Acting Executive Mayor
Speaker of the Council
Chief Whip of Council
All Councillors present
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour to be a part of the Sedibeng District Municipality’s inaugural Phenomenal Women seminar taking place as it is in Woman’s Month. This Woman’s Month takes place under the theme “The Year of OR Tambo: Women United in Moving South Africa Forward”.
How appropriate then that today’s step in moving the women of this region forward is guided by the theme: “Domestic Violence Violates Human Rights: Protect our Women” and this takes place at a time when the social fabric is being severely tested.
This inaugural event takes place during the year when we celebrate the centenary of one of the founding fathers of our democratic nation, O.R. Tambo, under the theme: “The Life and legacy of OR Tambo.”This theme guides a year-long celebration and spurs us on towards realising the country we envisioned at the start of our democracy. President Tambo was a father of the revolution and a gender activist in his own right when discerning his values and ethos.
Every day women in our country remain vulnerable to the scourge of violence and abuse, often perpetuated by those who are closest to them. It is through open engagements such as today’s seminar that we can shine a light on the abuse suffered by women, which is all too often treated as a matter that belongs behind closed doors.
To frame how violent patriarchy is, I wish to borrow a definition from the book entitled Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression by Abdilahi Hussein Bulhan. He argues that “Violence is any relation, process, or condition by which an individual or a group violates the physical, social, and/or psychological integrity of another person or group. From this perspective, violence inhibits human growth, negates inherent potential, limits productive living, and causes death”.
Bulhan’s quotation allows for a broader definition of violence and is more helpful than just focusing on physical violence. It is now reported that one of the violent experiences for South African women is that of living in fear, especially fear of being raped. That fear has now entered the Intimate Partner Space where it is reported that a Woman in South Africa stands more chances of being killed by her intimate partner than by a car accident.
This scary and sad observation is emphasised by Prof Phumla Gqola in her book entitled Rape, A South African Nightmare. Professor Gqola writes about The Female Fear Factory and states that “The manufacture of female fear is concerned with regulating women’s movement, sexuality and behaviour….If women fear that they will be punished for being raped and for speaking about it, and they see evidence of this repeatedly in how other women who survive are treated, it makes sense that although many go for counselling, they may choose not to report it to the police”.
This physiological phenomenon extends also to children who are abused or raped and live in fear that if they report such incidents they will themselves be blamed and punished. Let us work to create safe spaces in our homes, foster open discussion with our children and create an atmosphere of trust with our children when these matters are raised by them.
As a nation, as women we can no longer allow the abuse against our women and children to continue.
South African Women are more than just victims of abuse and/or violence. For that reason, we need to find a way of celebrating the work done by many ordinary Women amidst all the violence. We should not allow the role that Women played in the struggle against patriarchy, apartheid and subjugation to be erased from history books and the memory of their participation to be a blurry memory fading in obscurity of insignificance.
I would like today’s interactions to support and empower us into action to protect our sisters, mothers, friends and ourselves.
American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou in her poem, “Still I Rise" pays tribute to all women who are victims of domestic abuse and those who are still courageously fighting to regain their lives.
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.”
I want to encourage women who are affected by violence and abuse to stand strong, and rise. Government stands ready to assist and support women. As part of Outcome 3 of our Programme of Action that “All people in South Africa are and feel safe” and this is indicative of our commitment to the protection of women. In this regard we are targeting the reduction of levels of serious crime including crimes against women and children.
Victims of violence can contact our 24-Hour Gender Based Violence Command Centre hotline on the toll-free number 0800 428 428. It is run by the Department of Social Development to provide dedicated support and counselling to victims of gender based violence.
The Command Centre has achieved great success in attending to a variety of emergency situations including indecent assault, physical violence, rape, abandoned children and verbal abuse. It has also attended to cases of stalking, emotional abuse, sexual harassment, forced marriages, forced prostitution and elderly citizen abuse.
I wish to highlight that South Africa now has a law against harassment and stalking, the Protection from Harassment Act 2011, allows South Africans to approach the court for protection from all forms of harassment. I encourage women to learn more so as to empower themselves and other fellow women.
Take the bold step today and make that call. It will move you from being a victim to being an empowered woman. By taking a stand you can ensure that your life is no longer ruled by violence and abuse. You must not allow your circumstance to define your future. In the same vein we must implore those who are entrusted with the responsibility to assist survivors of violence and abuse to discharge their duties in a caring and empathetic manner.
