On the evening of 29 November, amidst the pleasant settings of the Lake Hotel in Benoni, the National Department of Social Development held a dinner for its civil society partners in the struggle to End Violence Against Women and Children. The theme was “Count Me in: Together Moving A Non-Violent South Africa Forward”. The first such event to be held, the evening sought to honour the work of NGOs in combatting GBV. Representatives from across the country were present for the occasion.The evening kicked off with a welcoming speech from Ms. Nelisiwe Vilakazi, Chief Operations Officer of Strategy and Organisational Transformation, who opened proceedings by saluting NGOS as partners with government in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). The purpose of the gala dinner was then laid out by Ms. S. Magangoe, Chief Director of Families and Social Crime Prevention. She observed that GBV is not only a human rights violation but an obstacle to sustainable development. With 50% of women surveyed having experienced violence over the course of their lifetimes, and 78% of men surveyed admitting to perpetrating violence, she advocated for civil society and government to join hands in the struggle to end GBV. Magangoe highlighted the Department’s Gender Based Violence Command Centre and its work along with the launch of the National Emergency Response Team (NERT).
Ms. J.A Schreiner, Director General of the Department of Women, was next to take the stage, reminding those present that the fight against GBV is a 365 days a year, 24 hours a day responsibility, which does not end on December 10 when the 16 Days of Activism concludes. She spoke of her excitement over the excellence awards taking place at the dinner, and the “incredibly demanding and draining work taken up by NGOS” which she acknowledged. Schreiner also noted that permanent solutions to GBV cannot be found as long as women are dependent on men. In this regard, it was crucial to help women stand on their own feet. In addition, women must be enabled to understand the legal protections available to them.
Ms. T. Netshitendze, Vodacom Chief Officer of Corporate Affairs, followed. Partnering with government, Vodacom has supplied the IT needs of the Gender Based Violence Command Centre, as well as the manufacture of personal alarms being distributed to women and girls. Netshitendze spoke of South Africa as an “integral participant” in the global events of 16 Days of Activism and World AIDS Day (1 December), referring to the high levels of crime in South Africa. She observed that 22 years after the advent of democracy, GBV remains “one of the major obstacles confronting us” – a scourge that affects most families in South Africa, rich or poor, big or small.
Following Ms. Netshitendze’s speech, the South African Airforce Choir provided delightful entertainment. Testimonies were then given which underscored the need for the work of NGOs.
A highlight of the evening was Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu’s speech.
Bogopane-Zulu stated that, in dealing with GBV, we are “dealing with something that moves, and changes colour and character, every day. Each time you, as a researcher, think you know everything, GBV throws you a curveball ”. In speaking of her own experiences, she stated that she has never allowed her past experiences of rape to “determine what becomes of me”. Bogopane-Zulu spoke of her own journey, growing up visually impaired, and how her social worker had fought for her to have an education. “Do we still have those social workers today?” she asked, concluding that indeed, we still do. Bogopane-Zulu spoke of these social workers in relation to the NERT, and the “human touch” this initiative seeks to bring to every South African’s home.
The Deputy Minister stated that experiences and practices of sexual intimacy needed to be engaged with as the problem spawned much suffering with women undergoing many harmful practices as a way of pleasing their male sexual partners. This highlighted how many women do not experience their own sexual and reproductive rights that provide for women to have choice and to be able to desire pleasurable (non-coerced sex). Ms Bogopane-Zulu gave the example of women in Mpumalanga applying anti-perspirants and snuff to their vaginas because their husbands had complained about them being “wet”. This had resulted in genital health issues. Another harmful practice has been the insertion of certain herbs to produce tightening of the tissues of the vagina, which is believed to make sex more pleasurable for men, “At the heart of it is sex,” noted the Deputy Minister. “As we celebrate and thank you, because you work in this space, when I meet you again, we’re gonna put our heads together and you are going to give and share your notes, I’ll share mine, on this problem of sex and its relation to GBV.” She ended by reiterating the evening’s them of “count me in” and the need for everyone to raise their hands and stand up against GBV.
The evening’s proceedings ended with the handing out of awards to NGOs. Amongst those honoured were Mercy House, Sisters Inc., Creating Effective Feminists, and Grace Help Centre, to name only a few.
Food and music maintained the upbeat atmosphere as the evening drew to a close. It had been an enjoyable and well-planned event for the celebration of strides being made, but also a fascinating forum of ideas.