27/04/2011 President Jacob Zuma at the Union Building during the freedom day celebration. Picture : Sizwe Ndingane

Cape Town - Calls for President Jacob Zuma to act on rape and similar abuse marked the debate on his State of the Nation address in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

“The abuse of women has reached a tipping point... The hourly abuse of children in this country has reached pandemic proportions,” Congress of the People MP Juli Kilian said.

Thanking Zuma for his announcement that special sexual offences courts would be re-introduced, she warned that this on its own was not enough to halt the “horrific scourge”.

Kilian said South African women were angry.

“We have had enough. We demand a paradigm shift from men in society. Treating the symptoms of what is essentially a collapse of the social fibre of our nation, a sociological and criminal national disease, is clearly not working,” she said.

Earlier, Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe said the number of rapes reported in recent weeks - including the rape, mutilation, and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape - had left South Africans outraged.

“South Africans are outraged. There are calls for the re-introduction of the death penalty and for the castration of sexual offenders.”

Selfe said studies showed that only a fraction of the rapes which occurred were actually reported to police.

“According to police statistics, 64 514 sexual offences were reported in 2011/12, but according to the annual report of the National Prosecuting Authority, only 6 193 sexual offences cases were finalised, of which only 65 percent resulted in successful convictions,” he said.

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe called for the “severest punishment” for those found guilty of rape.

“South Africa's rape statistics are like a country at war with itself. We have the highest number of reported rapes in the world.”

It needed to be acknowledged that the country had “a serious, endemic, and sustained culture of extreme violence against women and girls”.

He called for “drastic action” by the government.

Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu used the opportunity to defend the government's “wage bill”, which had been criticised earlier in the debate for being too high.

The wage bill had been reduced from 37 percent (of the budget) to 34 percent in a short period, she said.

The government was committed to further reducing it in the next six months.

“We have brought it down through a number of cost saving exercises, in the public service in particular.”

It was also important to note that the wage bill was not the money paid to public servants.

“It is the totality of the money that government spends on salaries of all the people who are paid through the public purse.”

These included public office bearers, the judiciary, Chapter Nine institutions, and the public service at national, provincial, and local government level.

The government was particularly concerned about the quality of the public service, corruption in the public service, and the over-reliance on consultants to do what the state was supposed to do.

These went to the core of what the national development plan (NDP) said about creating the capacity of the state to ensure that state machinery functioned efficiently and effectively, and the services promised to citizens could be delivered.

Sisulu said the state's current capacity to deal with corruption in the public service had been reviewed.

“Our assessment is that the current capacity is unable to deal effectively with the scope and scale of the challenge we face.

“That is why we are planning to create an Anti-Corruption Bureau, a body that, together with the SIU (Special Investigating Unit) and other law enforcement agencies, will have the necessary powers and authority to deal with major cases of misconduct, especially by SMS (senior management service) members, and financial misconduct in the public sector.”

The government also remained dismayed at the number of public servants doing business with the state.

“The NDP and the Public Service Commission have recommended that we prohibit public servants from doing business with the state.

“We have accepted this recommendation and we are working on legislation to effect this, and henceforth no public servant would be allowed to do business with the state,” she said.

Zuma will reply to the debate on Thursday. - Sapa