It was around 3am when Kholiwe Dlamini’s husband sexually assaulted her with a bottle of roll-on deodorant. “At that point, I said if I am not killed today, I am going to kill him.”
The unrelenting and neverending abuse forced Dlamini, 37, to seek out a hitman at the Denver Hostel in Johannesburg to kill her abuser. Dlamini screamed frantically in the hostel passageway for help. “I had reached my breaking point and I just wanted an inkabi [hitman] to kill him.”
But even the hitman told Dlamini that “this is how men are”. She would have left her abuser earlier, she said, had she known there are shelters of safety that accommodate victims of abuse and their children.
Although she reported the incidents and had even sought judicial intervention at the local magistrate’s court, Dlamini was not initially told about shelters such as Ikhaya Lethemba in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. This centre is the flagship project of the Gauteng Department of Community Safety. It is a one-stop centre for women victims of crime and violence.
“I was not given information about places of safety for women like me and so I kept on going back to my abuser because I didn’t have a place to live.”
Dlamini said that even the police didn’t tell her about the shelters to which she and her children could go to seek refuge. “Sometimes victims are ridiculed at police stations.”
According to Dlamini, the abuse started after she disappeared for four months. Dlamini said that in 2015, she was drugged during a job interview in Cape Town. For months, her captors injected her with drugs and forced her to do manual labour at what she believes is a “drug dungeon”. She reported the incident to the police as a kidnapping.
Although she was grateful to escape and make her way home to Johannesburg, the father of her two children, Junior and Chimamama, had already moved on to another relationship. “That’s when the abuse started. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain.”
Dlamini cited several challenges in helping victims of gender-based violence.
Sodom and Gommora
President Cyril Ramaphosa has compared the increase in crimes against women in South Africa to the biblical city of Sodom and Gommora, citing patriarchy and moral decay as the root cause of the emergency.
Although Ramaphosa has pledged R1.6 billion to strengthen existing gender-based violence programmes and introduce new measures to confront the paralysing statistics, parliamentarians have questioned how money can stop a father from raping his daughter or a husband from assaulting his wife.
It’s an important question, given that most of the crimes against women and children are perpetrated within a residence, according to the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) annual report for 2018-2019.
Ramaphosa’s pledge includes R179 million for education, awareness and prevention programmes to address issues such as patriarchy and chauvinism. And R517 million has been set aside to fund care and support programmes for survivors of gender-based violence.
The president’s proposal might soften the blows women suffer. But survivors of gender-based violence say that even with funds for prevention programmes and shelters that assist survivors, reporting such crimes at police stations is a demeaning task.
Survivors say the police sometimes dismiss their complaints, either refusing to believe the woman’s allegations or at times intimidating or warning victims against attempting to file charges against the perpetrator.
In 2018, former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana managed to escape assault charges after his former domestic worker, Christine Wiro, withdrew assault, intimidation and crimen injuria charges hours after reporting the case. It is said Wiro was pressured into dropping the charges.
Dlamini further described the humiliation of being ridiculed at a police station when she first reported the beatings. She says cases of domestic violence are often neglected, not investigated or the dockets get lost.
The challenges of addressing gender-based violence are compounded by the limited number of shelters that can assist victims.
Survivor Michelle Mogano, 19, red-flagged the trauma of seeing her assailants in her neighbourhood, Tsutsumani in Alexandra, just weeks after they raped her.
Two men kidnapped and raped Mogano after hijacking the taxi in which she was travelling in September 2016. “When we got to Section 8, two guys got into the taxi and pointed at us with guns. The taxi driver managed to escape and I couldn’t get out of the car because the taxi was locked.”
The suspects drove to Giyani in Limpopo, taking Mogano with them. “They raped me from Johannesburg to Giyani. I kept thinking I am going to die today … I am going to die.”
Like Dlamini, Mogano found refuge at the Ikhaya Lethemba centre, where she received counselling for the trauma and learnt skills to help rebuild her life.
“I had acually thought that I had dealt with the rape, but I no longer felt safe in a crowd of people. I was short-tempered and I started smoking, partying and drinking. But when I got to the centre, I realised that my life is not over and maybe my story will help other women to heal,” said Mogano.
Ikhaya Lethemba can accommodate 120 women and children for a period of up to nine months. A social work team from LifeLine provides individual and group counselling to residents of the shelter. The counselling service also runs an in-house crèche, library and gym.
