The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, talks about intimate femicide in Durban on Friday. The dialogue was part of the department’s Human Rights Month commemorations to create an opportunity for abused women to share their experiences, motivate other victims and raise awareness of the high incidence of intimate femicide. Picture: Leon Lestrade
Durban - South Africa does not know how many women are in danger of dying at the hands of their partners because women fear speaking out about abuse, and the justice system has no way of collecting information on gender-based violence.

On Friday in Durban, the Department of Justice launched a national programme for a dialogue on intimate femicide, which could change the way cases dealing with violence against women were reported and filed.

Women around the country will be encouraged to speak out about abuse they suffer at the hands of their partners.

Intimate femicide is described as the killing of a woman by an intimate partner.

“The incidence of intimate femicide in our country is a serious concern. Last year, there were about 189 000 new applications for protection orders.

“Gauteng registered the highest number of cases, followed by KwaZulu-Natal and then the Western Cape,” said Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery.

However, he said, the department was seeing increasing figures in the cancellation of protection orders - which are valid for life - by victims. This is one of the earliest signs of gender-based violence, as the partner or family threaten the victim if they do not withdraw it.

“There is often a low reporting rate because of the stigma attached. This makes it difficult to determine the exact magnitude of domestic violence in the country,” he said.

The department hopes the dialogues will lead to effective changes in policies.

“The Intimate Femicide Dialogues are also conducted to respond to the report compiled by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, after its visit to South Africa in December 2015.

“One of its recommendations is the establishment of a Femicide Watch, which would release a report every year, detailing the number of gender-related killings per year, desegregated by age and sex of the perpetrators, as well as the relationship between perpetrator and victim.”

Presently, there was no government department that collected statistics specifically on intimate femicide cases, because they fell under any of the categories relating to assault, murder or general contact crimes.

“South Africa is working towards improving its data collection in this regard. This means we are getting closer to having a ‘Femicide Watch’, which will be a data bank capturing the details of victims.

“Currently, all cases of homicide are captured collectively without the identification of the relationship between the accused and the deceased. This is mainly because the charge sheet does not make any provision for the capturing of the details of victims.

“To address this, our chief directorate in the promotion on the rights of vulnerable groups is working with the National Prosecution Agency and other stakeholders to amend the charge sheet by adding an annexure that will reflect the critical details of victims.

“The SAPS and the Department of Correctional Services are represented in the Charge Sheet Amendment Task Team, and have been requested to amend their data capturing tools and systems accordingly.”

NGOs and other civil rights organisations working with victims and survivors of domestic violence welcomed the initiative.

Cookie Edwards, of the KZN Network on Violence Against Women, said the discussion was long overdue.

“I’ve been working in this industry for about 30 years, and I keep asking myself why violence against women is still happening 30 years later when we are supposed to have advanced as a community.

“We need a dialogue to hear what is happening on the ground, and use this information to implement changes to policies,” she said.

Intimate femicide, said Edwards, was the worst kind of murder.

“This crime is done by someone you love, someone you trust and expect to care for you, not harm you. The person manipulates you and slowly starts the abuse and the woman thinks it’s a sign of love,” she said.

Nondumiso Nsibande, of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said gender-based violence continued to plague society, and that changes to the policies would give hope to women in abusive relationships.

Pat Moodley, head of legal services at the KZN Department of Justice, said patriarchy was one of the reasons for gender-based violence, and this system was especially predominant in the province.

“Just this week we heard of the man from Chatsworth who got three life sentences for murdering his wife and two children. This crime is still prevalent and we have to work hard to put an end to it.”

The worst kind of murder

* Pretoria model Zanele Khumalo, 18, who was five months' pregnant, was murdered by her boyfriend and the father of her unborn child, Thato Kutumela. He is serving a 20-year jail term.

* Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was arrested and charged with the murder of his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

* Businessman Christopher Panayiotou allegedly masterminded his wife's killing and contracted Luthando Siyoli for the murder. He, in turn, allegedly hired alleged hitman, Sizwe Prince Vumazonke.

* The body of Fatima Choonara, 28, was found in her Polokwane home after what was believed to be a robbery. Her husband was later arrested for her murder.

* Last year, real estate executive Jason Rohde allegedly murdered his wife, Susan, at a luxury Stellenbosch hotel. He was released on bail of more than R1 million in September.

Independent on Saturday