Kimberley — Women, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulu Xingwana has called for the harsher sentencing of perpetrators of violence against women and children and for the sexual offences courts to be re-established speedily.
"By giving women and child abusers harsher sentences, our courts are continuing to play a role in sending a message to these abusers that their actions will not be tolerated. Those who commit atrocities and murders against women and children must rot in jail. They do not deserve bail or parole. They must not be allowed to share the same spaces with our women and children, nor must they be allowed to roam our streets. We also urge the Minister of Justice to speed up the re-establishment of the sexual offences courts," said the minister.
Xingwana said the Domestic Violence Act must be heightened to ensure that the perpetrators of abuse towards women and children are dealt with effectively.
She was speaking at the launch of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign in Kimberley in the Northern Cape on Sunday.
The minister said on this important day, South Africans must pause and ponder the real impact of gender-based violence. These include direct costs relating to health care services, judicial services, social services and other related services.
She said gender-based violence robbed women and children of the opportunity to become productive citizens of the country. "It denies them their constitutional rights and condemns them to a life of perpetual fear. They are therefore prevented from enjoying the fruits of our freedom and democracy."
Despite South Africa's constitutional and legislative protection, violence based on gender and sexual orientation remained at unacceptable levels.
The violence can take different forms such as sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, domestic violence and other cultural practices that are harmful to women and children, such as ukuthwalwa and ukungenwa.
The minister called for a partnership between government and civil society organisations to deal with the scourge of violence directed at women and children.
"Government cannot do this alone and therefore depends on mutual partnerships with non-governmental and women's organisations, business, faith-based organisations, traditional leaders, political parties, various sectors of society and communities," she said.
The success of the 16 Days of Activism campaign was dependent on the partnership between government and various sectors of society including the media.
"We believe that the unacceptably high levels of gender-based violence require the collective efforts of all South Africans," she said.
This year marks the 13th anniversary of the national campaign which began in 1999. The theme for this year is: "From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women".
Xingwana emphasised the need for concerted efforts to promote the campaign in rural areas, including in farming and mining communities.
"Those most severely affected by violence are in these areas and may not be aware of the resources and services available to them to help them cope with their circumstances.
"I urge all South Africans to join this fight. When we know that someone is being abused in our own home or in our neighbour's house, we have a duty to report it," she said.
Xingwana encourage South Africans not to be afraid to be witnesses in court especially in cases of abuse. "We also have a duty to stand in court as witnesses to make sure that these abusers are prosecuted successfully," she said.
Domestic violence was not something that should be left to families to resolve. "An uncle who rapes a niece needs to face the full might of the law," she said.
Police Deputy Minister Maggie Sotyu said police training had been beefed-up to ensure that police are able to deal with domestic violence cases. The police were committed in rooting out domestic violence. She also encouraged communities to report domestic violence in their areas.
Xingwana said the reality was that victims of violence were reluctant to come forward and seek legal advice and social support.
"This could be due to lack of knowledge about their rights and the social stigma around domestic violence. We must also accept the sad reality that financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members increases their vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder.
"We remain convinced that empowering women will help us win the war against poverty, inequality, unemployment and abuse," she said.
Communities in and around Kimberley attended the event in large numbers, both young and old.
Energy Minister Dipuo Peters led the ceremony of lighting of Candles of Peace in memory of all victims of gender-based violence, xenophobia as well as the miners killed in the Marikana tragedy.
The campaign takes place annually from 25 November to 10 December. The campaign focuses primarily on generating an increased awareness of the negative impact of violence on women and children as well as society as a whole.