Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
For generations South Africans have struggled to achieve a free, democratic, non-sexist, non-racist and prosperous country, in which the measure of opportunities and dignity is not based on skin colour, gender or financial means.
Many have given their lives to reaching this goal, and our shared history is replete with heroes and heroines who have brought us closer. As we join the world in marking 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, we are standing on the shoulders of these giants. Knowing what they achieved and knowing the difficult path that still lies ahead, we are committing ourselves to take the struggle further.
Violence and abuse of women and children is pervasive in our society; it is happening across South Africa. But it is not a cultural thing.
It is never acceptable. I think we need to shatter the myths as 16 Days urges us: "Don't Look Away!"
The IFP Women's Brigade has a legacy of being at the vanguard of human rights protection. Our women are continually educating the most vulnerable segments of our communities about their rights and recourse. I encourage them to never tire in the pursuit of justice, equality, security and dignity for all our people.
This pursuit has not been fruitless. South Africa has come a long way since the dawn of democracy in terms of changing laws and policies to protect women and children. Among this legislation is the Domestic Violence Act of 1998, the Children's Act of 2005, the Maintenance Act of 1998, the Promotion of Equity and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000, and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007.
This list translates into a tangible change in the way we deal with violence and abuse against women and children. For example, last month we were all shocked by a rape case that caught the attention of the media, in which a 15 year old girl claimed she had been raped by two fellow learners at Jules High School in Johannesburg. The boys were 14 and 16 years old. But shortly thereafter, the young girl admitted in court that it had been consensual sex, and all three were charged with statutory rape.
The public response was one of shock and outrage. The Young Communists League called the decision to charge the young girl "yet another indictment to the women of this country" who "still slave away under a patriarchal criminal justice machinery." The ANC Youth League went further, calling on the Public Prosecutor to "drop criminal charges" against all three learners, reasoning that the incident "is not really rape".
But these responses fail to take into account that the law relating to sexual offences has changed, in order to ensure gender equality.
Sexual intercourse with a minor is against the law, and a minor is anyone under 16 years of age. Until recently, this applied only to girls, as the court - and society - has traditionally held the view that men cannot be victims of rape. But we know that this is not true, and in order to protect young boys from sexual assault and sexual indecency, South Africa changed its law so that provisions on statutory rape - which simply means sex with a minor - apply to both males and females.
Thus, the youngsters in the Jules High School case are not victims of "a patriarchal criminal justice machinery", but are rather among the first to be prosecuted under new legislation that ensures gender equality in the protection of our children.
What really baffles me is the statement by the ANC Youth League that this was not really rape, and that therefore there should be no repercussions for any of the three. By prosecuting these learners, in accordance with the requirements of our law, the court was able to place them in a diversion programme, which means they will receive guidance, counselling and instruction to equip them to make better and healthier lifestyle choices in the years to come.
South Africa is taking slow but meaningful strides towards creating a non-sexist democracy in which children are protected. It is not helpful when the ANC Youth League jumps up and down over legislation passed by the ANC-led Government. It should have been a big red warning flag to all of us when the President of the ANC Youth League, Mr Julius Malema, refused to abide by the ruling of the Equality Court that found him guilty of hate speech, when he jovially claimed that a woman in a rape claim had actually enjoyed herself.
Violence against women and children flourishes in an environment in which their dignity is disregarded and their status diminished. It is not limited to single people, or poor people, or uneducated people, or even people of one nationality or skin colour. Violence against women and children is found in every culture and every society.
But some countries, like our own, have more fertile ground for the development of abusive situations. The stresses we live under as South Africans are tremendous. Our unemployment levels are high, as are the levels of crime and poverty. Corruption plagues our leadership.
HIV/Aids plagues our families. And a lack of access to basic services is still a problem for far too many of our people.
The message of ubuntu botho suffers in a society where we have difficulty taking care of ourselves, never mind others. But in my 82 years I have seen women do remarkably selfless work for the sake of others. I have seen women sacrificing to meet the needs of their communities, and I have seen women who are all but strangers pull together to create cooperatives, vegetable gardens and development projects.
This has taught me time and again that women are the backbone of our society, and I have founded the IFP on the principle of promoting the role, strength and contribution of women. It has pained me to see our opponents accuse the IFP of persecuting women. For throughout my own political career, and throughout the 35 year history of the IFP, I have championed women and seen to it that women are valued, empowered and promoted. I have taken many pioneering steps to protect the rights of women in law and in practice.
In the same way, the IFP is committed to empowering South Africa's youth to liberate themselves from the bonds of poverty, unemployment and a lack of opportunities. From SADESMO, which supports students at institutions of tertiary education, to our MPs, like Mrs Pat Lebenya-Ntanzi, the Acting Chairperson of the IFP Youth Brigade, who sits on the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities - the IFP is working for our youth.
Our youth need support. Our children need protection. Where national structures are failing, people of goodwill need to step in. Indeed, wherever there is need, abuse or violence, the people of goodwill need to speak out and take action. Abuse can only continue when it is hidden. Our communities need to break the silence that tacitly consents to violence in our homes and on our streets.
For generations we have struggled for a just, non-sexist, non-racist, democratic South Africa. Let us continue that struggle as we seek to change the hearts and minds of our people. Let us keep taking giant strides forward in the protection of our women and children. Let us create a future in which all our country's children can reach their full potential, without fear and pain. May our women of the future live in safety.
On the 10th of December as 16 Days of Activism ends, South Africa will celebrate International Human Rights Day. In this way, we will join hands with the world in seeking a better tomorrow, and the IFP Women's Brigade will be at the forefront of this cause. I am proud of our women.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Liezl van der Merwe, Press Secretary to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, 082 729 2510.