A Cape Town protester holds up a skateboard as part of the #totalshutdown march on Tuesday. Picture: ANTHONY MOLYNEAUX
A Cape Town protester holds up a skateboard as part of the #totalshutdown march on Tuesday. Picture: ANTHONY MOLYNEAUX

President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was deeply upset at hearing the stories of abuse suffered by South African women‚ as he addressed protesters taking part in the #TheTotalShutdown march in Pretoria on Wednesday night.

"You have the right to enjoy your bodies‚ the right to live a life that is happy. And I am sorry — I really am deeply sorry — that a number of women in country have not had the opportunity to enjoy all the rights in the Constitution because they are violated‚ abused‚ assaulted and a number are also killed.

"This causes me to hang my head in shame‚ because this is not the way South African men should behave towards the women of our country.

"We should behave with respect‚ with honour‚ and should appreciate and celebrate you as women and mothers. You bring life into this world. I was brought into this world by the women of our country and it is important for us as men to give that respect to you. And this is the message that I as president will be spreading over and over.

"I’m rather glad you’ve raised this at the beginning of Women’s Month‚ because that gives us the opportunity to give more substance and meaning to the interventions we should make to protect the women of our country‚ to make sure the rights in the Constitution are ones that you‚ too‚ as women of the country can enjoy‚" Ramaphosa said.

He was meeting protesters who had earlier in the day marched to the Union Building to raise concern over gender-based violence. They had wanted to hand over a memorandum to Ramaphosa‚ but he was not there. Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor was asked to receive the memorandum‚ but the marchers were not happy with this.

Ultimately‚ Ramaphosa said‚ he thought it best to make the trip to the Union Buildings‚ even though it was already after 8pm. He said he was there not just to receive the extensive document‚ "but out of respect to all of you".

"As the president of our country I do have deep respect for the women of our country and take my time to listen to the issues that are raised by the women of our country‚" he said.

"We feel the pain that you feel. I feel it very deeply. I also feel the hurt and the anger that you feel.

"We accept that‚ as women‚ who are the victims of gender-based violence‚ you are the ones who have the solutions — and I want to thank you for this memorandum. It is the most comprehensive document that deals with the issues and challenges that women face that I have ever read.

"We are going to go into this very‚ very carefully. We will go through every demand‚ every proposal‚ every point that you have raised … and I can assure you that we are going to make sure we give and pay attention to the issue raise here‚" he said.

Ramaphosa urged the women to continue making demands until things change.

"Please do not let up. Remain the activists you are. Remain noisy‚ as you are. Remain radical‚ as you are. And remain vocal‚ as you are.

"Because the message that you are imprinting here needs to be heard in the corridors of power‚ in the halls of influence and all of the country. And we will make sure that‚ yes‚ even the police‚ yes‚ even our Parliament‚ yes‚ even our judiciary‚ yes‚ even our traditional leaders‚ yes‚ even our religious leaders‚ must hear your message loud and clear‚" he said.