by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG – THE cabinet’s approval and submission of three bills, now under the scrutiny of parliament, is a momentous step in South Africa’s fight against gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), the violations that have earned the country global infamy.
An escalation of these violent crimes represents a scourge-within-a-scourge in that they have heightened in under a lockdown to curb what has deteriorated into the most severe outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the continent.
While COVID-19 is a new crisis, having battered South Africa since March, violence against women in the country has been a catastrophe since time immemorial.
Matters have come to a head when in an effort to curb the COVID-19 by imposing a lockdown that encourages people to stay at home, the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa has indirectly exposed women to the GBVF scourge in that the home is the most prevalent setting of this form of abuse.
Most of the violence occurs behind closed doors, hence the lockdown has been somewhat conducive.
However, through the GBVF Bills, comprising the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill of 2020; National Register for Sexual Offences and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, the government is tightening the screws of such offences.
Their approval and submission to Parliament coincide with the country marking Women’s Month (August), albeit amid consternation among some sections of society that there is not much to celebrate as the violence against women surges.
The killing and rapes of women as well as girls during the lockdown have been a grim reminder of the hell South Africa has become for these vulnerable members of the community.
Government is hopeful the rot can be reversed, with the above-mentioned bills aiming to strengthen the country’s justice system to support and protect victims of GBVF.
The amendments provide a victim-centred response in the criminal justice system in respect of sexual offences.
It toughens bail conditions for perpetrators of sexual offences.
Warrants of arrest will no longer be a requirement prior to law-enforcement agencies responding to reported sexual crimes.
Parole conditions are also strengthened and minimum sentences increased.
These proposed interventions are apt considering the laws are seen as treating perpetrators with kid gloves.
The amendments also strengthen the repurcussions of contravening a protection order.
According to cabinet, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill also amends the National Register for Sex Offenders by broadening its scope from only children and mentally disabled persons, and extends it to protect all vulnerable groups.
Culprits in this register are compelled to disclose this information when they submit applications to work.
The Domestic Violence Amendment Bill facilitates the obtaining of protection orders against acts of domestic violence via electronic means.
“These bills respond to a number of issues raised during the Presidential Summit Against GBVF held in 2018 in respect of the criminal justice system,” Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, explained.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his first term that began last year, has made the fight against GBVF a priority for his government.
On Monday, as South Africa marked Women’s Day, he conceded there was an arduous task in eradicating discrimination, harassment and violence against women.
The president noted women were still largely excluded from the economy.
“If we are to truly realise the promise of our Constitution, we have to tackle the economic and financial exclusion that makes women more vulnerable to abuse and violence,” he said.
This month, South Africa is to begin implementing the National Strategic Plan to combat GBVF.
It is a government and civil society’s multi-sectoral strategic framework to realise a South Africa free from the scourge.
The plan recognises all violence against women- across age, location, disability, sexual orientation, sexual and gender identity, nationality and other diversities – as well as violence against children.
The 2018 Global Peace Index revealed that South Africa is one of the most violent places in the world, ranked 38 out of 163 and with one of the highest murder rates found globally outside of a war zone.
The 2018 Victims of Crime Survey reports revealed an increase in crime levels for 2017/ 2018, as compared to 2016/2017, coupled with a decline in feelings of safety and trust in the criminal justice system.
– CAJ News