphosa during the national #TotalShutdown march.
The women rejected two male government officials and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who met the women to receive their memorandum.
The disgruntled women refused to leave until Ramaphosa faced them, forcing police to resort to pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
Placards that read “We are not ovary-acting” and “non-consensual sex is rape – I can’t say yes or no when I’m drunk” were paraded in the air while some brave women used their bare chests to send their message.
“The broader picture is the patriarchal violence in South Africa that continues to reign. We see it year after year and we are sick and tired. We are ordinary women of South Africa putting ourselves on the line to say we are going to stand and say no to that,” said one of the organisers, Gaopalelwe Phalaetsile.
Shops across the Pretoria CBD shut their doors when the thousands of women descended down the busy Francis Baard Street, chanting “No is no!”
The national march also included gender non-conforming people who are often abused for their sexuality.
Lerato Dumse, a lesbian from Kwa-Thema, said she was living in fear due to the “traumatic” killings of lesbians.
“The reality is it can happen to us. We are living in fear and not comfortable. Being told by police to stay at home at night is really not a solution. We want a country where we are free to walk at 3am,” she told The Citizen.
Meanwhile, the ANC Women’s League said their nationwide march against gender-based violence had turned out “better than expected”.
The main march kicked off at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg where marchers, including Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, started marching to Luthuli House to hand over a memorandum to ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.
Among their demands were that government would allow for gender budgeting, to urgently establish a presidential working group on women’s issues, the establishment of a gender-based violence council, and the banning of artists found guilty of gender-based violence from performing at ANC events.
They gave the ANC a seven-day deadline to make public how it had dealt with perpetrators of gender-based violence within its own ranks.