Opinion Piece

Fikile Mbalula: The wearable shame of men labelled trash

The scourge of domestic violence, rape, femicide and infanticide are top priorities in my work as Minister of Police.

The world is facing a serious and present danger of a gender war as our women and other vulnerable groups, like children and the LGBTIQ communities, face increased brutality within their community settlements, homes and places of safety. From Chibok to Elsies River, from Khayelitsha to New Delhi, it seems men have completely lost their humanity.

As we examine this closely we soon realise it is not new; women have been silently suffering at the hands of their brothers, sons, fathers, husbands, boyfriends, uncles and so forth for centuries. The silence of the majority of us males in the process is a shame that condemns us all to fit the description of the popular hashtag “Men are Trash”. We collectively and rightfully wear this shame because it is men in our midst that perpetrate these crimes and despicable inhumane acts of violence – and our silence give licence. It is wearable; Men Are Trash.

The traditional unequal power relationship between men and women has historically played an important role in the perpetration of these crimes. Our past, that a man had power over his wife; including complete control over her property and of her daily affairs, bears a source of the scourge. The notion that a woman could be a man’s property instilled an idea that a man had the right to administer physical “punishment” to his wife, girlfriend or sister. Boy children saw this, emulated it. Girl children saw this and accepted it as natural. From it came other ugly practices.

We have said clearly this is a shameful past, it has no place in our current times, and it is backwards, animal like behaviour and immoral. This past has remained with us because there has not been a responsive message directed at our boy children and our male friends. Patriarchy and misogyny remain within us and it has turned males into animals and our women prey.

Female victims of domestic violence also often retract their police reports or suffer from the inside due to concern over the male breadwinner going to jail. This compounds this cancer into emotional and financial violence against our women. We can see the nexus of socio-economic ills playing a big part.

It is in this breath that as Minister of Police I will soon convene summits with stakeholders and civil society to hear, learn and together find solutions to this scourge from ground up. At the main summit I will also introduce and launch national policy on mitigating issues that discourage more reporting of these crimes and also how victims should be treated in accordance with various existing legislation.

The Policy on Reducing Barriers to the Reporting Of Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence will go a long way in getting us on the same line in a multisectoral way and involve communities in fighting this shameful scourge.

In my National Assembly speech this month I described violent crimes against women and girls by men as having a national security risk.

The slaughter and abuse of our women negatively shapes our gender population balance; these crimes remove the majority of our population from actively participating in the economy, they create a life of terror and unsafe feelings. This threatens the nature of our state.

These crimes are a direct violation of our basic human rights as contained in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights in particular.

The National Development Plan envisages a South Africa where, by 2030, levels of serious and violent crime have been reduced and all South Africans feel safe, whether at home, school, work, or in their communities. Attaining these goals requires the design and implementation of a range of interventions that act to prevent and deter crime, as well as respond appropriately and compassionately to victims of violence. Compassion by our first responders in the SAPS is doubly required when dealing with rape, femicide and infanticide.

The policy I will be unveiling as a response to the new wave will also contribute to fulfilling section 66 of the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act (SORMA) which instructs the SAPS under my ministry together with other government departments to provide for and promote the use of uniform norms, standards and procedures that will ensure members are able to deal with sexual offences appropriately and sensitively.

The policy aims to support governmental efforts to address matters relating to sexual offences and domestic violence and to enhance the delivery of services to victims within available resources. I articulated this in the snap debate in Parliament and have since refined it into a coherent policy framework.

In support of the National Policy Framework as contemplated by section 62 of SORMA, the following principles underlie the policy:

  • Adoption of a victim-centred approach to sexual offences and domestic violence;
  • Adoption of a multidisciplinary and intersectoral response to sexual offences and domestic violence;
  • Provision of specialised services to victims of sexual offences and domestic violence;
  • Equal and equitable access to quality services for victims of sexual offences and domestic violence;
  • SAPS must endeavour to have a female police officer on duty at all times to be the one who conducts interviews with victims.

