Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary, to the WWF in South Africa
July 25, 2018
SAFTU hails historic court victory against labour brokers
July 26, 2018

SAFTU supports #TotalShutDown

The South African Federation of Trade Unions fully supports the call for a #TotalShutDown on 1 August 2018 against gender-based violence and urges its members to join in the protest.

The campaign was also supported by the Working-Class Summit, representing 147 unions and civil society groups, which met on 21-22 July 2018.

The time has come to take a stand against the intolerable levels of violence and abuse against women, children and gender non-conforming people.

The South Africa Demographic and Health Survey, conducted by Stats SA in partnership with the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), reported in 2017 that:

  • 21% of women over the age of 18 reported that they had experienced violence at the hands of a partner. That’s one in five women.
  • 8% of these women reported that they had experienced such violence during the last 12 months of taking the survey.
  • It is particularly women living in the lowest wealth quintile that experiences the most physical violence; similarly, women with no education.


Physical violence is closely linked to sexual violence. A study by the MRC on sexual homicides in South Africa shows that one in five (494 of 2670) women who were killed in 2009 died in the context of sexual violence.

The 2016/17 Victims of Crime statistical release reported that 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offences. The SAPS estimate that a woman is raped every 36 seconds. The South African Demographic and Health Survey of 1998 reported rape prevalence at 4.0% of all women aged between 15 and 49 years in the sampled households,

All these figures on both murder, and particularly rape, are probably underestimates, given the number of unreported cases. Some estimates are that the number of rapes could be as high as seven times those reported.

One of the reasons for the low reporting rate is a lack of confidence that the police and courts will take these offences seriously. In 2009, according to the police’s own statistics, the conviction rate for murder in this country was 13% and for rape 11.5%.

A study commissioned by the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), ‘Rape In Justice’ reported that in 2012 there were 340 guilty verdicts emanating from 3 952 reported rape cases.

This has perpetuated a culture of impunity; too many men feel justified in using violence to enforce their will against their partners and women in general because they believe they have little chance of their offence ending up in court or themselves landing in jail, and so they just carry on as before.

There is too still a problem of so-called “corrective rape” against who are perceived to be lesbians, attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and the disgusting new outbreak of raping elderly women by people who are well-known to them.

As trade unions we also have to fight for women workers who have been sexually harassed or assaulted in their workplace and encourage them to say #MeToo. This is harder than for Hollywood stars given the levels of patriarchy in the work hierarchy, the use of intimidation to stop whistle blowers and the danger of being dismissed or even murdered if they speak out.

The underlying context to the persistence of these attacks on women and the horrendous statistics of violent crime is the massive levels of unemployment and poverty in a capitalist society which has become dysfunctional and structurally incapable of reforming itself.  We are all brutalized by a competitive, ‘me-first’ free-market capitalist economy where the pursuit of profit is the only morality.

There must be zero tolerance to all forms of violence and sexual harassment against women and children, fast tracking of the legal processes and the harshest possible sentences for those found guilty.

This is a campaign not just for women but for men to speak out too. Nelson Mandela said “when good men do not do anything where there are violations against women, there is a conspiracy against women”.

SAFTU is encouraged that the #TotalShutDown campaign is trying to reach poverty-stricken women living in rural areas, who are usually the biggest victims to these crimes, and women in Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana.

The campaign on 1 August will include marches in Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Newcastle, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

To get involved and volunteer, you can join the closed #TheTotalShutdown group on Facebook which has a pinned post with all the Whatsapp groups in the different communities. You can also find the group on Twitter.