In our midst today is Ofentse Mokoena who at her tender age has written a book Do It Right Then Freedom Follows. She motivates women to be bold and embark on a journey of self-discovery even against social norms: “The beauty in this process for any woman who is on a journey of self-discovery in finding their purpose brings so much clarity and direction in their lives. It is OKAY to tell young and single women to be beautiful, intelligent and abstain from toxic relationships and any form of substance that with destroy them. Let them be the best version of their true self!”
This is the spirit which we must celebrate - that despite the many hardships and difficult situations women face in our society, they have always risen above their situation. Our country is truly blessed to have remarkable women with an extraordinary will and drive to rise against all odds.
In her memoir “It's Me Marah”, Marah Louw who is also with us today. bravely speaks of the violent incidents she had to endure by those close to her. When interviewed in her book she said:
“There was a time he bashed my head into the taxi window. That taxi had other musicians inside… He owned spears and one day he chased after me with one and I ran into his mother's room where his sister slept. Maybe if I didn't do that, I would have died"
She also relates the story of the abuse of her sister who was eventually burnt to death by her partner. She is an example of the determination and fortitude that rest in each one of us. She inspires us to take a stand and rise.
We should also be truly inspired by the thousands of brave women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 to turn the course of history. In the celebration of Women’s Month under the theme: “The Year of OR Tambo: Women United in Moving South Africa Forward” we honour women who stood up against the tyranny of an illegitimate system and the triple yoke of oppression namely race, class and gender. In their march for freedom, equal representation, land rights and direct access to justice, they demonstrated the impact women can have in moving our nation forward.
The 1956 moment was instructive and evidenced women’s superior organising skills, courage, defiance, preparedness to risk their lives, and most importantly their own determination as leaders. They were truly phenomenal women and that moment has never been fully unpacked to punctuate the point in my view. Perhaps part of our mission as this generation is to keep the momentum and surge forward to reclaim our power and space.
Women of Sedibeng,
Our government has been at the forefront fighting the scourge of women abuse through various initiatives. We have enacted a series of legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2007 and the Protection from Harassment Act of 2011, Sexual Offences Act and Children’s Act specifically aimed at protecting women and children.
To make these laws work better for us we need community members who have information or knowledge of abuse of women to report perpetrators to the police. The police and courts are empowered to arrest, prosecute and convict perpetrators of violence against women and children.
Our courts are sending a strong signal to would-be perpetrators by handing out severe sentences to those found guilty of women abuse and violence.
On Monday this week the High Court sitting in Thohoyandou sentenced a 35 year old man from Giyani to life imprisonment for the rape of a 14 year-old boy.
The Kuruman Regional Court this month sentenced a man to 20 years imprisonment for the murder of his ex-girlfriend.
The Benoni Magistrate's Court in May this year sentenced a man to 20 years imprisonment for repeatedly raping his granddaughter who was 12 years old at the time.
The KwaDukuza Regional Court early this year sentenced a man to 45 years imprisonment for three counts of rape.
The Johannesburg High Court also sentenced a man to 32 life sentences and a further 170 years for crimes that include child rape, exploitation, sexual assault and child pornography.
We can no longer simply turn a blind eye and believe it is not our place to interfere. Women abuse is a societal problem and requires a concerted effort of all South Africans to be defeated. The perpetrators of vile acts of abuse must be brought to book without fail. Our decisiveness, swift action and enforcement will ultimately tilt the balance of scales in the fight against abuse and serve as a deterrent against would be abusers.
Community activists in all their different strands must take up the cudgels and act to isolate and expose perpetrators and their accomplices. These messages must be carried in churches, in schools, community open spaces, in the factory floor and everywhere else. We have to act differently.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are painfully aware that financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members has increased women's vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse and murder.
The reality is that many of these women are more likely to stay in the abusive relationship in fear of potentially being left destitute and homeless. Their situation is often worsened by poor access to education, reproductive health risks, society’s restrictive gender norms, discrimination in employment and lack of support systems.
I am here today to tell you to grasp every opportunity that is within your reach. Part of this is to make education your number one priority. Education will empower you and make you stand tall in a world that is not always kind. Through it you can unlock a better future for yourselves.
Women who have fallen out of the educational system have an opportunity through second chance programmes to skill themselves. As our founding President Nelson Mandela so eloquently stated: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” I encourage you to consider our Technical and Vocational Education and Training Colleges which are exciting alternatives to attain the technical skills needed by local industries.