Each police station must assess its design and service environment to determine if any of the barriers identified in this policy are in existence and take the necessary steps to address these. In addition:

  • SAPS members must work with both the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCC) and designated clinical-forensic centres established by the Department of Health to ensure that these services are offered on a 24/7 basis.
  • Where there is no TCC, no victim may be told to go home and return later to the police station due to the unavailability of a medical examiner. To ensure that inter-departmental services are available on a 24/7 basis, SAPS provincial management must liaise with the head of the relevant provincial department of health to determine the steps to be taken to contact a medical practitioner after hours and steps to be taken if the medical practitioner fails to comply with these steps. The victims must be provided an option to be examined by a female medical practitioner. All members in the relevant province should be informed accordingly. The inter-sectorial committee must ensure that this process is formalised.

In my speech this May 2017 at the NCOP, I said; “The offence of rape, femicide and infanticide particularly is surrounded by strong feelings, and insensitive interviewing of a victim, already humiliated and degraded, may cause further trauma. We must not re-humiliate nor re-victimise the victims”. At this point, SAPS must know they are responsible for humanity itself, they should do all they can to restore the victims dignity.

The mental health consequences of rape and domestic violence can be severe. According to the South African Stress and Health study domestic violence causes the greatest number of cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among women, while rape has the strongest association with PTSD.

  • All victims of sexual offences and domestic violence must be interviewed in private, in Victim Friendly Rooms (VFR). Where no VFR exists, a vacant room may be used in its place.
  • Volunteers or NGO staff working in the VFR may not mediate cases of domestic violence. SAPS members may not refer victims of domestic violence to the VFR or Community Policing Forum (CPF) for mediation either.
  • Each police station must create a resource list with contact details for organisations providing services to people with disabilities and older persons. To assist migrants and refugees, the list should also include details for agencies providing interpreters for a range of languages. Where such services are not available in particular localities the provincial commissioner must be informed and steps taken to make such services available.
  • When assisting deaf survivors, members can use written communication if the deaf person is literate and no interpreter is available.
  • Members should ensure their faces are visible to facilitate lip reading and stand within a distance of between 1 to 3 metres of the person. They should face a light source with the deaf person in front of them to improve the visibility of their faces.
  • Members should raise their voices without shouting and speak clearly and slowly, without exaggeration.
  • Only one person should speak at a time and an effort should be made to reduce background noises when dealing with deaf survivors, older persons, or survivors who are mentally disabled.
  • Touch or a visual sign may be used to gain the attention of deaf persons.
  • When possible, members should enable persons with disabilities to be self-sufficient.
  • Members should offer blind/visually-impaired persons their arm to help him/her move about in unfamiliar environments.
  • Members should not touch a blind person or make sudden noises without first introducing themselves or informing the blind person of their presence.
  • Members should address the person with disabilities directly, rather than through their caretaker/assistant. They should also address older children directly.
  • When unsure of how to help, members should ask the person with disabilities directly what they can do to assist them.
  • No woman or child must be sent back home without a case being opened and investigation started immediately.

I encourage the business community to adopt their neighbourhood police stations to assist in the creation of VFR. We have partnered with organisations like Spar in the Western Cape who have contributed to this worthwhile good corporate citizenship.

While some allegations of rape may be false, all investigations must commence on the premise that the complainant is a genuine victim. Police and community should not be courts of law or be mediators in domestic violence or rape. This defeats the ends of justice and it must stop. The gay community (LGBTIQ) are also genuine victims, irrespective of police members’ personal beliefs; being a police member means you are duty bound to protect and serve all communities equally. It is a crime to rape a lesbian or to administer so-called corrective rape or assault.

Before men become trashy, they are good innocent boys; as parents and communities we must take responsibility in the spirit of Ubuntu, humanity, and save our families. We must encourage society to go back to the basics and raise compassionate boy children to be protectors of their society. We must arrest the violence from a tender age. If we fail to teach our boys to behave properly, prison doors are open to take them in and my department will be strengthening policing and promotion of harsher long sentences with almost no option for parole.

I look forward to sharing ideas with stakeholders and hearing from women and good men how they could enrich our collective efforts. Starting with University Campuses Safety Summit and the National Summit on Reducing Violence Against Women and Children in late July, which will be instructive to the SAPS, a department I am responsible for. We are saying, “We have no time to waste time”. There has been one too many. DM

Fikile Mbalula is Minister of Police

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