Tragic irony of the debate on gender-based violence

The use of gender-based violence to score political points in Parliament has led to public outrage.

There is a tragic irony to the debacle because, on September 17, President Cyril Ramaphosa called for a joint sitting of Parliament to deal with the violence against women and children, following the killing of many women.

He revealed that about 2 700 women and 1 000 children were killed last year.

This week ANC MP Boy Mamabolo and the EFF’s Julius Malema were at the centre of the debate on the State of the Nation Address, after the former accused Malema of abusing his wife.

Malema dragged Ramaphosa’s name into the debate and accused him of abusing his former wife Nomazizi Mtshotshisa.

Ramaphosa spoke out about the matter in his reply to the debate.

He said it was uncalled for that Mamabolo raised the issue in Parliament, and that he felt for Malema’s wife, Mantoa Matlala.

Ramaphosa said there was no need to use gender-based violence for political purposes.

“We must have respect for one another and respect for women,” said Ramaphosa.

He said when Malema raised the issue of Mtshotshisa, she was not there to respond as she had died some time ago.

The Sonke Justice Network and other gender groups are up in arms, calling for remedial action against Malema and Mamabolo.

#NotInMyName weighed in on the debate, saying the politicisation of gender-based violence was unfortunate and distasteful.

It said the issue of violence against women and children was real and not a political game. The fact that the ANC and EFF MPs had used it in that manner showed they did not care about the issue affecting the country.

Activist Lucinda Evans also spoke against the point-scoring following the discovery of the body of 8-year-old Tazne van Wyk this week. She had been missing for two weeks. Moehydien Pangaker, 54, was arrested in the Eastern Cape days ago, and he pointed out the crime scene – a stormwater drain in Worcester – to the police.

He was on parole when he allegedly committed the crime.

Evans said it was disturbing that politicians had decided to use gender-based violence to score cheap political points when women and children were being killed.

Political parties agreed that gender-based violence should not be used for political squabbles.

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe has called for action on the party members who made utterances on the matter in Parliament.

“The ANC caucus should also consider conducting an investigation to establish whether the unfortunate utterances, specifically on GBV, do not constitute transgressions and, where necessary, submit to the relevant committees for appropriate action,” said Mabe.

The African Christian Democratic Party said the killing of Tazne was an indication that society had lost its way.

There was an outcry last year after the murders of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana, Jesse Hess and boxing champion Leighandre Jegels.

A 52-year man has also been arrested in Limpopo for allegedly killing his four children, aged between 3 and 9 years, following a domestic fight with his partner.

The DA said it was a shame that gender-based violence was being dragged into the debate in this fashion when many women were abused and killed by their partners.

The crime statistics Police Minister Bheki Cele released in October paint a stark picture. They showed criminals are waging a war against women and children.

Cele has said most of the perpetrators were known to the victims.

In September, Ramaphosa called for a joint sitting of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces to focus the attention of elected public representatives and the nation on the crisis of gender-based violence and femicide.

“We have the means to end violence against women and children,” he said.

“Now is the time to unite to turn the tide. We must realise the spirit of our constitution. The rights of women and men alike must be protected. This time must be different. We, South Africans, must be different.”

He said there was a violent and brutal war under way against the women of South Africa.

“Last year, 2700 women and over 1000 children died at the hands of another person.

“Every single day the police receive over 100 cases of reported rape.”

On September 5, Ramaphosa issued a statement in which he invoked the names of women who had been murdered, saying the nation grieved for Mrwetyana, Jegels, Janika Mallo, Ayakha Jiyane and her three young siblings.

“Violence against women has become more than a national crisis. It is a crime against our common humanity,” he said.

On August 9, National Women’s Day, Ramaphosa said: “Gender-based violence is a crisis across our land. It is the worst form of desecration of the Constitution and its promise of gender equality.”

The president said despite the country’s best efforts, progressive laws and policies, women and girls lived in fear.

“On the streets, in schools and universities, in churches and places of worship and, worst of all, in their homes.

“We must acknowledge here, as we have in the past, the stubborn persistence of patriarchy that leads men to think they are superior to their mothers, their wives and their daughters.”

Ramaphosa said that it was important to acknowledge that many men assumed they had the right to decide whether a girl should go to school, and how a woman should dress and behave.

“These attitudes are driving the abuse of women across society, whether they are young or old, black or white, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, rural or urban, gender conforming or non-gender conforming.

“As South Africans, we can no longer stand by as this evil sinks even deeper roots in our society,” said Ramaphosa.

EFF leader Julius Malema has been equally vociferous about the scourge of gender-based violence. Before the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign last year, the EFF said South Africa, more than any other country in the world, needed to focus on the “phenomenon of femicide, rape, sexual harassment, misogyny, and patriarchy in general”.

“South Africa is fundamentally a woman-hating society, where a long, cold, heartless and permanent war against women, their bodies and their souls has been declared.

“To be a woman in our country is to be in a permanent state of abuse, sexual humiliation, danger of being raped, abducted and killed by both those close to you and strangers.

“Our workplaces remain woman hating spaces where men earn more than women for doing the same job. In business, women are asked to exchange sex for deals and opportunities.”

The party said the fact that the police did not follow up on many of the reported cases of rape and other sexual crimes discouraged others from coming forward.

Malema said the government was reluctant to deal with gender-based violence because the government has not introduced radical changes when it came to the matter.

“From reporting, to investigations, to prosecution and ultimately matters being heard by the judiciary or judges. Women, who are victims of this violence, are made to report it in open charge offices in front of so many people who are ordinarily judgmental against victims of violence.

“The police who are trained to receive such information are themselves lukewarm and disinterested in dealing with such matters.”

* Kuben Chetty and Siyabonga Mkhwanazi are Independent Media’s regional political bureau heads for KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town respectively.

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