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South Africa needs young activists who will be prepared to stand and be counted

hlengiwe mkhize
By Hlengiwe Mkhize

In September 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa led a high level multi-party debate in Parliament, the outcome of which was an adoption of the Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP).

The goal of the adopted ERAP was to combat violence against women and children through a coordinated government and civil society plan.

When receiving the ERAP report, in May 2020, President Ramaphosa reminded all of us that it was implemented over six months.

As part of the prevention pillar, a number of mass media campaigns have been rolled out nationwide spearheaded by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).

This has been complemented by sensitivity training workshops for law-enforcement and judicial officers, as well as specific gender-based violence (GBV) awareness campaigns targeting men’s formations, offenders, youth at risk, and tertiary institutions.

Through an intensive consultative process, members of the Interim Steering Committee on gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) produced the National Strategic Plan (NSP).

The NSP is anchored on six pillars: namely, (a) Accountability, Coordination and Leadership, (b) Prevention and Rebuilding the Social Cohesion, (c) Justice, Safety and Protection, (d) Response, Care, Support and Healing; (e) Economic Power; and (f) Research and Information Management.

In line with government’s strategy of implementing the District Development Model (DDM), the NSP needs to be implemented at that level.In a 30-minute televised speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa read a list of names during his national address on Wednesday.

Public-private partnerships are critical during the execution of projects and programmes at DDM level, so as to allow multi-stakeholder players to intervene jointly for greater impact and for holding each other accountable.

Implementation at district and local level gives us an opportunity to look at specific sectors. Working within a specific district, gives one an opportunity to look at high risk areas within it.

In the context of GBVF, for instance, it is clear that we have to pay particular attention to institutions of higher learning within our districts, with high concentration of young people. Institutions of higher learning are constituted by young people who live on their own, with no adult supervision, especially after hours.

Some of the cases that constitute what people have said “there is a war that has been declared against women” have come from such settings.

It will be strategic to pay particular attention and create awareness about risk factors in these institutions.

I remember Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old University of Cape Town student who was tortured, raped and murdered in August 2019 in the suburb of Claremont, Cape Town. Just when we were mourning Uyinene, two months down the line in November, Precious Ramabulana was found stabbed countless times to death in her room off-campus in Ga-Joel Section in Botlokwa, Limpopo.

On the 21st of February 2020, myself and Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Buti Manamela and the CEO of Higher Health (HEAIDS), Dr. Ramneek Ahluwalia partnered to convene a  GBVF Assembly to hear testimonies of GBVF in these settings.

This assembly was held in Goldfields TVET College in Welkom, Free State, in the same area where Naledi Lethole’s body was found with a knife stuck in her neck, both breasts cut off and burn wounds on her lower body and face. Last month marked a year since the brutal killing of Naledi.

Deputy Minister Manamela assured participants that a policy meant to guide institutions on how to manage and prevent these crimes on campuses was about to be finalized.

I also alerted participants to the United Nations Generation Equality Campaign, which is meant: to ensure an equal future for women where there is equal pay for work of equal value, sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, to end sexual harassment and violence against women and girls, a responsive and caring healthcare system, equal participation in political and social life and fair representation in all areas of society.

Youth, particularly female students from institutions of higher learning, are faced with multiple obstacles that disrupt them from studying, with GBVF being the fundamental hurdle. GBVF is an impediment in the learning environment and some female students fall prey also to lecturers who sexually harass them during office consultations.

Young women live in communities that are equally unsafe.

The body of 28-year-old pregnant Tshegofatso Pule from Soweto was found hanged from a tree in Roodepoort. She had been stabbed to death through the chest. Another recent sad case is that of the brutal killing of 25-year-old Naledi Phangindawo, from KwaNonqaba who died of multiple wounds after being attacked with a knife and an axe.

Both these cases, are a few of those that occurred during the current coronavirus lockdown, showing that women are fighting two pandemics, the virus and the GBVF.

Gauteng police have confirmed that the body of another woman on Friday has been found near the Golden Highway in Orange Farm. She is the second woman to be dumped in the south of Joburg just this week after the mutilated body of another woman was found stuffed in a bag on the side of the Golden Highway.

I must agree with the president when he says “… at a time when the pandemic has left us all feeling vulnerable and uncertain, violence is being unleashed on women and children with a brutality that defies comprehension”.

The President further adds that these rapists and killers walk among us. They are in our communities.

“They are our fathers, our brothers, our sons and our friends; violent men with utterly no regard for the sanctity of human life. Over the past few weeks no fewer than 21 women and children have been murdered,” said the president.

During Dr. Andrew Mokete Mlangeni’s 95th birthday, I made reference to the brutal killing of George Floyd and the reaction from world leaders, that the global community, today more than ever, need young leaders who are committed to actions that seek to ameliorate the global challenges including increasing civic education, standing up for equality, human rights, environmental and economic justice.

In the context of GBVF, we need activists who will be prepared to stand and be counted on, ensuring that they do not collude in silence with perpetrators.

The youth can use their power to change patriarchal societal norms and values that undermines women’s rights as human rights, or retard progress in obtaining gender equality.

An institution of higher learning is an ideal place to deconstruct and construct value systems, and generally be a better person who is committed to gender equality.

The theme of the youth month 2020 is “Youth Power: Growing South Africa together in the period of Covid-19” – it is in itself a challenge to the youth to be champions in the fight against GBVF.

Today, I ask you to be the spark that ignites this change.

It will take time, it will take effort, but know that the work you do today will have a profound impact on the way South Africa is shaped, moving forward.

Hlengiwe Mkhize is Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities 

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