Chief social worker Nombuso Masinga said the shelter also has a family justice unit, which tracks cases for victims. Masinga explained that victims of violence have to be South African citizens to stay at the shelter and they must open a case with the police against their abuser.
Speaking about the statistics that show the rise in gender-based violence in the country, Masinga said the shelter sees about 35 victims of violence monthly. The women are mostly between 25 and 40 years old and most of the incidents occur in the morning or late afternoon.
“Mostly, it’s older women that come. But we have high school girls that come to the shelter, most of them, it’s [because of] sexual violence. Most are victimised when they are travelling to work or school.”
According to Masinga, nine out of 10 victims of violence go back to their perpetrators to meet basic needs such as shelter or food. Although security is tight at the centre, some perpetrators try to access the building to get the victims to return with them.
Neither Dlamini nor Mogano knew of the existence of the Ministry in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities or its mandate to serve the country’s women.
According to the SAPS annual report for 2017-2018, 50 108 sexual offences were reported. An increase of 448 or 0.9% compared with 2016-2017, when 49 660 reports were made.
Sexual offences include rape, sexual assault, attempted sexual offences and contact sexual offences.
The 2018-2019 police report shows 52 420 sexual offences, up by 2 312 or 4.6% from the previous year.
The provinces that contributed most to the increase in sexual offences were Mpumalanga (with an increase of 272 incidents reported or 8.5%), the Eastern Cape (637 or 7.9%), Gauteng (637 or 6.3%) and KwaZulu-Natal (549 or 6.3%).
The police stations with the highest number of reports of sexual offences include those in Inanda, Umlazi, Thohoyandou and Lusikisiki.
The police recorded 179 683 reported crimes against women in 2018-2019, according to the SAPS report, an increase of 1.2% from the 177 620 crimes reported in 2017-2018.
The mandate of the women’s ministry is to provide strategic leadership and coordination with government departments and in the country to mainstream empowerment programmes for women, youth and people with disabilities. The aim is to create a transformed, inclusive society that is free from all forms of discrimination and capable of self-actualisation, or realising its full potential.
Ministry spokesperson Shalen Gajadhar said it is a policy, research and monitoring department with an oversight function. It looks into how the government implements programmes to address gender and inclusion imbalances of the past.
“We look at the representation of women, youth and persons with disabilities in all programmes of government and forge partnerships with civil society in responding to often overlooked issues linking to gender inequality, inclusion, marginalised groups and at risk communities like the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Lisa Vetten, a researcher who has focused on violence against women for more than 20 years, has criticised the ministry for its “unclear mandate”.
She said, “Every single structure or department that has been set up in government to address women and tackle GBV [has] failed.”
Vetten attributed some of the ministry’s challenges to entrusting other departments, such as the Department of Social Development, to fulfill its mandate. She said services from some departments plummeted during the administration of former president Jacob Zuma, including those that deal with women’s issues.
“Another problem is that government departments do not have authority over each other. If I, as the department of women, think the department of social development is doing a bad job, I cannot go to the department and tell them they are doing a horrible job and tell them what they need to do differently.”
Gajadhar said the ministry is not an implementing department, but is located within the presidency to provide oversight and develop frameworks and guidelines on the implementation of gender equality programmes. This extends to the youth and people with disabilities.
Responding to whether or not the ministry does enough to stop violence against women, Gajadhar said the department plays a critical role in the fight against gender-based violence. It is on the Interim GBVF Steering Committee that is working on the National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence.
“Government cannot deal with the scourge of gender-based violence alone. This will require partnership from government, civil society, the private sector, labour, faith-based, traditional leadership, men as well as communities if we are to end gender-based violence in all its forms.”
“We need to take a step back, look at the history of these structures on the continent and in South Africa, and ask the hard questions about what it is we are trying to achieve and if a structure in government is the best way to achieve that,” Vetten said in response to finding new measures to deal with gender-based violence.
Peter Mazane, a social worker and colleague of Masinga’s at Ikhaya Lethemba, said a lot of factors are contributing to the growing crisis. “I’ll allude to culture, patriarchy, religion and some … it’s the way they were brought up.”
Citing scriptures that disempower women, Peter said abuse is rife in churches but is seldom reported.
“We must start from the ground. We must teach our children social skills from as early as crèche and teach our children that they are equals with their classmates.”