Gender Links (Johannesburg)

South Africa: Whose Moral Regeneration Are We Calling For?

analysis

Anene Booysens, a 17-year-old girl from Bredasdorp in the Western Cape, was gang raped and brutally murdered on 8 February. Six days later Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in Pretoria.

The two cases are characterised by police mishandling, an inappropriate response from a government representative, a lack of decisive action to address gender violence from government and insensitive media coverage. Are these the actions of morally upstanding members of South Africa's public institutions?

Hilton Botha, the chief investigator in the Steenkamp case is up on charges for attempted murder. As an ordinary citizen, I was incensed when I heard Botha's testimony at the Pistorius bail hearing. Magistrate Desmond Nair referred to Botha's unconvincing testimony in his bail judgment.

According to the Times Live Lieutenant-Colonel Maree Louw, commander of the Bredasdorp Police Station handling the Booysens case is allegedly up on charges of reckless driving and defeating the ends of justice. She allegedly falsified a police report after hitting someone.

No woman should die in the way that either Booysens, Steenkamp or many others do. The Booysens' bail hearing is currently unfolding in the Bredasdorp Magistrate Court. Her murder and rape occurred on 8 February 2013. Pistorius shot and killed Steenkamp on 14 February. Last Friday saw the conclusion of his bail hearing, where he received bail for R1million.

Why did the justice system work for Pistorius? Was it to administer justice for Pistorius or Steenkamp? Did Pistorius receive accelerated justice because he is a white, wealthy celebrity? I have no answers but these are nagging questions.

Research conducted by Gender Links shows that only one in 13 women report a rape in the Gauteng province. Both the Steenkamp and Booysens' cases highlight the police's general bungling of gender violence cases.

As if that is not enough, our politicians send out a slew of mixed messages on gender violence.

On 19 February, Sports Minister, Fikile Mbalula, said that Oscar Pistorius "stood against abuse". He further stated, "We live in a world where we seek to build role models who can be exemplary to our society and youth. For that, Oscar has been our torch-bearer and an international icon that stood against human rights abuses."

How does a government representative make such a statement in the midst of the Pistorius bail hearing? In my view government should rightly say that justice must be done instead of actively supporting the accused in a femicide case. Research conducted by the South African Medical Research Council shows that intimate partners commit 56% of female killings in this country.

South African President Jacob Zuma calls regularly for South African citizen's moral regeneration. Zuma is the leader of the cause. The question on my mind after the Booysens, Steenkamp and many other cases that do not make headlines is: Whose moral regeneration should we be calling for?

I was not in the country when the President gave his State of the Nation Address on 14 February 2013. As I sat in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 15 February, I eagerly downloaded the address feeling certain the President would make a strong statement on gender-based violence (GBV).

The President made broad references to the National Council on Gender Based Violence, the success of the Sexual Offences Courts and talked of "heinous crimes" against women and the "scourge" of gender violence. He said nothing about declaring a State of Emergency on GBV or calling it what it is: a pandemic.

Zuma focused much of his speech on the threats of popular protest:

"We therefore call on our people to exercise their rights to protest in a peaceful and orderly manner. It is unacceptable when people's rights are violated by perpetrators of violent actions...

"For this reason, I have instructed the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster to put measures in place, with immediate effect, to ensure that any incidents of violent protest are acted upon, investigated and prosecuted...

"The citizens of our country have a right to expect that their democratic state will exercise its authority in defence of the Constitution that so many struggled so long and hard for. We cannot disappoint this expectation."

What about women's rights to safety and security as guaranteed in one of the best constitutions in the world? I am deeply disappointed. We need political will at every level of government but more importantly, we need strong leadership from the head of our nation. Booysens, Steenkamp and all the other women who live and die with GBV as a daily reality deserve far better.

Kubi Rama is the Chief of Operations at Gender Links.

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