Government encourages women to take advantage of the opportunities it has made available through its various programmes to rise to their full potential and economic emancipation. In doing so they will be empowered to take their rightful place in all sectors of society, while also ensuring that they are not prisoners of circumstance.
The spirit of entrepreneurism that resides within women must be harnessed to help create a better and empowered life. Women with an aptitude for business can take advantage of the many entrepreneurial opportunities that are available and start their own businesses. At the same time we have a responsibility to assist those who find themselves having to be breadwinners often with little or no education at all and no other means to support their children and grandchildren.
Our Cooperatives Incentive Scheme, administered by the Department of Small Business Development, creates opportunities for women to open small businesses. Young women who would like to become entrepreneurs can receive assistance through the Business Support Development Programme. Government is also empowering young women through skills training in the creative and craft markets to allow them to start a home business. We are doing so through our Bavumile Skills Development Programme.
More information on these and many of our other support programmes can be accessed online at www.dsbd.gov.za or by contacting the customer contact centre at the Department of Small Business Development and the Department of Trade and Industry on 0861 843 384.
We are now within the 100 day countdown of the centenary celebration of OR Tambo that will take place in October this year. O R Tambo was a strong advocate for gender equality and I am reminded of the inspiring words our hero encouraged us with during the Conference of the Women in Luanda in 1981.
He said: “The mobilisation of women is the task, not only of women alone, or of men alone, but of all of us, men and women alike, comrades in struggle. The mobilisation of the people into active resistance and struggle for liberation demands the energies of women no less than of men.”
We all have a role to play in building the type of society we envisioned at the start of our democracy. Both men and women have a key role to play in preventing abuse. We must continually mentor and teach the boy child to always value and respect young girls and women. They need to be helped to deal with emotional and spiritual vulnerabilities to they do not resort to violence when dealing with situations they are not equipped to handle.
We must understand that behavioural change is essential to shifting the paradigm positively against violence and abuse of women and children. Similarly the voices and positive actions of men are crucial in the fight against violence and abuse. As Government we urge men in particular to join in the fight to end violence and abuse.
Men must understand the enormous impact of gender based violence in the household for the girl child. The fear, the shame, the guilt and the blame that children often attribute to themselves as they try to rationalise the abuse. For children growing up in abusive environments, gender violence can be easily assimilated as a norm and distort his perspective on gender relations and relationships. Intra gender violence among men must also be discouraged as there is a causal link and often it is a key driver of gender based violence. Its psycho-social dimension includes the issue of absent fathers. This is hurtful, breeds anger, and exposes the child to all sorts of behaviours learned from males he idolises in the community.
There are also interesting parallels to be drawn between our experiences and those of African-Americans. Dr Francis Cress Welsing the eminent psychiatrist and author of Isis papers: The Keys to the Colours talks about how black men’s unemployment and how a man cannot function as a husband and a father if he does not have a job. She argues that “by keeping Black men unemployed, you are really driving a wedge in the functionality of the Black family and weakening the next generation of black men”.
Fathers, father figures, uncles and brothers must play a role inculcating healthy masculinities to the boy child- raising a different type of men. We all know that children learn more by observing. It is important that men must treat their partners with dignity and respect in order for the younger generation to learn how women should be appreciated.
Men must also have such deep conversations among themselves in order to empower each other to handle challenges and emotional pressures they face. Part of what patriarchy did was to rob men of their right to voice out their feelings and to be vulnerable like any human being will be at some stage. Instead patriarchy boxed men and buttressed the importance of the role of men as providers without any benefit of choosing differently.
I want to boldly clarify that the empowerment of women does not mean the disempowerment of men. In empowering women we do not tip the scales to disfavour men. In fact it creates greater social currency where we all stand to benefit. In this generation let us create the empowerment of women and men alike.
Men must learn to also share and seek help when they have emotional challenges and are not coping so that they avoid unwittingly delegating their outside stresses to their women and children. They must be prepared to unlearn and shun unhealthy forms of masculine identification. Without such a conscious process
We must remain united in our fight so that all women enjoy all the rights and privileges guaranteed by our constitutional democracy. Violence and abuse must end with this generation.
Together we can rise in the fight against women abuse. It starts with each one of us taking a stand and looking out for the women in our communities. I would like to end with the powerful words of Maya Angelou.
“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear