Total population: 60.14 million
Internet penetration rate: 38.1 million users
State bodies tasked with tackling GBV: Department of Social Development | Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities | Department of Justice and Constitutional Development | Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation | Commission for Gender Equality | Interim Steering Committee on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide
A portal to enable and empower
A portal to enable and empower
Overview of GBV in South Africa
South Africa remains in the midst of a crisis of gender-based violence and has attracted the regrettable reputation of being among the worst ranking countries in the world for its high rates of GBV. The status of GBV in South Africa was captured by the President’s foreword in the 2020 National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF-NSP): “We have amongst the highest rates of intimate partner violence, and recently released data from Statistics SA show that rape and sexual violence have become hyperendemic. This is a scourge that affects us all: young and old, black or white, rich and poor, queer or cis, rural or urban. It pervades every sphere of our society. Women and girls are being abused, assaulted and murdered in our country every day – at the hands of men. We are in the throes of a deep crisis that must be brought to a decisive end.”
Over recent years, as the levels of GBV remained unacceptably high, thousands of women and gender non-conforming people came together to deliver a list of 24 demands to President Cyril Ramaphosa. Despite these laudable efforts, the status quo persists. In 2019, the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Uyinene Mrwetyana at 19 years old made global headlines, prompting many people in South Africa to ask the chilling question #AmINext? Another wave of outcries emerged during 2020 when the President soberly addressed the nation following the murder of 21 women and children in the course of a few weeks, noting that “at a time when the pandemic has left us all feeling vulnerable and uncertain, violence is being unleashed on women and children with a brutality that defies comprehension.” In May 2021, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women found that the failure of South Africa to prevent and protect women and girls from domestic violence constitutes grave and systematic violations of rights under international law. Victims and survivors in South Africa have recently received another blow following an October 2021 ruling from the Eastern Cape High Court which ruled that consensual foreplay implied consent for penetration and sex. The case highlighted the flaws in South Africa’s laws around the defence of subjective belief of consent in rape cases: that if a person subjectively believes there is consent, they have not committed a crime.
While the state is, in many ways, failing to protect women, children, and gender and sexual minorities, recent efforts suggest that some changes are underway. In 2018, a Presidential Summit against Gender-based Violence was held, with representatives from government, civil society, parliament, the judiciary, traditional and religious leaders, persons with disabilities, academics, media, and members of the LGBTQI+ community. The summit was used to critically reflect on South Africa’s response to GBV, identify areas for improvement and align and coordinate various initiatives. In 2019, an Interim Steering Committee on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) was established to identify key actions that will drive a joint emergency response by government and civil society to the crisis of gender-based violence and femicide in the country. In 2020 the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Plan (GBVF-NSP) was produced by the Interim Steering, which sets out a cohesive strategic framework to guide the national response to the hyperendemic GBVF crisis in which South Africa finds itself. Law reform efforts also began in 2020 with the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services calling for public comment on new GBV legislation. While these efforts are recognised and acknowledged, South Africa still faces a substantial uphill battle in overcoming the pervasive, and persistent plague of GBV.
Holding those in power to account
Holding those in power to account
Laws, policies, and resources relating to GBV in South Africa
In March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster according to the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002. Shortly after, South Africa went into a national lockdown. Even in ordinary times, it is a challenge to capture accurate statistics and reports about GBV, which has been compounded by the complexities of COVID-19. Disruptions in reporting options, access to safe spaces, and significant changes to mobility may have distorted the data, limiting available and accurate information. This was acknowledged by the Minister of Police in his release of the crime statistics for the first quarter of 2020. The Minister explained that while there was the reduction in crimes committed against women and children during stages four and five of the lockdown, the low numbers of domestic abuse and sexual offences reported cases could have been due to some victims and survivors being unable to escape their abusers and not being able to report crimes committed against them. Despite the difficulties in knowing the full extent of GBV during the pandemic, there are a few reports that illustrate some of the trends.
- The African Union Commission, Women, Gender and Development Directorate (AUC-WGDD), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), relying on official reports, recorded that:
Within the first week of level 5 lockdown (March-May 2020), the South African Police Services (SAPS) received 2,320 complaints of gender-based violence, with only 148 related charges made. These statistics represent a 37% increase from the weekly average of GBV cases reported in 2019.
- The GBV Command Centre recorded an increase in GBV cases reported during the lockdown with a total of 10,660 through phone calls, 1503 through unstructured supplementary services data (USSD) and 616 SMSs. According to reports, during the first four days of the lockdown, the number of daily calls received by the Command Centre doubled.
Amnesty Internal recorded that:
- By mid-June 2020, 21 women and children had been killed by intimate partners in South Africa. This was confirmed in a speech by President Ramaphosa in which he addressed the scourge of GBV in South Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Shelters and hotlines were receiving more than double the complaints compared to the pre-lockdown averages.
