Among the challenges that are facing South Africa and which have been there for quite some time, the problems of violent crime and gender-based violence resulted in President Cyril Ramaphosa calling a Joint Sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) yesterday.

Addressing the Joint Sitting, President Ramaphosa told Members of Parliament (MPs) that he called the special Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament because of the “dark and heavy shadow” that hovers above South Africa, where women and children, he said, are under siege.

He said there is a very violent and brutal war under way in South Africa against women and children. Referring to last year alone, President Ramaphosa said 2 700 women and more than 1 000 children died at the hands of other people.

President Ramaphosa said everyday in South Africa police receive more than 100 cases of reported rape. According to research by Statistics South Africa, South African women older than 18 years have experienced physical violence by a partner. According to President Ramaphosa, South Africa is one of the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman, “with levels of violence that are comparable to countries that are at war”.

Over the past two weeks, President Ramaphosa said, South Africa witnessed acts of violence against both foreign nationals and South Africans, a situation he said was worsened by the circulation of fake and incendiary messages designed to sow panic.

He said lawlessness is corroding the fabric of the South African society and that, he said, manifests itself through violent crime, destruction of public and private property, vehicles and trucks are destroyed and burnt on our roads and highways.

“There are many in our country who have increasingly shown scant regard for the state, for the police and the rule of law, for the community and religious leaders and institutions, for our elders, and for each other,” stressed President Ramaphosa. He called on MPs and political parties to come together to signify the magnitude of the challenge South Africa is facing, and the importance that Parliament should attach to it. President Ramaphosa said: “Confronted with this bad situation, the women of our country are demanding that we should have a ‘state of emergency’, which perhaps will enable us to deal more effectively with this scourge.”

In response to that, President Ramaphosa said he would be approaching Parliament to determine what emergency measures can be put in place to address this crisis more effectively. “Now it is time for all political parties to place violence against women at the centre of their concerns. I am looking forward today to hearing concrete proposals from political parties on how we can tackle these challenges together” appealed President Ramaphosa.

He urged Parliament to make the necessary amendments to the current laws and policies to ensure that perpetrators of gender-based violence are brought to book as a matter of urgency.

From the side of government, he said, he will make a substantial additional funding available for a comprehensive package of interventions to make an immediate and lasting difference. “We will complete the implementation of the decisions of last year’s Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. In line with those decisions, and following consultation between government, business, traditional leaders, the media, Chapter 9 Institutions and civil society, we have developed a draft National Strategic Plan, which will be finalised shortly,” he said.

President Ramaphosa told MPs that given the urgency of the situation, the government has developed an Emergency Action Plan which will be implemented over the next six months. He said this strengthens existing measures and introduces new interventions in five principal areas that include: how to prevent gender-based violence, how should the criminal justice system be strengthened and the steps we should take to enhance the legal and policy framework.

This Emergency Action Plan will, according to President Ramaphosa, be driven by an Interim Steering Committee that will be located in the Presidency and co-chaired by government and civil society organisations. He reminded MPs that the government has, since the advent of democracy, enacted several laws and undertaken a number of programmes to tackle gender inequality in South Africa, to promote human rights, and to enable effective action against gender-based violence.

The Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Ms Sylvia Lucas, said today in spite of the advances made by the country on women’s rights, women in South Africa face an onslaught of an oppressor with a different face. She said in the old dispensation the oppressor was the system of apartheid where oppression was on the basis of laws of discrimination. “Today the face of the oppressor is patriarchy and violence which is meted out in our homes, in our streets and in our communities.”

She said the debate on violence and gender-based violence takes place after Women’s Parliament that was hosted by Parliament at the end of August. Ms Lucas told President Ramaphosa and MPs that as part of the role of Parliament in the fight against gender discrimination, gender-based violence and femicide, Women’s Parliament will infuse some of its resolutions into the oversight programmes of some of the relevant parliamentary committees.

She said the oversight role of all parliamentarians must be strengthened by building strategic partnerships across party political lines and with civil society movements. She urged women in leadership positions to use their leadership advantage to take specific action in response to the challenges faced by other women whose voices are not being heard or taken into account.

Ms Liezl van der Merwe of the Inkatha Freedom Party, pledged the support of his party behind the government’s emergency plan as it was outlined by President Ramaphosa. She said her party commends President Ramaphosa for the initiative he has taken. “We pledge our full support and commit our focused attention to this fight,” said Ms Van der Merwe.

She said millions of South Africans don’t sleep at night, they fear for their lives “as you admitted that you lead a lawless country. A country which now resembles a war zone where our lives mean nothing. Where women face war on our streets, at home, in the workplace, at school, even at the Post Office”.

Rev Kenneth Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party suggested that the government must ban all forms of pornography, as according to him, pornography automatically leads to rape. “There must be harsher punishment for rape and rapists must not be granted bail. The government must remove all the corrupt police officers from the South African Police Service,” he said.

By Mava Lukani

19 September 2019