MPs slammed for heckling during debate on 'national crisis' of femicide and gender-based violence

03 September 2019 - 16:39 By THABO MOKONE
Minister of women Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told parliament most of our homes are war zones and domestic violence has reached endemic proportions'. 'She said parents needed to raise their children differently. File picture.
Minister of women Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told parliament most of our homes are war zones and domestic violence has reached endemic proportions'. 'She said parents needed to raise their children differently. File picture.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe/The Times

Sexual violence and the killing of women by men has reached crisis proportions, minister of women Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said on Tuesday.

Speaking in the National Assembly during a debate on national Women's Day, Nkoana-Mashabane said it was shocking that "a person who is employed and paid by the state" had allegedly raped and killed a University of Cape Town student, 19-year old Uyinene Mrwetyana.

Nkoana-Mashabane said it was also concerning that at least 30 women were killed during Women's Month in August, which is meant to honour and recognise the role played by women in the liberation struggle and the general development of South Africa.

"It's a national crisis. It's no longer just another shameful act that we read about. Where are safe spaces for women in this country? Do we still have them?" she asked.

"If a home is not a space for a young girl, where else will be her sanctuary? We must invest in prevention programmes where love and respect is included and inculcated in our children.

"Unfortunately, most of our homes are war zones and domestic violence has reached endemic proportions, and we urgently need interventions in many families," she said.

Anger and outrage followed the discovery of the body of missing 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana on September 02, 2019. She had been missing since August 24. A 42-year-old man who worked at the Clareinch Post office allegedly confessed to the rape and murder. Gender-based violence has been a national issue in South Africa for years, with 3 915 women and children being murdered in 2018.

ANC MP and chairperson of parliament's multi-party women's caucus, Nkhensani Bilankulu, said government needed to declare a state of emergency to deal with the scourge of violence against women.

"As the ANC we call for a state of emergency to be declared on gender-based violence and femicide. Men who murder women and children must get nothing less than a life sentence.

"Cases of gender-based violence and femicide must be fast-tracked. The houses of parliament must review how the law deals with perpetrators of violence against women," said Bilankulu.

DA MP Nazely Sharif said parents needed to change how they raised their boy and girl children.

"Parents, I'm going to speak to you frankly, and it may come across as blunt, but we must start raising our children differently. When you tell your son  'boys don’t cry' and he must 'toughen up', what you’re doing is raising men who don’t know how to deal with their emotions in a healthy manner, and it is us women who must deal with their toxic behaviour.

"When your daughter comes to you and tells you she is being molested and raped, or being abused by her partner, don’t tell her this is a family matter because what you are doing is creating a culture of silence and telling her that her voice means nothing. This must end," she said.

EFF MP Mmabatho Mokause and public works minister Patricia de Lille also called for changes to the national criminal procedures act to provide for harsher sentences against perpetrators of sexual violence and femicide.

The IFP's Liezel van der Merwe said nothing had changed since parliament held a similar debate last year.

"I feel despair because instead of offering us hope and intervention, our government offers us condolences. How many more South Africans have to die before our government finally listens and acts? In the midst of my despair I was moved by one government that cared and listened. Sierra Leone's president recently declared rape and sexual violence a national emergency in his country. He responded to a national outcry, I believe it's time for us to follow his example and do the same," she said.

ACDP MP Marie Sukers took a different angle, admonishing her colleagues from the EFF and the ANC for heckling each other during a debate of such a sensitive matter.

"If this can happen in this parliament while our country is burning, then there's a big crisis. It's a crisis of leadership, not for one party but for all of us. We need to give leadership to our people. Our people are terrified.

"How can we, as women in the middle of a debate, raise our voices and heckle like that? Our people deserve better from us," Sukers said.

Sukers received support from speaker Thandi Modise.

"Honourable members, the honourable Sukers is right. This is not a moment where we divide ourselves. This is the moment where we focus on a national problem, where we find one another and find solutions, and we just conduct that," she said.

At the end of the debate, Modise ordered all MPs to stand and observe a moment of silence to show respect to victims of sexual violence and femicide.

"We have failed to protect. We were given the responsibility to protect, to guide, to nurture, and bad things happened," she said.