Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday promised not to let women down as gender-based violence claimed more lives of women in the country.
In his weekly presidential address, Ramaphosa acknowledged that many survivors of gender-based violence have lost faith in the country’s criminal justice system.
Factors that have contributed to an environment of cynicism and mistrust include difficulties in obtaining protection orders, lax bail condition for suspects, police not taking domestic violence complaints seriously, and inappropriate sentences imposed on offenders, Ramaphosa said.
South Africa has long been haunted by gender-based violence, particularly in recent months, during which dozens of women were killed by men as the country was fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rising gender-based violence has led to protests in the country amid growing discontent with the government for its failure to curb the scourge.
Women’s organizations have demanded that the laws governing the granting of bail should be tightened and long sentences enforced for offenders.
“As I received their clearly articulated demands, it was clear to me that we needed to act urgently and with determination,” Ramaphosa said.
The government, he said, has taken a series of steps to combat gender-based violence, including a 1.6-billion-rand (about 96 million U.S. dollars) Emergency Response Action Plan that was put in place last year.
Public spending in various government departments was reprioritized to support interventions in providing care and support for survivors, raise awareness through prevention campaigns, improve laws and policies, and strengthen the criminal justice system, according to Ramaphosa.
He said three key bills designed to fill the gaps that allow some perpetrators of gender-based violence to evade justice and to give full effect to the rights of the country’s women and children have been introduced in parliament.
These bills, once finalized, will help restore the confidence of women that the law is indeed there to protect them, Ramaphosa said.
The bills will impose new obligations on law-enforcement officials and on the courts, he said.
Prosecutors who do not oppose bail in cases of gender-based violence now have to place their reasons on record, while a person accused of gender-based violence must provide exceptional circumstances as to why they should be released on bail, Ramaphosa explained.
“Failing this the court must order their detention until the criminal proceedings are concluded,” he said.
When it comes to parole, a complainant or a relative of a deceased victim must be able to make representation to the parole board, Ramaphosa added.
A bill on domestic violence is now defined to cover those in engagements, dating, in customary relationships, and actual or perceived romantic, intimate or sexual relationships of any duration, according to Ramaphosa.
The bill also extends the definition of “domestic violence” to include the protection of older persons against abuse by family members, he said.
Failure by a member of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to comply with their obligations will be regarded as misconduct and must be reported to the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service, the president said.
“These proposed amendments are an appropriate response to a groundswell of dissatisfaction at the way survivors of gender-based violence have been treated by the criminal justice system in the past,” Ramaphosa said.