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By Zanele Mbengo

Journalist


Doubt looms over GBV legislation efficacy

Survivors question if new laws will address core issues amid rampant corruption allegations.


New legislation to counter the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) doesn’t fill survivors or activists with any hope that things will change.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to sign into law the National Council on GBV and Femicide Bill and the National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill at a ceremony at the Union Buildings today.

Two women whose lives were ruined by GBV said they wonder if the new laws will address the core problem.

A 67-year-old GBV survivor said the government was not working positively when it came to GBV.

The country was behind the times when dealing with such cases and the problem started with corruption at police stations.

The system failed women

She said every time she shared her story, it was a reminder of how the system failed women.

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“I was groomed by my boss’ partner to become his sex slave. He would rape me and had his way with me for many years.

“I ended up having an abortion twice, because he held knives at my stomach and throat and threatened to kill me if I didn’t.

“And I wasn’t his only victim. There were other people involved. In those days, I didn’t know about HIV. He was openly sleeping with a whole lot of women. But fortunately, I didn’t get HIV,” she said.

She said it did not matter how many Bills on GBV the government implemented, it would not change unless the system changed – and it began with corruption at police stations.

“We have no sex offender listing. There’s no DNA done on rapists and paedophiles. They go to prison, probably spend a month in there and get let free – sometimes they bribe their way out.”

2nd pandemic looms large for SA women

Her story shows that, in the everyday lives of women in South Africa, a second pandemic looms large – GBV and femicide.

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It’s a silent yet deafening battle as women strive not only to have their voices heard, but also to confront and challenge the system itself.

According to the Presidency, the National Council on GBV and Femicide Bill is a “critical step forward in ensuring the safety and security of women from all walks of life”.

“The council will be the statutory body charged with providing strategic leadership in the elimination of gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa,” the Presidency said.

Bill will not protect women from men they see daily

Another survivor, Sibongile Mashaba from Thokoza, said violence against women was rife in townships and “we don’t even read these Bills because what will big words do for us”?

Mashaba said the Bill would not protect women from the men they saw daily.

She said the president should come up with real solutions, not Bills.

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“My ex-boyfriend would beat me until I couldn’t recognise my face,” she said. “When I reported him, police would say I must have really pissed him off. I see him almost every day, passing by my house, and he is a reminder of my fears.

“The government is just pretending with these Bills. Does this Bill address corruption in police stations and the government itself, judges who are bribed in court?” Mashaba asked.

Lack of institutional capacity

Lisa Vetten, research associate of Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the fundamental problem with government was the lack of institutional capacity.

“You have police officers who don’t know how to do their job, prosecutors who don’t have enough resources to do their work. A council is not going to fix that,” Vetten said.

“You need to have functional systems within government that hold people to account. If the courts and police are not working effectively, you can create as many structures as you like, but you’re not getting to the heart of the problem.”

GBV specialist from Call To Action Nonhle Skosana said: “The National Council on GBV is an important body to have in South Africa, but the current Bill goes against agreements between civil society and government – there’s a lack of communication.

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“They’ve even changed the composition of the board. It’s no longer 51% civil society and 49% government, it’s now 51% government – and we know how corrupt the government is.”

She emphasised it’s not the council they were looking for but implementation and what they agreed on.

“This new Bill will collect dust and not function. It is silent on the funding, so what is the purpose of this council?

“Because the biggest purpose was to be a central body to distribute funds to fight GBV,” Skosana added.

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