The seeming futility of it all – Women's Day 2017
8 August 2017
The Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana, has admitted to assaulting a woman after footage emerged across several media platforms of the incident. It is apparently not the first such incident, as other women have made similar reports of his conduct to the South African Police Service (SAPS). Their response was lethargic at best, and indifferent at worst. From April 1 to May 21 this year, 63 women were murdered in Gauteng alone, with 10 said to have been killed by their partners. The system - from the Courts to the Department of Social Development, through to the SAPS - is inundated with matters involving the violation of women’s rights.
Yet here we are once more - celebrating Women’s Day in 2017. Accordingly, the Department of Women, whose lassitude permits twice-yearly activity - during August (Women’s Month) and in October (16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Children) - has launched its programmes for the month of August. This, against the backdrop of the 1956 women’s anti-pass march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The Department intends to set about “dialoguing” with communities, to “have honest conversations about how we, as women have internalised the roles that have been taught to us from birth in our families”. Rome will burn as the government fiddles, all the while blaming women for their plight.
The Constitution, South Africa’s laws, as well as various government policies, do an excellent job with regard to the protection of women. The Constitution recognises not only formal equality but also enjoins the government to take positive measures to ensure substantive equality. Laws such as the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act and the Domestic Violence Act seek to ensure the physical and material wellbeing of women in the country. The Courts have placed themselves as the guardian of women’s rights through the progressive interpretation of certain cultural practices, including ascendency to chieftainship, as well as inheritance laws.
Yet the violence against South Africa’s women continues, seemingly unabatingly. It almost seems futile to once more seek to celebrate Women’s Day, as is done annually, against the backdrop of an almost all-out war against South Africa’s women. As some commentators have pointed out concerning the Deputy Minister’s assault, that it took place during women’s month is immaterial - that conduct should not be tolerated on any day of the year.
Human rights are interdependent, indivisible, inalienable and interrelated. Just because there are progressive laws guaranteeing both formal and substantial equality for women, does not mean that the fight for women’s rights has been won. Neither does the political representation of women in Parliament mean that women’s rights and interests can take a back seat. Women’s rights to dignity, life, and freedom and security of the person are just as important as other political and civil rights. The fact that women’s security remains vulnerable almost negates South Africa’s gains in other areas regarding women’s rights.
The Deputy Minister of Higher Education has not, as yet, been arrested, although strong statements condemning his behavior have been issued by other officials from his political party. He has apologised, but that is not enough - he must still face the might of law. This only serves to highlight the dissonance between the law and the lived reality for South African women. It also speaks sense of impunity for violence against women that his non-arrest generates. Ultimately, as a public official and political steward of education, the incident speaks of a country at odds with itself.
Enough of the platitudes, enough of the “dialogues”, and enough of the invitations by the private sector for women to shop on Women’s Day. All of South Africa’s society should be involved in seeking meaningful solutions to ending the cyclic spiral of violence against women. This is a time for firm decisive action to end the endemic levels of violence against South Africa’s women. The women in me; the Director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, the mother, the spouse, the sister, the daughter, are all tired of the platitudes and seek real solutions to the problem on hand.
By Ms Phephelaphi Dube: Director, Centre for Constitutional Rights, 8 August 2017