The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the DA’s Shadow Minister of Police, Zakhele Mbhele MP, during the debate on violence against women and children.
This debate is important because women and children in our country deserve to live in safe homes and to be able to walk in safe streets. This debate is important because gender-based violence and domestic abuse is a violation of rights and it is a failure of the ANC government to protect women and children.
This debate is important, particularly to me, because this scourge in our society is one that I take personally. My own mother’s passing six and a half years ago in a brutal murder means that I have directly and deeply felt the trauma that the evil of this femicide epidemic wreaks on our nation.
On Saturday 20 May, I attended the #NotInMyName March in Pretoria along with DA Shadow Minister of Justice, Glynnis Breytenbach. The march was an important expression of outrage from men to other men about the unacceptable violence that is perpetrated against women and children on a daily basis.
It is high time that combating gender-based violence shifted from simply lamenting and condemning it, to men playing the key role of calling each other out and holding each other accountable for sexist, misogynistic and otherwise generally patriarchal attitudes that enable violence against women.
We must seek to deter this scourge in two ways: firstly, through a more effective criminal justice system that won’t let perpetrators get away with it and secondly, also through building new social norms of gender equality and stigmatising violence against women and children as well as the men who commit it.
Two departments in this ANC government exist to do exactly these things, so why are they failing to do so?
The change we need means having Ministers who do not blame the victims of gender violence for their own death. The change we need means having Ministers who do not reduce abusive relationships to flippant advice to women that leaving a man the first time he hits you will solve the problem.
If we are to challenging centuries, if not millennia, of deeply entrenched social codes and conventions we need leaders in government who themselves are committed to this change.
It means taking on and challenging the manner in which these social codes and conventions are transmitted intergenerationally and how they are internally conditioned in our psyches and worldviews. It means facing up to the ways in which patriarchal ideas are held and reinforced by both men and women.
It also means confronting all dimensions of how these ideas and attitudes manifest, including as hate crimes against lesbian women and transgender people. Activism against violence directed at women and dismantling patriarchy is also a fight against homophobia and transphobia.
The scourge of violence is made worse by ineffective policing and police indifference to many cases and victims.
In this debate, we need the Police Minister, the Justice Minister and the Minister of Women in the Presidency to account for the failures of organs of state that are meant to play a key role to keep safe the most vulnerable in our society. Ministers Mbalula, Masutha and Shabangu must, here and today, tell the nation their government’s plan to make our country safe for all women.
South Africa needs an emergency plan on women’s safety. We do not need more empty promises.
They need to start with capacitating the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Units in the South African Police Service (SAPS). These units on average remain under-staffed and under-resourced and there simply are not enough of them.
Today police have one hand tied behind their back when trying to combat violence against women because the officers themselves are stretched too thin. We need swift, quality investigations, that secure high conviction rates, and we need a plan from Minister Mbalula to ensure this.
While the police cannot by themselves prevent domestic violence or rape, they can and they must take each case seriously. This means a new level of training, on gender and sexual crimes must be implemented, and we await to hear Minister Mbalula’s plan on this.
However, effective policing cannot be realised while many stations do not have victim-friendly rooms and rape test kits. Effective policing can also not be realised when, as often happens in much of the country, there aren’t enough vehicles to undertake visible patrols or respond to emergency call-outs.
Sex trafficking syndicates who prey on vulnerable girls and women in this country will not be tackled and defeated without an effective Crime Intelligence division. Unless we boost our Detective Services, those who commit violence against women and children will know that they can do so with impunity and little to no chance of getting caught and facing the consequences of their crimes.
South Africa demands that justice is served for every victim and that every perpetrator can be made an example of. This is the responsibility of Minister Masutha, from whom we expect a clear direction on improving prosecutions for sexual violence. Our courts must also be ready to better manage protection orders, and more quickly dispense them – for this Minister Masutha must answer to this House.
The last 23 years of ANC governance have shown that the ANC is incapable of making our country safe for all women.
That is why the time for change is ripe. That change will come through a new government led by the DA from 2019, when we will demonstrate our resolve to bring safe streets and safe homes to all communities, where everyone, especially women and children, can live with true freedom.