ECape MEC for Social Development urges everyone to take action against abuse

NOVEMBER 28, 2015

The Department of Social Development in the Eastern Cape says it is committed to use the heightened awareness the 16 Days of Activism Campaign generates about violence and exploitation of vulnerable people, as effectively as possible, specifically to highlight and address the plight of women and children.

"As MEC for Social Development I will take the lead in doing so. This commitment is further strengthened by my position as a women leader and member of the NWC of the ANC Women’s League. I am the first to acknowledge that the awareness that is created and heightened by the 16 Days of Activism should actually be fully part of our daily lives throughout the year, every day – for 365 days," the MEC for Social Development in the Province of the Eastern Cape, Nancy Sihlwayi.

"However, I find the criticism by some organizations that we only concentrate on the plight of women and children who suffer violence and exploitation for these designated 16 Days of Activism, and not throughout the rest of every year, very shallow.

"The 16 Days of Activism is a specifically designated period of heightened attention and increased activism with the intention to intensify awareness throughout our whole society and in every community, no matter whether urban or rural, rich or poor, black or white and to make sure that this heightened awareness will then transcend the period of 16 days and become part of our everyday lives.

The MEC said that, as examples: if the heightened awareness of the 16 Days of Activism encourages police officers to treat charges of sexual harassment and specifically rape with greater urgency and process cases faster, making sure that perpetrators are apprehended and that evidence is effectively gathered and cases professionally managed through our courts so that convictions are secured, then there is no reason why this cannot be done throughout the year.

"The same is true for domestic violence cases and child abuse. If any of these very serious matters are given heightened attention and are handled better during the 16 Days of Activism, then a standard is set that must be maintained throughout the year. It is my, and my Department’s, intention to monitor carefully and diligently the performance of law enforcement officers, medical personnel, social welfare workers, legal practitioners and our courts and to encourage them – and hold them to – the performance standards that they set for this period of 16 Days of Activism," she said.

"However, it must be noted that the 16 Days of Activism is not only directed to people who are working in these sectors, it is directed to each and every South African. This period challenges all of us to show without any reservation that we are committed to bring to an end the horrific violence (in whatever form: physical, verbal and psychological) and exploitation that is being perpetrated against so many of our fellow citizens – and specifically against women and children who are the most vulnerable in our society.

"There is much to be proud about what we have achieved during the past 22 years of our democracy, but sadly we should be deeply ashamed that we rank among the worst societies when it comes to rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence and women and child abuse. This is a serious blight on our nation, and we must spare no effort to address it. The only way this can be achieved is when every single one of us take responsibility.

"There is an old saying that all that is required for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. Thus, if any one of us become aware of domestic violence or any other violence or violation we must act, take the responsibility to intervene, support the victims and make sure that incidents are reported, and that the legal processes bring the perpetrators to book."

She said that too often people of authority use their authority and power to perpetrate sexual and violent crimes against those under their authority.

"This abuse of power is shameful, and wherever this scourge occurs, whether it is at home, in the work place, at school or anywhere else it must be rooted out. It will only happen if the victims are supported and they are confident that all government institutions and other institutions of authority (including all employers) will support them to out the perpetrators.

"Far too often there are still attempts by too many institutions (both government and private sector), and even in families, to hide and cover up instances of rape, sexual harassment and wanton violence because it is feared that to expose it will be embarrassing and bring shame," said the MEC.

"All of us must make every effort to bring this attitude and behavior to an end. The real shame is to hide such behavior and to fail the victims. To do so is to disregard the rights that our Constitution bestows on every citizen, and therefore to make them even more vulnerable.

"It is tantamount to inflicting even more harm, and to double-up the abuse, insult and injury that victims have already suffered. My unequivocal call is that every form of abuse must be brought into the open, and every member of every community must feel the responsibility to do so.

"Once it is in the open everyone must also make sure that they keep the law enforcement structures and legal processes accountable so that the perpetrators are brought to justice and the victims receive all the protection and care that they need to feel that justice has been done and to heal."

She said that these 16 Days of Activism are by no means only directed at women and children (who are mostly the victims), it is also very much directed at men.

"I am not saying that all men are perpetrators of abuse/violence against women and children. In fact the vast majority of men are not perpetrators of such acts and are good partners, husbands and fathers. BUT the sad reality is that there are far too many men who do make themselves guilty of various forms of abuse (whether it is physical, mental or just because they are in positions of power and authority) and this must end," said MEC Sihlwayi.

"Every man has the responsibility to critically investigate his own behavior and take action to change if he is an abuser in whichever way and of whatever kind. In general men also have the responsibility to check on their fellow men, and engage them to bring any form of abuse to an end. I am a strong believer in peer group pressure, and that men as brothers engaging each other to do the right thing, can have a very positive impact on our society.

"Obviously I need to balance this statement by stating that I am not saying that women can, and are, not also abusers and where they are the same pressures and negative sanctions should be brought to bear on them. However, in our society men are more often than not the abusers (also because of gender power relations), and therefore these 16 Days of Activism correctly and specifically challenge them."

She said as an African woman leader, who still on a daily basis experiences the wounds that the crime of apartheid has inflicted on African communities she cannot but emphasize the need for specific affirmative action and black empowerment steps (economic and otherwise) that have to be taken in order to address the suffering and deprivation experienced by African people.

"The most vulnerable people in these communities are women and children, and they also suffer most because of the consequences of all the forms of deprivation and discrimination that apartheid inflicted on us.

"Thus, while the 16 Days of Activism is of great importance to every South African regardless of race and gender, it has a particular urgency and poignancy for black African women and children."