President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses protesters against gender-based violence outside Parliament in Cape Town earlier this year. File picture: AP

Durban - Almost six months after Cyril Ramaphosa took office as president of South Africa, the scourge of violence against women and children has continued unabated.

This is despite the introduction by Ramaphosa of a 5-point emergency plan and a pledge of R1bn.

However, the introduction of special offences courts is a step in the right direction towards fighting gender-based violence, said Sonke Gender Justice’s Vusi Cebekhulu.

Cebekhulu described the courts, which he said were recently launched in Mpumalanga and Johannesburg, as user-friendly for sexual offence victims. However, he said like its counterparts across the world, the South African government still did not prioritise the fight against gender-based violence. 

“But right now when you look at the approach in terms of building sexual offences courts it is a good sign. 

“These courts are meant to help survivors to feel more comfortable as previously they would go to courts where there was no comfort and even some judges and prosecutors were not clued up when it comes to gender-based violence,” he said. 

He said the new courts were equipped with officials and presiding officers who were well trained to deal with sexual offence cases. 

“Starting these courts is a step in the right direction because even the setup is conducive for victims to feel safer and be able to speak freely,” said Cebekhulu.  

He said the government might find it difficult to spread the courts across the country because of financial constraints. 

“We will always push for the building of more courts so that every victim would have access to justice instead of a victim who lives in Pietermaritzburg being forced to travel to Durban to access the courts,” said Cebekhulu.   

However, he said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was lagging behind when it came to playing its role. 

"It is sad that centres like Thuthuzela, that are managed by the NPA, are not operating fully.

"These Thuthuzela centres were meant to help victims to report the cases and also to provide medication and counseling, but they are not in a good condition and they are not operating correctly as they are short staffed," he said. 

He said community members should also play their part in helping to reduce sexual offences.

"The strategies are there but the reality is that we are struggling to reduce these. 

"When you look at the reported cases it becomes clear that we are struggling while there are many cases that are taking place but not reported. There are very high, which  is why we feel that there is a need for an ongoing campaign to fight this," he said.

Parliament's social development portfolio committee last month revealed that the Department of Social Development had introduced gender-based violence command centres around the country to assist victims.

"The command centre, which currently employs 44 social workers, provides online counselling and uses technology to geo-map where the violence is happening, and also ensures that the different services that deal with such cases receive reliable and accurate information. 

"The committee has committed itself to conduct an oversight visit to the command centre to see how this service is working," read a statement from portfolio committee chairperson Mondli Gungubele.

Political Bureau