Despite initial promises that a national council would be set up by December to deal with gender-based violence (GBV), women’s rights groups say the government is still a long way off from fulfilling its promise.
The National Strategic Plan (NSP) to stop gender-based violence, launched in March 2020 by President Cyril Ramaphosa, makes provision for the establishment of a National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. The council would ensure implementation of the plan, and was supposed to be formed within six months.
But, after 20 months, women’s rights organisations were no closer to seeing the council established, said Masimbulele Buso, managing director of the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation.
The foundation was started in celebration and memory of the life of 19-year-old University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was raped, tortured and bludgeoned to death by Luyanda Botha at a local post office in August 2019.
The foundation has since partnered with 1st for Women Insurance in an effort to keep the pressure on policymakers, ensure actual accountability, and the implementation of the national Council on Gender Based Violence and Femicide.
Buso said that Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane had pledged that the council would be in place by the end of December.
The council’s formation relies on a Bill gazetted by Nkoana-Mashabane in October. The National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Bill 2021 sets up the legal framework for the council.
Members of the public were being consulted to solicit inputs and comments on the Bill, said department spokesperson Shalen Gajadhar.
"The council is a body created by a statute. In order to develop a legislation, there must be a national policy that informs the bill approved by the Cabinet. The NSP on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, which is the founding document of the Bill was developed and approved in 2020," he said.
On approval of the NSP, the department had developed the Bill, and it now needed to undergo certain processes before approval by Parliament, said Gajadhar.
"The processes include quality assurance and pre-certification by the State Law Advisers, socio-economic impact assessment by the Presidency and consultation with the Directors-General Clusters. The department has no control over these processes and turnaround times of the specific departments. We must follow all due process and ensure full compliance to ensure the legality of the council," he said.
'A good plan'
Gajadhar did not give a timeline for when these processes would be completed.
And after the Bill is passed, the department will still need to set up the council and appoint board members.
Bronwyn Litkie, director and founder of SA Women Fight Back, said the delays had been frustrating, especially since organisations had been petitioning government for action since 2019. The recent response appeared to be lip service, she added.
"At 110 reported cases of rape per day, up from 107 cases a day pre-Covid, and 140 reported cases of sexual offences per day, up from 133 cases before Covid, the statistics have never looked more grim. For that, South Africa has shamefully been named the most dangerous country in the world for women, which has shockingly still left its government unfazed," Litkie said in a joint statement issued with other organisations.And the stakes are high. Without the council, the NSP may not be achieved, explained Buso.
The NSP was a "a good plan", said Gender Links executive director Kubi Rama.
"It’s a comprehensive action plan that has good elements," she said.
Rama added that the plan rested on several pillars, one of which is the prevention of gender-based violence, not "just the response to it".
"One would hope the council would push for implementation and ensures the resources needed."