Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The continuation of violence in KwaZulu Natal has prompted many debates and questions. In a recent public dialogue arranged by the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, former National Commissioner of Police, General Bheki Cele, said, "You have a society so obsessed with violence that women used to say if your man does not beat you up, he no longer loves you."
I balk at that statement. For as we approach the beginning of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, we face the painful reality that violence and abuse against our most vulnerable citizens is pervasive in South Africa.
Violence, whether driven by politics, criminality or social dysfunction, is devastating to everyone it touches. I have witnessed first-hand the pain, grief and fear that accompany violence, for the IFP has buried hundreds of our members, leaders and supporters over the past 37 years. It is impossible to come to terms with.
16 Days of Activism focuses our attention on violence against women and children in particular. Knowing the statistics, and sharing the pain of our people, the IFP is committed to eliminating and preventing this evil.
South Africa's crime statistics show that violence against women, children and adolescents is rampant. This year, we have also been shocked by several incidents of rape of the elderly. Our overall violence-related death rate is nearly twice the global average, while the rate of homicide of women by intimate partners is six times the global average. Statistically, a South African woman is more likely to be raped than educated. That is an indictment on our country.
Tragically, studies show that children and adolescents who experience violence in the home are at an increased risk of themselves becoming perpetrators or victims of violence. According to the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme, this perpetuation of violence is a result of a web of interrelated factors.
A child's developing brain is particularly vulnerable to stress.
Research indicates that exposing children to domestic violence - whether directly or indirectly - adversely and permanently affects their neurological, cognitive and behavioural development. This can result in decreased mental capacity, defects in memory, language and learning, and the emergence of problem behaviour. Our children need our protection.
Violence against women and children flourishes in an environment in which their dignity is disregarded and their status diminished. 16 Days of Activism therefore calls upon each one of us to promote awareness of the rights of women and children. This is our duty.
I have warned before that abuse flourishes when it is hidden. Thus we must call on our communities to break the silence that tacitly consents to this evil in our homes and on our streets. We call on all South Africans who are suffering any form of abuse, or who suspect or know that someone else is a victim of abuse, to SPEAK OUT. Speak to an elder in your church, your guidance counsellor or a teacher, speak to a family member or friend, or call one of the dedicated hotlines.
Rape, sexual harassment and physical abuse tend to take centre stage when we think of abuse. But abuse can also be emotional, verbal, psychological and financial. None of these are acceptable.
The IFP believes that the development of early intervention systems is vital to eliminate and prevent the cycle of violence. Despite the establishment of the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, we have not made substantial progress in this regard.
We are also extremely concerned about the potentially devastating effects the mooted changes to BEE legislation will have on NGOs that assist vulnerable women and children. Donors are already withdrawing support from NGOs that cannot prove that they serve only black people in need. Yet these organizations play a vital role where Government is failing and we must help them keep their doors open.
Facing the reality of violence in our society is painful and distressing. Yet it cannot defeat our spirit. Instead, it must ignite our sense of partnership as we realize that our own wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of others. There is no more opportune moment than now for the spirit of ubuntu botho to unite our nation.
We dare not become inured to violence in any form. In an analysis of the violence in KwaZulu Natal that has been steadily escalating over the past few years, one journalist recently questioned whether we have already become desensitised to the brutality that seems so pervasive.
I understand that line of thought, for how can we live in such a violent society without building some psychological defences to protect ourselves from the pain, grief and fear that surround us? As I said, we in the IFP are intimately acquainted with the searing emotions that accompany violence.
But the journalist, Ms Mandy de Waal, asked "Do we even remember Dlamini, Shezi or Xulu?" or are they merely yesterday's "news fodder"?
That is a question I must answer. I do so to help everyone looking in from the outside to understand why the IFP continues to labour so passionately for peace.
The answer is yes, we do remember them. We remember them every day, for we walk hand in hand with the mothers and sisters and brothers and children who are left behind to mourn. We remember the dedicated service of Councillor Themba Xulu. We remember the kindness of Celiwe Shezi, who came to support Councillor Xulu's family as we awaited news following his kidnapping. We remember the youthful enthusiasm of Siyabonga Dlamini, who longed to provide for his mother and sisters.
This week we are again wracked with grief over the death of Mr Sihle Biyela, who was murdered in KwaMashu on Monday night. In the time to come, we will remember him too, as we do every fallen man, woman and child whose lives have been taken through violence.
They were individuals and their lives, and deaths, matter.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP