President Cyril Ramaphosa has again moved to assure South Africans that his government is responding to gender-based violence as well as anti-migrant sentiment in the country.
— Cyril Ramaphosa (@CyrilRamaphosa) September 18, 2019
In a period of mass protest and ever-increasing anger over government inaction on incidences of gender-based violence and femicide, the president called for a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces in Parliament.
These sittings are usually called to address serious issues affecting the nation, or when visiting heads of state address Parliament.
They are more commonly used during the president’s State of the Nation Address.
The last time an incumbent called for a special joint sitting was in 2005, when former president Thabo Mbeki announced that he had fired his then-deputy, Jacob Zuma.
Earlier in the day, Ramaphosa held a meeting with leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament. He told MPs there was consensus from “all of us in rejection of violence, especially violence perpetrated against women.”
Two weeks ago, Ramaphosa was forced to confront angry protesters outside the parliamentary precinct following a series of murders and attacks on women, including that of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana.
Ramaphosa also made an urgent address to the nation.
Days later, the president made a series of visits to the families of some of the victims. This, he said, was a show of support and empathy from his government.
“The women in this country are demanding that we should have a state of emergency which perhaps will enable us to deal more effectively with this scourge… Outside of this Parliament, on the streets of this country, we have heard the demands of women to be safe,” he said.
Addressing legislators, Ramaphosa called for an “emergency plan” to bolster the criminal justice system and again reiterated his government’s plan to deal with gender-based violence.
Last week, ministers in Cabinet’s security cluster announced a raft of measures to reform policing and the courts, including implementing stringent bail conditions for people charged with a gender-based crime, and even the possibility of denying bail for anyone previously convicted of a sexual-related offence.
Ramaphosa is also calling for those convicted of the rape and murder of women and children to not be eligible for parole.
“We will propose to Parliament the necessary legislative changes to ensure that all crimes against women and children attract harsher minimum sentences… Abusers, rapists and murderers must know that they will be caught and that they will face the consequences of their actions,” Ramaphosa said.
The president instructed the police and justice minister to reopen unsolved sexual offences, while also committing the South African Police Service to train more female officers at station level to properly interact with victims of crimes against women and children.
“As part of our fourth area of intervention — care, support and healing for victims of violence — we will standardise the framework for funding civil society organisations working with survivors of gender-based violence. Through our Emergency Action Plan, we will provide post-rape training for health care providers and lay counsellors who provide care and support to victims and survivors.”
Ramaphosa again spoke about the wave of anti-migrant protests and looting that has flared up in parts of the country over the last few weeks.
His government has in the past insisted that the protests are not related to xenophobia but to symptoms of tough economic times.
“The recent public violence directed against both foreign nationals and South Africans exposed not only the levels of intolerance in our society but also the extent to which so many of our people are frustrated about their social and economic conditions.”
But he then addressed concerns of many South Africans over issues around perception of lax border control and alleged criminal elements in migrant communities.
“We know that our people are concerned about illegal immigration, and about some foreign nationals being involved in crime. We understand the concerns of local businesses struggling to compete against counterfeit goods being sold at prices they cannot match….That is why government has prioritised border control and security, and will ensure that we tighten up regulations to deter illegal immigration,” he said.
Ramaphosa has also moved to allay fears by African leaders that South Africa is unsafe for migrants. He has already dispatched envoys to several African countries with apologies and assurances.
At the weekend, he was booed in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare while speaking at a memorial for the country’s late president Robert Mugabe.
“Earlier today, I spoke to former president Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and former president Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique to request them to lead a fact-finding mission to South Africa to examine the reasons for the recent violence. They would then make recommendations on the measures we can take to prevent such incidents from happening again.”
Ramaphosa ended his addressed calling for greater unity across party political lines and urging peaceful dialogue.
“Our nation is at a crossroads. Our actions now will determine whether we rise or sink into the abyss. Violence against women is not the problem of one province, one community or one political party. It does not wear a green and yellow doek, a smart suit or a red uniform.”