Community Engagement Officer
The Justice Desk
On 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown following the declaration of a State of Disaster. Various ministers addressed the public as to how they will provide support during this time. In regards to Gender Based Violence, something that is very prominent in South Africa, the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, acknowledged the eminent possibility that cases of gender-based and domestic violence will rise during this time.
For many women and girls, going to work and school is an escape from their abusers. Now, during a lockdown when all citizens are expected to stay at home, what are victims supposed to do in the face of such violence and abuse?
The Department of Social Development announced that the GBV command centre would be assisting through Skype via “HELPMEGBV”, a toll-free line 0800 428 428, a call-back service by dialling *120*7867# and a sms line by sending an SMS ‘help’ to 31531.
“We will be increasing the number of social service professionals to ensure that the above are in order,” Zulu said. “All relevant shelters and supporting services will be operational 24 hours per day.”
Additionally, further support would be provided by police and the courts will be fully operational, according to Police Minister, Bheki Cele, and the country’s Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng.
In South Africa, over 100 cases of violence are reported daily, and many other cases go unreported. Law enforcement is now focusing on maintaining peace during this lockdown, as well as protecting all our citizens during this time of Covid-19. Such efforts have included making sure that citizens follow lockdown regulations, including the ban of alcohol, which if abused can result in GBV.
Despite having access to the DSD’s GBV reporting lines, many victims of gender based violence, even before the lockdown, were having their cases thrown out of court, which resulted in a lack of trust among, specifically, vulnerable communities and their law enforcement and legal services.
So where does this leave victims of violent crimes in times like these? What happens to those who are too afraid to seek help or those who don’t know how? Are our governments efforts really enough to protect our people?
The Justice Desk has come across many cases where women have been turned away and told by police that a domestic violence report is a “family matter”, because their husbands or boyfriends are their abusers. Other victims report being told by law enforcement that they were being ‘too emotional’, and other have been sent out when victims do not have the correct forms to report abuse, despite the very obvious physical evidence on their bodies.
It is obvious that there are gaps in our systems regarding the protection of women and children, as well as information on the necessary procedures one needs to follow when reporting a case. This begs the question, in a system that already has so many faults, what additional work is the government doing to tackle gender-based violence during a time of lockdown?
When there is no government to guide, the weight often falls on the back of Non-Profit Organisations. This is where the work of Human Rights education comes to the forefront. Many people are not knowledgeable about the ins-and-outs of their Human Rights and the negative effects it has on their lives when these rights are impeded on.
From a macro perspective, government needs to begin educating people on their rights and responsibilities, as well as procedures and protocols so that they can protect themselves. Information and forms need to be made available to everyone in both rural areas as well as metros. Without this, the rate of violence will not be reduced. Education is key.
As a country, it is our responsibility to educate and advocate for those who do not have the resources to do this for themselves. Additionally, if we are truly serious about changing lives, we should be empowering people with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves. Police need to be adequately trained to deal with matters of abuse in a proper manner and public information needs to be regularly updated to empower victims. Proper collaboration between government, police and the NGO/NPO sector needs to be implemented to ensure that change will be made.
The good news is that government and NPO’s have taken genuine steps towards working together to address various injustices. And the more we work together and support one another, our country has a real chance of changing lives for the better! Some may think our problems as a country are too large to address, but we have seen that change is always possible, as long as we take it step by step.
Never forget that moving mountains may be difficult, but it can be done! It all starts with a single stone.