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Why we are losing the fight against gender-based violence

Sharon Hoosen

Sharon Hoosen

Published Aug 28, 2020

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Sharon Hoosen

OPINION - IT HAS been a long road for South African women who continue to be the target of crimes involving gender-based violence (GBV) - with extremely high rates of rape, sexual offences and murder - not to mention domestic violence, often at the hands of those they trust the most.

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Last year, these heinous crimes against women spiked to alarming levels, with not a week going by without a GBV incident being reported in the media.

The situation prompted a nationwide march to Parliament, culminating in a memorandum being handed to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for Parliament to declare “gender-based violence a state of emergency”.

Some of the incidents that sparked this public uproar were:

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The rape and killing of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a UCT student, at her local post office.

The kidnapping of a Vanderbijlpark Grade R pupil, who was, thankfully, later returned to her family.

The murder of a 14-year-old girl in her own backyard.

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And the murder of Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels, a female boxing champion.

Putting out the fire

In an effort to put out the fire, the president, in September last year, addressed the nation, saying: “The violence against women has become more than a national crisis; it is a crime against our common humanity. Women have every right that they be free from harassment and violence on our streets, schools and campuses and buses, taxis, trains and places of work and worship and in their homes in our country. We’ve heard the calls of the women of our country.”

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With that powerful address, our women had high hopes that the government would finally act to end GBV, particularly after the minister of police, in 2018, gave the nation a guarantee of safety in our streets, saying: “Whoever declares war on us, on innocent communities, women and children, the elderly - uzoyithola impi (they will get war). You want war, you will get war. You want peace, you will get peace. We are sending you to go out to the people of this country and say to them, don’t be scared. We’re here for you. SAPS members are there to serve and protect the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Two years later and a review of the annual crime statistics thereafter reiterates what most South Africans already know: that the government has again let them down.

The question that needs answering is - what has the government done to reduce the number of priority crimes, particularly in so-called hot spots? The answer is staring us straight in the face when a woman is raped every three hours in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). And so, while the government and the province’s ANC-led government may be good at making speeches that touch the heartstrings, it cannot ensure the safety of our women and communities in general.

That the Inanda and uMlazi SAPS stations continue to have the highest rape incidence in the country after seven years - making KZN the “rape capital” of South Africa - is proof of this.

SAPS ratio in KZN

According to a recent SAPS report, KZN has seen a steady growth in rape, sexual assault and contact sexual offences during the past 10 years.

The same applies to murder, assault GBH, assault common, robbery aggravating and common robbery. The province has a total of 184 SAPS stations, 30 of which have been highlighted as carrying 52% of the top 17 priority crimes in the province. Where, then, are SAPS when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable within our communities?

In July 2019, DA MP Andrew Whitfield posed parliamentary questions to the minister of police requesting the ratio of police officers at certain stations in relation to population numbers. In order to highlight the severe lack of capacity that exists when it comes to protecting our women, I have focused on the shortages within the six KZN police stations that fall under the country’s top 30 for rape and sexual offences.

An assessment of the above table and comparison with the UN’s data global average - of 340 police officers per 100000 people - shows clearly why crimes against women in KZN have not reduced in the past 10 years.

If KZN’s ANC-led province is serious about tackling GBV, it will need to ensure an additional workforce of at least 2903 officers at these stations alone - a simple yet critical task if our women are to survive this pandemic. If this cannot be accomplished during the current financial year, then the government should hang its head in shame.

Training of SAPS on GBV

When Bheki Ntuli, the MEC for Community Safety in KZN, claimed that the province had a sufficiently trained number of SAPS officers to deal with GBV, one would have expected that there had been stringent training, followed by a test or an exam to determine competency levels.

One would also expect that once this module was passed, victims of abuse could expect proper and professional service from officers during an extremely emotional time. Yet, this is not the case. Many women continue to face secondary abuse at SAPS stations.

In order to better understand this, I posed parliamentary questions to the MEC around training. The results are staggering. Out of an estimated 17279 KZN police officers, only 634 have received training to deal with domestic violence - since 2010.

Meanwhile, only 471 officers have been trained as first responders to sexual offences, 283 on national victim empowerment and 456 on vulnerable children. All of these training sessions took place over just a five-day period.

SAPS abuse

Despite the MEC’s claims that there are enough trained officers, a young KZN woman was recently turned away from several SAPS stations.

This, despite being battered and bruised as a result of her boyfriend’s beatings. In fact, it took SAPS 12 long days to issue a protection order and seize his firearm. This only took place after the DA was forced to call for intervention from senior officials.

In yet another case of SAPS wrongdoing, Hlengiwe Gasa from Umzumbe was arrested after she and other women from her community marched to the local SAPS station. Her crime? Being sick and tired of the number of attacks and crimes against women after five female decomposed bodies were found in the area.

Solutions to curbing GBV are both simple and glaring, beginning with SAPS capacity. It is clear, though, that there is no political will, within KZN’s ANC-run provincial government or SAPS, to fix things. Our women must be saved from the horrific scourge of GBV. They can no longer be treated as just another “fire” to put out, in the same way that corruption is dealt with in this province.

Hoosen, MPL, is the DA KZN spokesperson on community safety and liaison

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