Women hold up placards during their march against gender-based violence in Pretoria. Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA
Women hold up placards during their march against gender-based violence in Pretoria. Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA

On Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a raft of measures intended to turn the tide against abuse against women, including allocating R1.1bn in additional funding in the current fiscal year.

He said the cabinet resolved to re-direct the R1.1bn this financial year as a comprehensive response to such abuse, which has now reached crisis proportions. “It is the government’s intention that the funds appropriated for this programme will be raised from within the current budget allocation and will not require additional borrowing,” said Ramaphosa.

The government will re-direct resources to improve the functioning of sexual offences courts. Funding has already been approved for the establishment of an additional 11 sexual offences courts over the coming financial year.

The justice department is already working on measures to clear the backlog of criminal cases for rape and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), the president said. This includes the establishment of special courts, hiring additional court staff, and clearing the backlog at forensic labs.

In the budget tabled earlier in 2019, the department of women, youth and disabilities was allocated R244m, which will increase to about R260m in 2020/2021.

The increasing rate of rape and femicide in SA has come under sharp scrutiny in recent weeks following the murder and rape of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a UCT student, and the murder of female boxing champion, Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels, allegedly by her husband.

Escalation in violence

The latest annual crime statistics, released last week, showed a major escalation in violence to the highest level in a decade. A total of 179,683 crimes against women were reported. The government also acknowledges that the high level of violent crime in SA has had a negative effect on the economy and deterred tourism and foreign investment.

Addressing a joint sitting of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces in parliament on the crisis of violence, Ramaphosa said a broader strategic plan to address it is being finalised.

Emphasis will be on how to prevent abuse against women; strengthening the criminal justice system; enhancing the legal and policy framework; providing adequate care, support and healing for victims of violence; and improving the economic power of women in SA.

“While it has its own specific causes and features, gender-based violence reflects a broader crisis of violence in our society,” said Ramaphosa, adding that the extraordinary and immediate response needed to turn the tide against such violence and femicide will need to be matched by a substantial and urgent re-allocation of resources.

“We will propose to parliament the necessary legislative changes to ensure that all crimes against women and children attract harsher minimum sentences,” said Ramaphosa.

Furthermore, said the president, by tackling unequal economic power dynamics, the government can reduce the vulnerability of women to abuse. Thus, he said, the government will continue to prioritise women when it comes to access to employment, training opportunities and procurement of services.

“We call upon the private sector to do the same. The government is committed to reach its target to set aside 30% of the value of its procurement for women-owned businesses, and to progressively increase that to 40%.”

 In his address to the joint sitting, DA leader Mmusi Maimane called for urgent legislative reforms to combat the abuse. “We need to replace both the Domestic Violence Act and the Protection from Harassment Act with a single piece of legislation that is better suited to this challenge.”