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It's difficult to celebrate Freedom Day when so many in SA are not safe: Amnesty International SA

Amnesty International South Africa says gender based violence and femicide is a second pandemic, but says the state doesn't seem to take it too seriously. Stock photo.
Amnesty International South Africa says gender based violence and femicide is a second pandemic, but says the state doesn't seem to take it too seriously. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Artit Oubkaew

The scourge of gender-based violence and femicide in SA leaves no room to celebrate Freedom Day for women and girls in the country, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

The organisation's executive director Shenilla Mohamed said the government did not appear to take the GBVF pandemic seriously, despite several commitments to fight the scourge. 

“While there have been many freedoms gained since 1994, women and girls are still not free from the shackles of gender-based violence and femicide. Despite the adoption by the government of the national strategic plan (NSP) on gender-based violence and Femicide (GBVF) in 2019 to strengthen its response to the high incidence of gender-based violence, cases of GBVF continue to soar,” said Mohamed.

“The plan is not being adequately implemented, with the government failing to reach or report on many of the indicators and targets set out in the first year of its implementation.”

She said there was little regard for the right to life and those who live in the country and that women and girls are not safe.

Rising cases of violations against women and children were a concern, as she shared that the quarterly crime statistics released in February revealed that 11,315 people were raped between October and December 2021.

She highlighted that in 2020, the government committed to reducing the GBVF-related forensic cases backlog from 16,000 to 5,000 by March 2020. However, this skyrocketed to 82,000 cases during 2021/2022 and there is still a DNA backlog of 58,000 cases, delaying justice for victims and survivors of GBVF.

Mohamed said the families of Popi Qwabe and her best friend Bongeka Phungula are among the many families still waiting for justice.

Qwabe and Phungula were raped and murdered in 2017. Charges against the two men arrested in connection with their case were dropped and Amnesty International SA says no thorough investigation has taken place, leaving the families in the dark with no hope of justice being served.

Thankfully, in 2020, Amnesty International highlighted Qwabe and Phungula’s case during the annual Write for Rights campaign, and the investigation into their murders was reopened, bringing their families one step closer to justice. Over 341,000 Amnesty supporters signed the petition to demand this. The matter is now with the National Prosecuting Authority.

According to Amnesty International’s annual report for 2021, there were 117 cases of femicide in the first half of the year, while there were 14,188 reported cases of sexual offences between October and December.

“The justice system needs to play its part in ensuring that there are consequences for these crimes and accountability is needed from the state when it comes to ensuring that everyone living in the country is safe,”  Mohamed said.

Amnesty International SA launched the third phase of its gender-based violence campaign, #InterruptBrokenPromises on April 19. 

The campaign demands:

  • The immediate establishment of a national council on gender-based violence and femicide, including the development of a costed and funded operational plan.
  • The DNA backlog of 58,000 cases is cleared by the end of September, as publicly committed to by minister for police Bheki Cele on March 24.
  • The immediate rollout of appropriate, mandatory and continuous victim-centric training for personnel in the criminal justice system, increased transparency about how many people have been trained, and the impact of the training.
  • For clear, measurable annual performance targets to be developed for every indicator of the National Strategic Plan on GBVF, and for this information to be made publicly available.
  • For transparent, timely, accurate and regular progress reports to be made public and accessible on a biannual basis by all relevant government departments on the implementation of the above indicators and aligning their performance and targets across all annual performance plans, annual reports and the National Strategic Plan on GBVF.

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