Greenpeace recorded that:
- The GBV Command Centre documented more than 120 000 victims in the first three weeks of lockdown. This was recently confirmed by provincial government official Morakane Mosupyoe.
The lockdown changed the accessibility of services and support structures. For example, under alert levels 4 and 5 people were not permitted to leave their home, other than for essential travel for work, to purchase essential goods, or for emergency medical reasons. During these stricter levels, many victims and survivors were forced into seemingly unending proximity with their abusers, and leaving one’s home, communicating with others, and accessing services, support, and justice became increasingly difficult and impossible for some. In recognition of this, the South African government adopted some measures to enable support and justice for those who needed it, including:
- Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) (service provisions for victims and survivors at community clinics or public hospitals) remained open during the lockdown as a source of emergency medical care. Using public transport to access emergency medical care was also permitted during the lockdown period.
- The Gender-Based Violence Command Centre remained fully operational during the lockdown Women, children and persons who are at risk of abuse or exposed to violence during the lockdown could rely on the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre for help.
- The Minister of Social Development confirmed there would be an increase in Social Services Professionals to assist during the lockdown and that relevant shelters and support services would also be operational 24 hours a day during the lockdown.
- The Minister of Police announced the increase of personnel to the FCS Units (Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences) to respond to threats and acts of violence during the lockdown.
- Courts could still be accessed, but to a limited extent, during the lockdown notably, applications for interim domestic violence protection orders and applications for interim protection against harassment were permitted.
Despite this, there are a few critiques to note:
- Research suggests that the definition of “essential services” in the lockdown Regulations were unclear, leading to confusion about the availability and legality of GBV services.
- Temporary shelters set up to provide a place of safety for vulnerable persons and persons without homes became a cause for concern during lockdown with a report of rape in the Strandfontien shelter highlighting the lack of safety measures and limitations on independent monitoring and evaluation.
- In April 2020, the Ad hoc Committee on COVID-19 found that while police services had assisted in securing scenes of domestic violence, obtaining medical treatment and assisting victims and survivors to find suitable accommodation; “it was not enough to mask the current flaws created by the lockdown”, citing the following:
- All domestic violence cases had been postponed except the most serious incidents
- No final or interim protection orders had been received from certain courts
- Certain periodical courts were closed until further notice
- People were not assisted at court as security officers did not allow them to go to the domestic violence office
- A reduction in reported domestic violence cases was likely a result of the national lockdown’s restriction on movement, constant proximity to perpetrators, and non-availability of public transport.
- Constitution, 1996:
The Constitution and its Bill of Rights safeguard the right to life, equality, human dignity, freedom and security of the person, privacy, and the right to bodily and psychological integrity.
- Domestic Violence Amendment Act 14 of 2021 (DVA Act):
The recently amended DVA Act recognises that domestic violence, in a variety of forms, is a prevalent and serious social evil in South African society that places victims and survivors in vulnerable positions. The DVA, therefore, seeks to set out the ways in which victims and survivors of domestic violence can be afforded the maximum protection from domestic abuse that the law can provide. This includes describing the role of the police in rendering assistance to victims and survivors and the process for obtaining a protection order (a court order that can be sued to prevent a person from committing further acts of domestic violence). Recent additions to the DVA Act include new definitions relating to controlling and coercive behaviour, the removal of gender binary terms to ensure inclusive and equal protection for all, and the recognition of online harms.
This Act recognises that the commission of sexual offences in South Africa is a grave concern, and social phenomenon, which is reflective of deep-seated, systemic dysfunctionality in South African society. Accordingly, it seeks to afford victims and survivors of sexual offences the maximum and least traumatising protection that the law can provide, to introduce measures which seek to enable the relevant organs of state to give full effect to this objective, and to combat and, ultimately, eradicate the high incidence of sexual offences committed in South Africa. This Act criminalises a wide array of sexual offences, including rape, those committed against children, and the sexual exploitation of people with disabilities. It was recently amended to introduce a new offence of sexual intimidation , expand the scope of the national Register for Sex Offenders and expand the list of vulnerable persons.
- Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 (CPA):
Broadly, the CPA sets out the procedures and processes in criminal proceedings including search warrants as part of the investigation process, the arrest of an accused, securing the accused’s attendance at court, bail procedures, the accused’s plea to the charges levelled against them and the trial process.
- Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act 12 of 2021:
This Act was recently amended to provide for improved criminal proceedings, including changes that enable the giving of evidence through intermediaries in an effort to reduce secondary victimisation of vulnerable persons in court proceedings.
- Children’s Act 38 of 2005:
South Africa has a comprehensive Children’s Act. At its centre is the best interests of the child principle. According to this principle, the best interests of a child are paramount in all matters which concern the child. In addition, the Act provides for abuse, sexual abuse, sexual offences, and exploitation of children, and includes mandatory reporting responsibilities. It also establishes Children’s Courts.
- Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 (Harassment Act):
The Harassment Act, recognises the need to protect and promote the rights to equality, privacy, dignity, and the right to be free from violence, and seeks to provide accessible legal remedies to victims and survivors of harassment. Similar to the DVA, the Harassment Act allows victims and survivors to seek a protection order against someone who is harassing them.
- Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 (PEPUDA):
PEPUDA gives effect to the right to equality which is enshrined in the Constitution. It seeks to prevent and prohibit unfair discrimination and harassment, including gender discrimination and GBV, to promote equality and prevent and prohibit hate speech. PEPUDA provides for Equality Courts, which hear matters of unfair discrimination, hate speech and harassment
- Commission for Gender Equality Act 39 of 1996:
The Act establishes the Commission for Gender Equality, an independent body that is mandated to monitor and develop policies, programmes, and practices of public and private bodies promote gender equality. The Commission may make recommendations to Parliament on the adoption of new legislation to promote gender equality, or investigate any complaints, and through mediation or other appropriate means, resolve disputes.
- Older Persons Act 13 of 2006:
The Older Person’s Act aims at establishing a framework to empower and protect older persons,to promote the rights, well-being, and safety and security of older persons, and to combat the abuse of older persons. It imposes a duty on any person who suspects that an older person has been abused to immediately notify relevant authorities.
Over the past decade, South Africa has introduced a variety of policy initiatives aimed at addressing GBV, ranging from a policy framework for education institutions, guidelines on reproductive health, strategic plans for HIV/AIDS and STIs, and guidelines for services for victims and survivors. However, the most recent and comprehensive policy is the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide 2020 – 2030 (GBVF-NSP). The GBVF-NSP provides a multi-sectoral, coherent strategic policy and programming framework to strengthen a coordinated national response to the crisis of gender-based violence and femicide by the government of South Africa and the country as a whole.
- Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 (Harassment Act):
This Act criminalises various crimes that occur online. Notably, it addresses malicious communications and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, providing that a person who unlawfully and intentionally shares, by means of an electronic communications service, a data message of an intimate image of a person without their consent is guilty of an offence. Victims and survivors of NCII can report such acts to SAPS.
- Domestic Violence Amendment Act 14 of 2021 (DVA Act):
Recent amendments to the DVA Act have resulted in the relatively comprehensive recognition of online harms. The DVA Act now includes reference to the repeated contacting of a person by means of electronic communication, such as social media, messaging platforms, or calls; unauthorised access to a person’s electronic devices or social media or email accounts; or using technology to monitor or track a person’s movement or activities without their consent. It also includes reference to sending message or media to a person that is abusive, degrading, offensive or humiliating; violates or offends the sexual integrity or dignity of that person; or inspires a belief they may be harmed. The Act also extends the definition of intimidation, to include threatening conduct by way of electronic communications, and extends the definition of sexual harassment to include, for example, the sending of unwelcome electronic communications of a sexual nature. In addition, the Act provides protection from outing as a form of sexual harassment and as a form of emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse.
- Films and Publications Amendment Act 11 of 2019 (FPAA):
The FPAA, which came into effect on 1 March 2022, seeks to address the sharing of child sexual abuse material through its prohibition of the filming and distribution, through any medium, including the internet and social media of films and photographs depicting sexual violence and violence against children. The FPAA further seeks to reduce children’s exposure to disturbing or harmful content online or on social media platforms. The non-consensual distribution of private sexual photos or films on the internet or social media is also prohibited in terms of the FPAA.
South African Police Service:
Gender-based violence call centre:
- Tel: 0800 428 428 (or *120*7867#)
- Resources: Gender-Based Violence Command Centre FAQ
- Stop Gender Violence Helpline
- Tel: 0800-150-150
- Resources: Stop Gender Violence
- National Counselling Line
- Tel: 0861 322 322
- Resources: Online counselling
Love Life – Psychosocial Support Services:
- Tel: 080 012 1900 / please call me: Vodacom: *140*0833231023# / MTN: *121*0833231023# / Cell C: *111*0833231023# / Telkom: *140*0833231023#
- Resources: Psychosocial Support Services
South African Depression and Anxiety Group:
- Tel: Counselling: 011 234 4837 / Suicidal Emergency :0800 567 567/ 24hr Helpline: 0800 456 789
- Resources: SAGA Helplines
People Opposing Women Abuse:
- Tel: Lockdown counselling number: 076 694 5911 / 011 642 4345 / 6
- Resources: Get Help
- Tel: Helpline:*134*7355#, Dial: *134*7355#, Landline: 010 590 5920
- Resources: Booklets and Brochures
South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (SAMOSA):
- Tel: 0800 055 555
- Resources: Protection Network