Fellow South Africans,
In my address to the second Presidential Summit on Gender-based Violence and Femicide at the beginning of this month, I said that we are a nation at war with itself.
This is borne out by the crime statistics for the last quarter, which were released last week, just ahead of the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children.
Between July and September this year, 989 women were murdered, 1 277 were victims of attempted murder and more than 13 000 were victims of serious assault. In just these three months, more than 10 000 rape cases were opened with the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Not even children, our most vulnerable citizens and most deserving of our care and protection, were spared. In the six months to September 2022, over 500 children were killed.
We are in the grip of terrible crimes, in which offenders are known to the victims. Women and children are being violated not only by strangers but by people who are known to them – by their fathers, boyfriends and husbands, by colleagues, teachers and even classmates.
However, as a society, we are not powerless to stop these crimes. We can stop gender-based violence.
Over the [past] few years, there has been a growing mobilisation of all sectors of society to stop the abuse of women and children. There have been some areas of progress.
The latest crime statistics show some of the successes of the criminal justice system in bringing perpetrators to book. In the reporting period, the SAPS Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units arrested over 4 000 alleged perpetrators of gender-based violence and 410 alleged rapists were traced and arrested.
More than 17 000 trial-ready GBV cases were processed by teams of the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority. The courts are also handing down heavier sentences to perpetrators.
While we should be encouraged that many of the perpetrators are not being allowed to get away with their crimes, our foremost task is to prevent men and boys from becoming abusers in the first place.
Men are the perpetrators of gender-based violence and it is therefore men [who] need to change. It is men – as husbands and partners, as fathers, colleagues, peers and classmates – who need to consider their own attitudes towards women and girls.
To give meaning to 16 Days of Activism we now need to engage the men of South Africa in a dialogue about their responsibility towards women and toxic masculinity. All of society should be mobilised to organise these men’s dialogues.
The government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector should be encouraged to support such dialogues in every workplace, place of worship, school, college and university, and in every community. Every day various entities devote resources to public engagements, conferences and seminars on various pressing social, economic and political issues of the day. These are forums where this engagement should happen.
Eradicating gender-based violence is no less urgent or important.
These crimes affect every aspect of our society, including health and well-being, safety and security, and economic growth and productivity.
In these dialogues, we need to examine our understanding of sexual consent.
We must challenge the myth that rape is only considered rape if it involves a stranger, or if the victim responded by screaming for help, fighting back or reporting the matter immediately to the police.
By bringing together men of all races, classes and generations to speak frankly about their understanding of masculinity, we can show how some assumptions and practices that many people consider ‘normal’ are harmful to women and children.
We must change beliefs that men are strong and women are weak, that men have to be in charge, or that men can do as they please with women. Men need to understand that they can and should express their pain and frustrations without inflicting harm on others.
As president, I stand ready to participate in men’s dialogues. I call on ministers, premiers, religious-, political- and community leaders, sports people, artists, celebrities and business people to do the same.
The men of South Africa owe it to the women and children of this country to take up the struggle against gender-based violence.
These men’s dialogues can be platforms for men to challenge each other to become better men, more responsible, more understanding and more caring.