'Law of the jungle' persists in SA: MPs weigh in on Ramaphosa's GBV address

18 September 2019 - 21:05 By Andisiwe Makinana
Despite strong words from the government, women remain a target in South Africa, MPs pointed out in response to President Cyril Ramaphosa's address in parliament on Wednesday.
Despite strong words from the government, women remain a target in South Africa, MPs pointed out in response to President Cyril Ramaphosa's address in parliament on Wednesday.
Image: Alon Skuy

Policing reforms, harsher laws and even a ban on all forms of pornography are some of the proposals MPs made as solutions to fight gender-based violence.

MPs were debating President Cyril Ramaphosa's address, where he unveiled an "emergency action plan" to combat violence against women and children. This included the urgent release of more than R1bn to tackle the scourge.

The EFF's Veronica Mente noted that there was no quick fix to the problem. "Our only help is successful policing, prosecuting, tough sentencing and working prisons. We will stay with this problem forever, as long as we do not fix these systems," she said.

Mente zoomed in on policing shortcomings, saying rape, abuse and murder of women had been a normalised over many decades in rural areas and townships where black people lived and where they has never been adequate law enforcement.

"In townships, police were from the beginning only trained to ensure that blacks stay there and never pose a risk to the white community and its properties. Therefore it is the law of the jungle that rules," she said.

This, she said, had been made possible by the colonial and apartheid states - and continued by the ANC government.

"In the townships you can be killed any time, anywhere by anyone with impunity because there is no law enforcement," she said.

Mente also lambasted police who sent victims home to resolve matters with their families. "You cannot tell women who are being abused to go and sort it out in the family. As a result, you need a psychological shift in the police and law enforcement in general that says the state has a duty to enforce the law - even against the wishes of parents and partners who withdraw cases because the husband feeds them," she said.

"Once you rape [or] beat up another person, you have invited the public law enforcement in your life and it ought to move in a decisive act.

"The mere fact that the wife is yours does not mean you can force sex or beat them up. It’s our vaginas, we can do what we want with them. It's our bodies," she said to loud applause in the house.

IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe commended Ramaphosa's initiative and pledged her support.  But she noted that following previous high-profile murders of women such as Anene Booysen, Karabo Mokoena and toddler Courtney Pieters, the government had pledged action - but to no avail.

"We were promised that the tears of their families would not be in vain. Government pledged then that things will change. But the reality is, as we have convened this urgent joint sitting today and as our nation now faces a national crime crisis, that nothing has changed," she said.

Van der Merwe said that in announcing the interventions outlined in his address, Ramaphosa had shown that he had the courage to act. However, what remained to be seen was whether the government had the courage to govern, the courage to do what was right and the courage to save the nation from becoming a failed state. 

"Mr President, I sometimes wonder whether the state of our nation keeps you and your government up at night. I ask because the reality is that millions of South Africans have sleepless nights because they live in fear for their lives. They live in fear for their lives because, as you admitted over the weekend, ours is a lawless country," she said.

Van der Merwe described the country as resembling a war zone, where lives mean nothing and where women face war on the streets, at home, in the workplace, at school and even at the post office.

"To date, the disjunction between what our women endure and what our government does in response has been alarmingly inadequate," she added.

ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe called for a ban of pornography.

"I believe government will go a long way in restoring the dignity of women by banning all forms of pornography, which objectifies women as sex objects. The ACDP has for years said that pornography is the theory but rape is the act," he said.

Meshoe also called for harsher punishments for rape, saying that to help send a clear message that the justice system is serious about fighting gender-based violence, rapists should be denied bail and parole.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa complimented Ramaphosa's announcement, saying that the president spoke like a commander-in-chief.