“What we have stressed throughout this process is the importance of a collaborative and coordinated approach towards combating gender-based violence and femicide. We need to plan together, implement together and account together.”

These are the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 2nd Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide held in November 2022. At this Summit, President Ramaphosa called on government stakeholders, the South African Police Service, and society at large to unite in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF). Similarly, at this year’s State of the Nation Address, Ramaphosa again declared that “we must all play our part, as individuals, institutions, and leaders across society to end these crimes against women and children.” From these calls to action, it could, mistakenly, be thought that the government actually cares about the plight of women and children in this country but based on their obvious lack of urgency or action, it is very clear that they do not.

Crime Statistics are worse than ever in South Africa

Instead, the number of women and children raped, assaulted, and murdered continues to increase. This is evident from the crime statistics for the second quarter of 2022 (July to September of 2022), which show that despite the government’s, so-called, attempts to curb GBVF, there was in fact, an 11% increase in the number of reported rapes, with a total of 10 590 rapes reported in just three months. According to the Rape Survivor’s Justice Campaign, however, approximately only 7.7% of sexual offences are reported, thus putting the actual number of sexual offences cases at an estimated 645 580 per year. In addition, there are on average 2 763 murders of women in South Africa a year, which is approximately 7 women per day. This places South Africa in the top five countries in the World for femicide.

GBV and Femicide National Strategic Plan

One of the government’s plans to address GBVF was the development of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Plan (GBVF NSP) in 2020. The purpose of this plan is to “provide a multi-sectoral, coherent strategic policy and programming framework to ensure a coordinated national response to the crisis of gender-based violence and femicide by the government of South Africa and the country as a whole.” As part of this plan, the government has asserted that there will be GBV desks (manned by police officers trained to deal with GBV matters) at every police station countrywide, that the backlog of DNA will be cleared, and that more funding will be made available for the fight against GBVF.

However, despite Police Minister Bheki Cele claiming in May 2022 that all 1 155 police stations across the county had GBV desks, the President has now stated that only 134 such desks are currently in operation. In addition, according to an article in the Daily Maverick, the police still do not take matters of GBV seriously, and often turn away victims, telling them to deal with their ‘domestic issues’ themselves. There is a litany of similar anecdotal evidence of police refusing to help survivors of GBV and instead shaming and further victimizing survivors and/or their families. From the latest available information, the backlog of DNA has also not been adequately addressed. As of November 2022, there were still 15 259 samples of DNA that had not yet been analysed. Because of this backlog, cases have been struck from court rolls, particularly murder, rape, and sexual assault cases.

In addition to the lack of resources to address the GBVF scourge and the inadequacy of the police and justice systems, the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (NCGBVF) that is supposed to be the champion of the GBVF NSP has yet to be established. A report by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group indicates that in November 2022 a Portfolio Committee meeting was held to discuss the certification of the National Council on the Gender-based Violence and Femicide Bill. Prior to this meeting, it had been asserted by the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disability that the bill had been certified in October, when it was, in fact, not even certified at the time of the meeting a month later. Based on the information provided by the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disability, President Ramaphosa also mistakenly announced, at the second Presidential Summit in November, that the bill had been certified. When there is not even adequate communication within and between government departments, how can we trust the government to ensure our safety? Furthermore, it has taken over two years for the Bill to be certified and the Council is yet to be established. Clearly then, there is no urgency around protecting the lives of women in South Africa.

The promise of funding

In addition to this lack of urgency, R21 billion has been allocated to the NSP, but it is unclear where this money has gone. The GBVF Response Fund, launched by President Ramaphosa and the International Women’s Forum of South Africa, has also received around R162 million in pledges, and has, supposedly, distributed R69 million of that. Despite these claims, GBVF activists maintain that there is a dire lack of resources or funding available for assisting victims/survivors of GBVF and their families and that the promise of funding is merely political rhetoric. Davis and Njilo explain that even the Thuthuzela and Khuseleka Care Centres – government centres that provide vital services for GBV survivors – are lacking in resources and, as a result, are unable to provide the very services for which they were established.

What is glaringly apparent, then, is that the South African government has very little interest in addressing the ongoing, overwhelming perpetration of GBVF in the country. Daily, women are raped, assaulted, and murdered with impunity. The very few perpetrators who do make it to trial are often released without adequate sentences or any consequences at all and allowed to continue committing unconscionable acts of violence. Police do not take matters of GBVF seriously. Survivors and the families of victims are not provided with adequate support or resources. Women’s lives are stifled by the ever-present threat of violence. And, yet all we get are empty, unfulfilled promises with no tangible action, making it ever clearer that the South African government has no interest in improving or protecting the lives of women and children.