South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed three gender-based violence (GBV) bills into legislation, meaning the country has just stepped up its protection for women and children, and survivors have a better chance of receiving justice.
The bills, signed into law on Friday, were first introduced into the country’s parliament in 2020 following a public outcry for the government to take GBV cases seriously, particularly after the rape and murder of University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana in August 2019.
They formed part of parliamentary discussions for over a year and, in September 2021, the National Assembly gave their approval for them to officially become part of the law. They were then left for the president to approve, which he did on Jan. 28, 2022.
Part of Global Citizen’s campaigning efforts in South Africa in 2020 included bringing awareness to the extent of GBV in the country, and educating citizens about the importance of the proposed legislation.
Global Citizen’s Senior Manager of Global Policy for Southern and East Africa, Sonwabise Mzinyathi, welcomed the South African president’s move, and also outlined what will now be needed for the new laws to be effectively implemented.
“We join the rest of civil society and the country in welcoming the fact that the president has finally signed off on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill,” she said.
“This has been a long time coming,” Mzinyathi continued. “Key to ensuring the success of these Bills will be capacitating both the South African Police Service and the Department of Social Development with human capital and technical resources to be able to implement them, and we look forward to seeing concrete steps that will ensure the successful implementation of these Bills.
“In addition, while the Bills are set up to protect and support victims post abuse, we want to send the message that the best remedy is no abuse at all,” she added.
@GlblCtznAfrica@GlblCtznImpact thanks Pres @CyrilRamaphosa for signing Bills aimed at ending #GBV & #childabuse that we, together with #globalcitizens, have been advocating for since 2020. We do, however, want to send the message that the real solution is to #EndGBV NOW! pic.twitter.com/Q5AAtTO97X— Sonwabise Mzinyathi (@Sonwabise) February 1, 2022
Mzinyathi’s words echo the president’s own as Ramaphosa remarked on the need to deal with GBV at the root.
“We must now continue the task of preventing abuse from occurring in the first place,” Ramaphosa said in a statement. “This task entails men and boys checking their own values and behaviours that cause them to regard women and girls as targets of control and abuse. It also entails building a society based on advancing fundamental human rights and dealing severely with people who violate others.”
What Do These New Laws Mean?
Thanks to this new legislation it will be compulsory for all sexual offenders to be listed on a national register. The laws will also make accessing protection orders a lot easier, as survivors will be able to apply for these online as opposed to having to head to a court to obtain one.
Under the new laws, the definition of domestic violence will be extended to include victims of assault in those engaged to be married, those who are dating, those in customary relationships, and those in actual or perceived romantic, intimate, or sexual relationships of any duration.
There’s more to about how these laws can assist and protect GBV survivors, we’ve got a breakdown for you here.
What Are Activists Saying?
GBV activists have welcomed the new laws, hailing them as a step in the right direction.
Speaking to News24, Founder of SA Women Fight Back, Bronwyn Litkie said: “We hope with these changes to see bail being more regularly denied for gender-based violence cases, more protection for domestic violence victims, quicker and easier applications for protection orders, and maximum sentencing for these crimes.”
"We hope to start seeing positive feedback from our victims regarding how victims' cases are handled and their outcomes,” she added.
Non-governmental organisation, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), released a statement on social media following the news, calling it a “major breakthrough in tackling the extremely high rates of GBV in communities countrywide.”
“It better protects those who have suffered abuse and makes it harder for perpetrators to escape justice,” the statement read.
In 2020, POWA teamed up with local tea brand, JOKO on a campaign that saw citizens leaving the president voicemail messages calling on him to fast track the implementation of these new laws.
South African girls and women deserve to live without fear of gender-based violence. If you or someone you know has experienced gender-based or sexual violence, you can find resources for support here or you can call the SA National GBV helpline on 0800 150 150.