Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini File photo: David Ritchie

Johanneburg - Violence against women and children is not a political issue, but affects every South African, regardless of their walk of life, says Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

“We don’t want to politicise this issue. It is one issue that can promote social cohesion… As we know, abuse of women and children cuts across where you are – elite or poor,” she told The Sunday Independent after this week’s meeting of the inter-ministerial committee on violence against women and children.

This week’s twists and turns in the bail application of Bladerunner Oscar Pistorius, charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp – his defence has argued he mistook the model for an intruder – follow the public outcry over the rape, mutilation and murder of Bredasdorp teenager Anene Booysen.

But reports of rapes and attacks on children and women continue.

Yesterday the ANC called on communities to mobilise against “the scourge of violating women and children” following reports of the rape of a two-year-old near Tzaneen.

Police have arrested a 30-year-old suspect, who is reportedly on bail for two similar offences.

“We call on men in our communities to take a stand against rape and violence,” said ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu.

ANC Women’s League spokeswoman Troye Martens added yesterday: “As a country we have to ask ourselves some tough questions: why did we fight so hard for this freedom we enjoy today? To become a society of rapists?”

On Thursday, Gauteng police arrested 12 men in connection with a gang rape near Driefontein Number Five shaft in Carletonville.

The police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, says it is investigating two police officers for rape, one of them in a Mossel Bay police station’s victim trauma room.

Acknowledging South Africa was still a patriarchal society, Dlamini said: “It’s not going to (change) automatically. We need to act so people change their attitudes.”

President Jacob Zuma may have set the tone in his reply on Thursday to the State of the Nation address.

“The shocking, barbaric and inhuman cases of rape that have taken place in our motherland, they need to be condemned fully by all of us,” Zuma said.

He was agreeing with one MP’s earlier debate contribution: “Legislation alone would not be sufficient to liberate women from the yoke of male domination and that we have to work on our attitudes in public and private lives.”

Dlamini said there were “some funny excuses” when a young woman was raped: the way she dressed, that she walked in the dark, or that she was at a tavern.

“This can not be. Women have rights,” Dlamini said, adding public education and awareness were key. “Families have to play their role, but also communities must respect women and children.”

Dlamini, who on Thursday visited Mbekweni township, Paarl, where a teenager was gang-raped, pointed out there were 24 licensed taverns in the township. Provincial liquor boards had to deal with the issue urgently.

The inter-ministerial task team, representing the departments of social development, health, justice, police, basic education, home affairs and women, children and people with disabilities, is expected to announce a programme of action shortly.

There was a need to move from policy to action and focus strongly on prevention and intervention.

Legislation – from the Child Justice Act and domestic violence laws to the Gender Equity Bill – passed muster in a review, but several gaps were identified for speedy remedy.

These included some services not being available or being of poor quality and a potential duplication as the prosecution authorities run Thuthuzela centres, while the social development and health departments run victim empowerment centres.

“We cannot continue having social workers, police officers and health workers who treat issues of domestic violence as a private matter.

“There is evidence that victims (have) reported case of domestic violence to police or social workers, but their pleas for help fell on deaf ears, or (they) were told to resolve the matter with their partners,” the task team said.

Sunday Independent