Coerced sterilisation: CGE briefing; CGE 2019/20 Quarter 2 & 3 Performance

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

03 March 2020
Chairperson: Ms C Ndaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) reported that it had conducted an investigation into claims about women being coerced into reproductive sterilisation as early as 2015. The investigation had found that women were indeed being violated. They were not properly informed or counselled prior to being sterilized, some were not informed in a language they could understand, or they were not given enough time to make their decision. In some cases, it was found that women were sterilised while receiving caesarian sections. Consent forms and procedures differed from the records, and some consent forms were signed when patients were in dire pain. Consent remained a pivotal issue in most of the incidents. The CGE added that it had received little cooperation from the Department of Health regarding this matter.

The Commission was embarking on a project to monitor government’s current initiative to combat gender-based violence in South Africa through the establishment of the National Council on Gender-Based Violence. However, it had found that the leadership of the Interim Steering Committee (ISC) on GBV had suddenly created a barrier to the CGE, obstructing its task of monitoring the Steering Committee’s work, and even preventing some of the participants from being interviewed by the CGE team as part of its monitoring responsibilities. It was alleged that the ISC had refused to appear before Parliament as they had been appointed by the President, and would therefore report to him. The Committee confirmed that they had also been experiencing a lack of cooperation from the ISC. They strongly condemned this and demanded that they adhere to the transparency values of Parliament.

The CGE was reported to be in good financial standing. No current fruitless and wasteful expenditure had been reported, and where it existed, it was attributed to previous years.

Meeting report

Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) on coerced sterilisation

Ms Tamara Mathebula, Chairperson, CGE, said that the CGE had received formal complaints from the “Her Rights” organisation, as well as the “International Community of Women Living with HIV,” that women had reported being coerced into sterilisation. These allegations had been made known to the CGE since 2015. The CGE had therefore launched an investigation, sampling public hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng. The Department of Health (DOH) had been informed of the allegations that were reported. The CGE had requested permission to commence with the internal investigation. It had asked that the Department of Health (DOH) provide a team from the Department to assist with the investigation. Several meetings had been held between the CGE and DOH to find a joint strategy. However, the DOH had provided very little cooperation, delaying the process, so the CGE had gone ahead with the investigation and released a preliminary report on the findings.

The CGE had found that women were indeed violated in terms of their human rights, reproductive rights, the South African Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the National Health Act -- which speaks on sterilisation -- the Sterilisation Act of 1993, as well as other regional and domestic laws. It had been found that women were not properly informed or counselled prior to being sterilised. Some women were not informed in a language they could comprehend, or they were not given enough time to make their decision. In some cases, it was found that women were sterilised while receiving C-sections. Client files were not found, despite having a record of less than 25 years. Consent forms and procedures differed from the records, and some consent forms were signed when patients were in dire pain. Consent remained to be a pivotal issue with most incidents.


The report recommended that the South African Nursing Council (SANC) and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) provide improved training and information. These professional bodies should also look into the conduct and behaviour of their members. The DOH should have a dialogue with the women who had been violated to find ways of redress. It should scrutinise the report and consider the acts violated, and the issue of consent forms. The CGE would engage with the Law Reform Commission to fill gaps where gaps were found in legislation, as well as reviewing laws and amending them where necessary. Gynaecologists and obstetricians needed to be consulted when reviewing the laws and consent forms.

The Chairperson condemned the coerced sterilisation. She emphasised how scary and sad this was. She said that the CGE needed to have a campaign to educate the public on reproductive health and coerced sterilisation.


Ms N Sharif (DA) asked if coerced sterilisation was found in all hospitals that were under investigation. What measures were being taken by the DOH, as there should be some sort of responsibility taken by the Department. She said that fibrosis was on the increase, but was under-studied as it mostly affected women of colour.

Ms N Sonti (EFF) said that coerced sterilisation was a gross injustice. People were not educated regarding the matter, especially women in rural areas. This happened to women who were married, and affected their marriages and destroyed homes.

Ms C Phiri (ANC) asked if it was considered a violation if women were forcefully given contraceptive injections? She said that in Limpopo, women were forcefully given birth control after childbirth and suffered complications. Were there still investigations taking place regarding this, and why was it not detailed in the report?

Ms F Masiko (ANC) asked if it was possible for the Committee to be brought on board before reports such as these were released. It was a high-profile report that attracted much public attention, so Members would be asked questions which they were not properly informed about. It seemed like this could be a national phenomenon. Would other provinces be included in redress matters, as they were not included in the report but were affected by the issue? Would there be a commission of some sort, or a national investigation?

The Chairperson asked what would happen to women who came forward with similar claims. The matter was complicated when considering women who were given birth control following childbirth, as supporting evidence may be limited.

