Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Last Tuesday at Eagle’s Bridge in downtown Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, protestors clashed with riot police. People were demonstrating against shockingly high electricity bills. Unfortunately, the standoff between protestors and police turned violent. Fourteen protestors were injured and twenty-five arrested.
How did the Government of Bulgaria handle this incident? The following day, the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Mr Borisov, announced that he and his entire Cabinet would tender their resignation in Parliament on Thursday 21 February 2013.
In his words: “Our power was handed to us by the people. Today we are handing it back to them. We did our best,” but “I cannot stand and look at a bloody Eagle’s Bridge. Every drop of blood is a shame for us.”
On Thursday 21 February the Parliament of Bulgaria accepted the resignation of the ruling GERB party with 209 votes in favour, 5 against and 1 abstaining. The duty then fell to President Rosen Plevneliev to appoint a caretaker government, issue a decree adjourning Parliament and announce an election.
I followed these events with interest, thinking how different this response was to the response of our own Government when social protests go wrong.
Even the Marikana Mine Massacre, in which police opened fire and more than
40 people died, failed to stir our ruling party to accept culpability.
Leaders made statements, an Inter-Ministerial Committee was established and a Commission of Enquiry was set up. But no one said, “I cannot stand and look at a bloody Marikana. We are handing power back to the people.”
Under the watch of the ANC, the citizens of our country face slaughter, poverty and crime every day. Have we become so inured to hardship and violence that outrage is replaced by apathy?
Yesterday in the National Assembly South Africa’s political representatives engaged in debate on the rising incidence of gender-based violence in our country. The vicious mutilation and gang-rape of Ms Anene Booysen earlier this month somehow brought our nation to a tipping point. We knew that girls and women were being attacked in their homes, in their schools, on the streets, and even in hospital. We knew that the figures were astronomical.
But this Government turned a blind eye.
I say that because our Government took unconscionable decisions, like suspending the Family Violence and Child Protection Units and suspending Sexual Offences Courts. Then they stood on the sidelines in silence while community based organisations like Rape Crisis struggled to keep their doors open for lack of funding.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. The IFP, through our spokesperson on the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Ms Liezl van der Merwe MP, tabled a motion in Parliament calling for an urgent debate on the increasing incidence of child prostitution. Months later, the debate has not been scheduled and children are still being sold into prostitution, often by their parents and relatives.
It is a tragic truth that violence against women and children is most often perpetrated by people known to and even close to the victim. A boyfriend, like in Anene’s case. An uncle. A neighbour. A dance teacher. And it is because they know their attacker that many victims shy away from reporting the abuse, violence or rape. How much more painful will it be if their family or community don’t believe them? And what will this person do next if they sense “betrayal”?
In South Africa it is estimated that only 90% of rape cases are reported.
That would mean that some 645 000 women and girls were raped in our country last year. The conviction rate is so low that most of these victims never see justice. But the low conviction rate also means that thousands of rapists are walking our streets right now. They have done it before, and are likely to do it again.
Knowing this, I am amazed that our ruling party is not standing as the Prime Minister of Bulgaria did, and declaring that their conscience dictates an admission of failure. For the ANC has surely failed our women and our girls.
Failure, however, doesn’t justify abdication. Our Government still bears the responsibility for preventing another life from being destroyed, for finding another child a place of safety, for rehabilitating another prisoner and assisting another NGO to walk the long road of healing alongside a hurting woman.
Somehow, we need to compel our Government to step up and take responsibility for shaping positive change in our society. There is no doubt that the decisions, attitude and lacklustre leadership of our Government are shaping our nation. But we are moving in the wrong direction.
I recall seeing a figure more than five years ago of the number of South Africans who believe that it is always justified for a man to beat his wife.
It was 4.8%. That means more than two million South Africans will do nothing to help a woman whose husband beats her, because somehow she deserved it.
Words fail me. For 37 years I have led a Party that believes in gender equality, the dignity of human life and the promotion of values like respect, compassion, goodwill and selfless generosity. The IFP has encouraged families to raise their children intentionally towards respect for self and respect for others. We still believe that boys should be taught to protect and nurture women, and that girls should be taught to respect their bodies and make wise choices about where they go and who they go with.
We need to start from these building blocks and shape a shared value system in which violence in any form is unthinkable, and in which individuals and families are so convinced that violence against women and children is repugnant that they rise in protest whenever a wife is beaten, or a child abused or a woman raped. Violence cannot be tacitly accepted in our society, for then it will flourish.
Social change is needed and it begins with accepting responsibility.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP