Stop the violence against women and children, demands SAFTU

The South African Federation of Trade Unions fully backs the 16 days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, from 25 November to 10 December 2018

The extent of the problem was brought home on the eve of the 16 Days of Activism, when two serial rapists were convicted – one of 11 counts of rape and the other of a total of 43 offences – 13 of rape, nine of kidnapping, nine of robbery with aggravating circumstances, nine of pointing an object that resembles a firearm, two of aiding and abetting someone to commit an offence and one of sexual assault.

Then a few days into the16, a KwaZulu-Natal police officer, during his divorce proceedings at the Durban Magistrate’s Court, when the court adjourned for tea, shot and killed his wife and her brother, before turning the gun on himself. He later died in hospital. Such a horrific story points to a sick society.

Women and children are the biggest victims of a society in which violent crime is escalating out of control. Police statistics indicate the murder rate for women has increased by 16% in the past five years, and more than 18,000 child rape cases were recorded over the 2017/2018 financial year.

According to People Opposing Women Abuse an average of 360 incidents of physical and sexual abuse against women take place every day – meaning that a woman is abused every four minutes.

We must never forget the victims of such murders and the many others who have lost their lives, including:

  • Cape Town 19-year-old Sihle Sikoji who was raped and stabbed to death In 2012 with a spear because some men didn’t like the fact that she was a lesbian.
  • Anene Booysen who was gang raped and disembowelled in Bredasdorp in 2013.
  • Karabo Mokoena who was killed and her body burned beyond recognition in May 2017 by her ex-boyfriend, who stuffed her body into a bin, rolled it out and into his BMW, picked up a tyre, filled a container with petrol before covering Karabo’s body with acid and setting it on fire.
  • Hannah Cornelius a 21-year old Stellenbosch student in May 2017 who was abducted in her own car by men who gang-raped her, and then strangled and stabbed her to death.
  • NUMSA member Thembisile Yende who was brutally murdered while working at Eskom in 2017.

Thembisile’s murderer is still to be convicted, and many other offences are either unreported or reported but no-one is arrested. Too often the police and courts do not 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%. Many believe these to be underestimates.

This leads to too many men feeling justified in using violence to enforce their will against partners and children, and women in general, because they believe they have so little chance of their offence ending up in court or themselves landing in jail, that they just carry on regardless.

There is combined with a culture of impunity, combined with patriarchy, chauvinism and racism, which we inherited from the days of colonialism and apartheid.

Even when perpetrators are brought to court, their victims can still be further punished by defence lawyers who ask offensive and intrusive questions to try to prove that they brought their suffering on themselves.

Rape victim Cheryl Zondi was traumatised when she was even asked by advocate Peter Daubermann, representing the alleged rapist, Timothy Omotoso, how far he had penetrated her when he raped her when she 14.

SAFTU agrees fully with Bishop Malusi Mpumelwas of the South African Council of Churches that “The manner in which the victim‚ young and courageous Cheryl Zondi‚ was traumatised during a cross-examination that was reminiscent of the apartheid security branch interrogation‚ left many aghast and with serious questions about the conduct of the judicial system‚”

SAFTU is encouraged by the growing number of victims of sexual abuse who are saying “me too” and blowing the whistle on perpetrators. What began with charges agains powerful men in Hollywood, the U.S. Congress, company boardrooms, entertainers like Bill Cosby is spreading across the world, and here in South Africa, into the the world of arts and culture, NGOs and most recently the SABC.

As trade unions we have a special responsibility to fight for women workers who have been assaulted or sexually harassed at work, or even in their union, and encourage them to say #MeToo. This is harder than for Hollywood stars given the patriarchal hierarchy in workplaces where intimidation and threats of dismissal are used to stop whistleblowers speaking out.

This fear is not only experienced when at work, as women workers also face threats of both physical and sexual violence on the journey to and from work and in the home itself.

All these attacks on women workers, and the appalling levels of violent crime are rooted in the massive levels of unemployment and poverty in capitalist societies. It is worth repeating the quote from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last vear – that violence against women and girls — “the most visible sign of pervasive patriarchy and chauvinism… will only end when gender equality and the full empowerment of women become a reality”.

We shall only stop violent crimes against women and children when we end the ‘me-first’ free-market monopoly capitalist economy in which the pursuit of profit is the only morality, and South African women workers suffer triple exploitation, as workers, as women and as black Africans.

3,677,561 black women between the ages of 15 and 34 were not employed or attending schools, universities or colleges in the third quarter of 2018. This is almost half of the total for both genders and all races in this age bracket.

At the other extreme only 82,605 white males were classified as “unemployed, but not studying” in this period, a mere 1.1% of the total. Women in general also earn 27% less than men,

At work most women stay at the bottom of the wage scale and in the least secure positions, continuously sidelined and discriminated against in leadership positions at work, in community and political structures and in the trade unions.

SAFTU is creating a gender structure to lead a massive national campaign of educating and mobilising members and urging them to put an end to violence and discrimination against women and reporting others whom they witness behaving violently to women.

There must be zero tolerance of 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.

The federation also insists that this campaign must not end on 10 December but continue every day until we bring to an end the abuse, assaults, rapes and murders which so many women and children suffer and which still go largely unpunished.

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