The Department of Public Works appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure yesterday to report to the committee on the expeditious opening of shelters for victims of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), as well as other interventions the department has in place to advance the cause of women.

Such shelters can play a significant role in curbing the cycle of abuse, and Minister Ms Patricia de Lille, who led the departmental delegation, assured the committee about the department’s measures to speed up the process of identifying land for the shelters and of preparing them for purpose.

Ms de Lille identified the need to urgently establish a task team on the matter. “We will engage with South African Local Government Association and we will have a meeting with MECs of provinces to make the issue of shelters our standing agenda of all our interactions.”

According to the department’s Acting Deputy Director, Ms Naledi Stemela, three broad commitments underpin the department’s objectives in response to this scourge. These include a commitment to prevent, rehabilitate and to promote social cohesion. In addition, the department has a responsibility to respond, care, support and provide healing for victims and the economic empowerment of women.

Reporting on securing of the shelters, the department has identified 84 properties, 57 of which have been visited. Six in the Western Cape and six in Gauteng are confirmed and memorandums of understanding have been signed to that effect.

It is understood that the securing of safe houses for the victim of GBVF is a critical intervention, but in addition proactive measures are needed to ensure that women are empowered economically to liberate them from the circle of abuse. Ms Stemela said: “To date, we have awarded 21% of our procurement budget to women-led companies to the tune of R299 million.” She added: “The department is poised to ensure that in the next financial year we reach the 40% threshold pronounced by the President in the GBV National Strategic Plan.”

During question time, Ms Madelene Hicklin, a member of the committee, commented that a moveable assets register that is comprehensively documented and digitalised would assist the Social Development Department in identifying suitable shelters in various provinces for victims of GBVF. This could speed up the process of safe-guarding women from further abuse.

Ms De Lille noted that the digitisation of the register has been slow. “It’s almost eight years since the model was mooted, but has not yet been completed. To remedy this, we have met with the National Treasury to assist in this regard.”

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Works, Ms Nolitha Ntobongwana, proclaimed that “statistically, South Africa has a high crime rate and we have recently experienced a spike in GBVF cases and they are escalating every year.” She added: “What the department has done thus far is “a correct start, but we have intensified our collective effort to curb this pandemic to ensure that women and children are not subjected to this scourge in the future.”

A fight against GBVF is not only a government responsibility, she said: “It is our collective duty. If we assume it as such, we can win this fight, we can win this war . . . It’s well and good to have strategies in place to deal with this dilemma. But we have now reached a point where we should not be talking about strategies, but what implementation measures are in place to ensure that we win this war. And we do so with a great sense of urgency,” Ms Ntobongwana said.

Abel Mputing
4 March 2021