South African Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana has called for harsher sentencing of perpetrators of violence against women and children and for the speedy re-establishment of sexual offences courts in the country.
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, Xingwana said that, 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," Xingwana said.
"We also urge the minister of justice to speed up the re-establishment of the sexual offences courts."
For the 13th year, South Africa is taking part in the global 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, which runs from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) through to International Human Rights Day on 10 December.
Violence 'takes different forms'
Xingwana said that, despite South Africa's constitutional and legislative protection, violence based on gender and sexual orientation remained at unacceptable levels.
This violence could take different forms, including sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, domestic violence and other cultural practices that were harmful to women and children, such as ukuthwalwa (abduction of girls for marriage) and ukungenwa (the practice whereby a widowed woman automatically becomes her brother-in-law's wife).
Xingwana said the impact of gender-based violence in South Africa included direct costs relating to health care services, judicial services, social 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."
Call for partnerships
The minister called for partnerships between government and civil society organisations to deal with the scourge of violence directed at women and children.
"We believe that the unacceptably high levels of gender-based violence require the collective efforts of all South Africans."
Xingwana emphasised the need for concerted efforts to promote the 16 Days 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."
"We also have a duty to stand in court as witnesses to make sure that these abusers are prosecuted successfully."
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," Xingwana 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.
However, 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," Sotyu said.
"We remain convinced that empowering women will help us win the war against poverty, inequality, unemployment and abuse."