Comments by Mark Heywood, director of SECTION27, at media launch of Campaign against Violence to Women and Children 25 July 2017
We are gathered here today to launch a campaign that, if we are serious, has the potential to transform an improve the lives of millions of women and girls in South Africa. But if this campaign is to be a success it requires that we, particularly we men, start with an introspection. In this introspection we must:
Admit, we have a national crisis best-called ‘femicide’ in this country.
Admit, that rape and violence against women is socially determined and permitted by us.
Admit, that rape and violence is not just against women and girls but also against lesbians, gay men, transgendered people and other groups based on either their sex or sexual orientation. It’s about macho power over the other. It is vital that faith-based leaders play a role in de-stigmatising and normalizing sexual orientation to help quell the violence against these groups.
Admit that rape is carried out by men and boys; is overlooked by our political leaders (who are mostly men and have been given the legal power and duty to tackle social evils) and must therefore be ended by men. It’s a men’s problem requiring men’s leadership.
Admit too, that gender based violence is linked to the culture of immorality, impunity, consumption and corruption (what we call state capture) that we have allowed to take root over our state; it is inevitable, that if we treat people barbarically some of them will behave like barbarians. Gender-based violence is a social justice issue. Part of the commitment we must make must be to restore dignity and accountability to millions of people who are denied in in their daily lives, including young men.
I find it troubling that that this campaign is being launched at the Pallazo Hotel, one of the most expensive hotels in Johannesburg. It reminds me that we are less than ten kilometers away from a human settlement, a hell-hole, called Diepsloot, for women a place that is one of the most violent square kilometers in Africa. As many of you are unlikely to ever live there and therefore feel its insecurity I urge you all to read the Bhekisisa investigation in the Mail and Guardian http://bhekisisa.org/article/2017-07-20-diepsloot-i-will-rape-them-personally-those-drunkard-women-in-the-short-dresses
According to the Bhekisisa report Diepsloot, which has over 500,000 residents trapped in its confines:
“has a problem-drinking rates .. about three-and-a-half times that of South Africa’s already worrying national alcohol abuse rate of 11.4%, …
Diepsloot’s 13 extensions, … have access to only one decent family park, just two community halls and one library.
There are no public swimming pools, or free-to-use, well-maintained sports fields, only a few dusty makeshift soccer pitches.
“When I ask people, ‘Why are you drinking so much?’ the answer is almost always, ‘because there’s nothing else to do’,” Lekekela says.
The humanitarian crisis in Diepsloot exists because of us. It is a humanitarian crisis of housing, of schooling, of unemployment, of health services, safety and security. It is an expression of the vile post-apartheid inequality our country has succumbed to. At least Alexandra and Sandton pre-existed our democracy – a literal embodiment of apartheid. However, Diepsloot with its neighbours Steyn City and Dainfern, the rich new kids on the block, is a post-apartheid apartheid construct. Does it not trouble us that the President has more police assigned to his protection than the whole community of Diepsloot? So too does the Deputy President. So too, possibly do many of you.
It is for these reasons that SECTION27 will try to find ways to support the campaign against gender based violence in the build up to National Women’s month. SECTION27 has launched a campaign called #FAILEDBYSYSTEMS and will be publishing a series of weekly articles focusing on specific systems and their failures, the first of which have been published in the Daily Maverick focusing specifically on Basic and Higher Education.
We have decided to focus on systems failure, and to show how the failure of our social and political systems often has its greatest and first impact on women and girls. Gender based violence and inequality is not an issue to be left only to women’s organisations, or brave groups such as the 1 in 9 campaign. It affects us all. We should all take up arms to end it and challenge the systems that uphold this violence.
Finally, we must admit that we do have the power and resources to overcome this crisis. Ten years ago, when our government stopped denying the crisis of HIV we launched a National Strategic Plan on HIV, AIDS and TB – a plan that reflected a consensus between government, civil society and business. It was hard won. It was developed and implemented in the face of resistance of a President.
But ten years later that plan, and the action it has mobilised, has resulted in 3.6 million people receiving ARVs on a daily basis. It has saved 1,5million lives. It has prevented hundreds of thousands of new HIV infections, particularly of infants. We could make similar inroads against gender based violence – if we wanted to, and if we act in unison.
If we can make the five admissions, then we should act immediately. SECTION27 is ready with its hands up to work with you.