4 February 2013

South Africa: DA Will Fight for the Women of Swayimane in Parliament

press release

I have come here today to listen and learn about the stories of women who have been raped in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands over the last year, and to stand in solidarity with you. The stories that we have heard from your beautiful village shocked me to my core. No South African can remain silent while this war against our country's women rages on unabated.

I have come here today to tell you that in this battle, you will have me as your fiercest warrior. I will do everything possible to make sure that your stories are heard in your Parliament and that we do something urgently to address this issue.

The senseless rape of women and children - and increasingly of men - is deeply rooted in what is still a patriarchal society. We cannot ignore this reality. And if we do, we risk condoning this violence. Our country's men must know that it is as much their fight to have, as it is ours.

When one woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa, we cannot afford to waste a single second longer being politically correct. Too many women have been raped while South Africans tip-toe around what the real issues are.

Our history of oppression and conflict, which our resilient province has felt the hardest, has made violence acceptable in too many of our communities. We need to change this. The reconciliation project which former President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu started for us all in 1994 is not just about healing the divide between white and black South Africans, but also about healing the wounds which our violent past bestowed onto our communities and households.

This change will only be brought about by changing men's hearts and minds. Starting with the top downwards, we must strive to build a society in which all women can safely navigate their own bodies, and live as equals to men. Our constitution promised this.

Men who think it is their right to treat women like objects must know that they are wrong and that they will end up in jail if they do so. This type of behaviour is not endorsed by any religion or culture of this great country. So let us not be afraid to tell them clearly: if you touch my body without my consent, I will make sure you are punished under the law.

And we as women must know that our constitutional rights are not just ink on paper. They are made a reality by our exercising them. We must stand up and make sure our voices are heard. We must tell our fathers, brothers and husbands that a woman's body is her own. We must never compromise on this.

But we should not have to fight this battle on our own. Our government must be there to help us and defend us. I am sadly not convinced enough has been done to ensure that the rapes which your village, and so many others across the country, have experienced will not take place again.

There are simply not enough trained rural police in South Africa. It is indeed the legacy of Apartheid and its diversion of resources away from our most impoverished areas which resulted in this problem. But we knew this 18 years ago; how much longer must we wait?

More surprisingly, instead of beefing up this component of the South African Police Force, and tackling this silent war against women head-on, our government opted rather to cut back, by disbanding the Sexual Offences Unit. We told them then that this was a mistake. They did not want to listen.

They should hang their heads in shame for this, even if they now belatedly have realised their mistake. Indeed, it sent a message to the few but determined criminals who roam our streets that this government isn't serious about fighting crime and protecting the rights of women.

But I am not surprised. This has been a reoccurring theme under Mr Zuma's presidency. Instead of leading the charge against the fight against crime, he instead embarked on his own "special remissions programme", releasing 44985 prisoners. This is despite knowing that under the last programme in 2005, 157 released prisoners re-offended.

The women of Swayimane felt the brunt of this decision. A 94-year-old resident was brutally raped by one such beneficiary. I asked President Zuma in Parliament if he would apologise for this. He said he would not.

This is clearly a President who does not take the rights of women seriously. In fact, he cares more about his own security in KwaZulu-Natal than he does about the women of Swayimane.

Just 400 km away in Nkandla, his government is spending R206 million of public funds on upgrading his own private home. This includes an estimated R71 million on security measures, and includes bullet-proof windows, a bunker, housing for police and military personal, a private clinic, and a helipad. It is further estimated that we spend R1 million each month on his security.

If only the women of Swayimane had this protection. If only they were seen as important as President Zuma.

President Zuma should be ashamed that he has allowed this corrupt diversion of precious resources to have taken place, when he had the power and authority to stop it. If you were on his mind, he would have stopped it.

While Mr Zuma may have forgotten you, I guarantee you that I will do everything possible to ensure that Parliament does not.

The women, who were raped, like the others that I have met across the nation, are far more than survivors.

In their courage and quiet dignity, they win. The rapists did not break down their spirits, resilience, or humanity. You are, quite simply, the best of South Africa. Thank you for the privilege you have extended by hosting us today.

On behalf of the party I represent, the Democratic Alliance, I extend our best wishes and our support. As servants of the people, we pledge to work with you, and for you, to uproot this cancer from our society. Our work will not be complete until every woman can walk safely in her community.

Lindiwe Mazibuko, Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance

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