President Cyril Ramaphosa did not encounter much resistance from MPs on Wednesday at a joint sitting of parliament, where he outlined some of his administration’s attitude and new approaches to combat gender-based violence in the country.
Ramaphosa said the “protests driven by women, and particularly by our young people, these past few weeks” evidenced a “revolution in consciousness” and presented an opportunity to decisively tackle the scourge of gender-based violence.
Some novel ideas were put forth by members of various opposition parties, in addition to the plans outlined by the president, but many questioned whether much of what he said was more of the familiar cycle of endless talk and consultation and little in the way of concrete action.
Ramaphosa started by acknowledging the “dark and heavy shadow across our land”, saying “the women and children of this country are under siege”.
“While it has its own specific causes and features, gender-based violence reflects a broader crisis of violence in our society.
“Regardless of where we stand across the political divide, each of us here today recognises the reality that we are confronting a crisis of violence and intolerance,” the president said.
“Now is the time for all political parties to place violence against women at the centre of their concerns.
“I am looking forward today to hearing concrete proposals from political parties on how we can tackle these challenges together,” said Ramaphosa.
He announced an “emergency action plan”, which will be implemented over the next six months. The plan, Ramaphosa said, would strengthen existing measures and introduce new interventions in five principal areas.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane used his time on the podium to decry the state of lawlessness in the country as well as outlining some of his party’s proposals to deal with the situation.
“As a nation, we have lost our way and our state is collapsing. Violence against women, children and foreigners has become a daily occurrence,” said Maimane.
“We must be better parents to our boys. We must raise them to respect girls and women as their equal. We must show our boys, through all our actions, what is right and what is wrong.
“We need to establish an ad-hoc committee to investigate the systemic causes of gender-based violence and map out our long-term solutions.
“It is also our job to shape legislation in order to protect women from abuse. And right now, that legislation is not up to the task. The act that deals with domestic abuse is 20 years old and completely out of touch.
“We need to replace both the Domestic Violence Act and Protection from Harassment Act with a single piece of legislation that is better suited to this challenge,” said Maimane who ended off with a call for a non-partisan effort to eradicate gender-based violence.
“Let us put aside our differences and our politics. Let us recognise the severity of this crisis in our society. And let us make the dignity, respect and safety of the women and the girls in our society our number one priority.”
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde also delivered an impassioned speech, calling for an end to “talk shops” and more action.
Winde said the proceedings were like “deja vu”, referring to a debate on 16 days of activism and they reminded him of a “talk shop”.
He added “… talk shops about forums, commissions, committees, reviewing of legislation and interventions. Talk shops must end Mr President”.
“… I stand here to say, that the time for talking must stop.”
Evidently, Shayisfuba, a self-described “national feminist collective” agreed with the premier, disrupting proceedings with loud chants and holding up posters calling for an end to talk and immediate action.
On Thursday, Winde claimed, the Western Cape provincial government would be announcing the “biggest, most comprehensive and most expensive safety plan of any province ever in South Africa”.
EFF MP Veronica Mente welcomed the initiative to “join both houses and respond to the phenomenon of rape, abuse and murder of women in our country”.
She sought to dispel the notion femicide, rape and gender-based violence crisis was new.
“The idea that it has only just reached the crisis level is also not true. The problem of rape, abuse and murder of women has been a normalised crisis over many decades. This is because in the townships, in the rural areas, there has never been law enforcement.
“Therefore, it is the law of the jungle that rules. The law of the jungle that we are subjected to as women in South Africa,” said Mente.
“… you need tough laws to keep people in jail. The legislation that exists is prioritising the rights of rapists, murderers, child beaters above that of the victim. They get bail because they have rights but our rights [are] not recognised.
“We, therefore, recommend a parliamentary joint standing committee to sit each week and get briefings on all the cases that have been reported in South Africa. We need a call centre here in parliament where we women can call to report ‘I have a rapist in my house’,” said Mente.
Good party leader and Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure took to the podium in both capacities, calling for political leaders to revisit communities they sought votes from ahead of the general elections in May.
“Our women and children are under attack and South Africa is bleeding. We have debated it long enough, we have mourned those murdered and raped. South Africans are sick and tired. We must rebuild the social fabric of society.
“I call on all political leaders who crisscrossed the country looking for votes to revisit all those communities with a strong anti-gender-based violence message,” said De Lille.
In her capacity as minister, she said, her department – the custodian of all state-owned land – would, as part of the action plan, “mainstream gender responsiveness” by changing guidelines for the design of buildings to be “safer and more accommodating” as well creating “safe spaces” and shelters for victims of gender-based violence in unused and under-utilised buildings.
Ramaphosa, seeking to analogise the current sociopolitical climate in South Africa with the past, mentioned how “many years ago, South Africa was swept by a revolution in how black people thought about themselves and about their place in society”.
“Like many others, I was involved in black consciousness politics, championed by Steve Biko and others. It changed how we viewed the world and our place in it. No longer would we accept injustice inflicted on us because of the colour of our skin. This revolution is incomplete and it is still living.
“I believe we are living through another such a revolution in consciousness today, but this time it concerns the injustices under which women have long laboured.”