Ms M Khawula (EFF) said that this phenomenon was similar to what happened under the apartheid regime. It was important to consult medical professionals.  Young women under 18 years old were given poor information regarding reproductive health. Hospitals were also ill equipped to deal with breast cancer, as most opted for a mastectomy, which showed that they were incapable of monitoring and treating breast cancer. She said the DOH needed to be held accountable.

CGE Quarterly Performance Report

Ms Mathebula said the CGE was embarking on a project to monitor the government’s current initiative to combat gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa through the establishment of a national council on gender- based violence. The government had already put processes in place, including holding a national summit on GBV in 2018. One of these initiatives had been the establishment of the Council on Gender Based Violence. The CGE had found that the leadership of the interim steering committee on GBV had suddenly created a barrier to the CGE, preventing its task of monitoring the work of the steering committee, and even preventing some of the participants from being interviewed by the CGE team as part of the process of monitoring the work and activities of the steering committee. Also, the whole process seemed to be shrouded in confusion, and questions were being raised relating to the leadership of the structure, its mandate, powers and functions. There were also questions regarding the efficacy of some of the processes currently under way to create a national coordinating structure on GBV, as well as developing a national strategic plan (NSP). Various communiques had been written to the committee chairpersons to try to make them understand the mandate of the Commission, as some of the things they wanted made it clear that they may not understand the CGE’s monitoring role, as per the constitutional mandate

In the last quarter, the CGE’s legal department had observed a wave of protests and outrage at the growing number of women and children who were raped and murdered in South Africa. Following these protests, there was a need to find new measures to curb gender-based violence.  To this end, a five-point emergency plan had been announced to focus on prevention, the strengthening of the criminal justice system, enhancing the legal and policy framework, ensuring adequate care, support and healing for victims of violence, and strengthening the economic power of women. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development would clear the backlog of criminal cases for rape and other forms of GBV through the establishment of special courts, hiring additional court staff and clearing the backlog at forensic labs. Rape kits were now available for children and adults at all police stations. The Committee had supported the CGE in this, and the Commission was grateful for this.

Compared to the first quarter, there had been an increase in complaints on gender discrimination. These complaints reflected that society and the workplace had not transformed to accommodate the needs and interests of women. The South African Constitution prohibited discrimination based on sex and gender. The complaints received during this quarter reflected an infringement of the right to equality and dignity of persons both in the workplace and in society. The most complaints were opened in Mpumalanga and the Western Cape.

It had been observed in this quarter that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, intersex, asexual and more (LGBTIQ+) students at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges were susceptible to all forms of discrimination, including GBV. Through a mediation process, the Department had been able to finalise complaints relating to unfair discrimination at churches during this quarter. To this end, the legal department had concluded mediation between a complainant and the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa’s Kimberley congregation. In this matter, the complainant was allegedly suspended from his duties at church following allegations of extra marital affairs. His suspension had been processed without due processes being followed.  The legal department had conducted mediation between the parties. The mediation agreement had paved the way for the church to develop a written disciplinary and sanction policy. A written policy would ensure the church consistently handled its grievances and breaches of its code in accordance with the Constitution of South Africa, and gender equality

The CGE would have accumulated an estimated R3 million net surplus by the end of December 2019. The surplus was due to vacancies, especially for Commissioners in the early part of the year. Current operating activities had generated a net inflow of R7.3 million due to unused cash received from the fiscus. Operating activities had used R57 million of the allocated R64.7 million for the payment of employees and suppliers, and included payables at the beginning of the year. Part of this cash would be used to settle the purchase of vehicles – an investment of R1.7 million.


The Chairperson said she had received a report from someone stating that they had been made aware of irregular/suspicious spending by the interim steering committee (ISC), and the person was going to report this information to the Daily Maverick. Considering the lack of co-operation and willingness of the ISC to come before Parliament, it did cast doubt on them. The ISC had allegedly declined the invitation to appear before Parliament, stating that they had been appointed by the President and would thus report to the President, and not to Parliament.

Ms F Masiko (ANC) said the hostility presented by the leadership of the ISC needed to be attended to. The Portfolio Committee and the CGE would be put on the back foot when faced with questions pertaining to the ISC. Parliament emphasized transparency, and they could not be exempt from this. Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) needed to extend an arm in assistance leading up to the regional elections. She asked if the CGE had a sense of the state of sexual harassment charges within government.

Ms Sharif said that the CGE was a chapter nine constitution and was mandated by the constitution. The ISC and DOH issues needed to be addressed, otherwise it would seem that the CGE mandate was under threat. The allegations of mismanagement of funds by the ISC raised flags as to why they had not come to report to Parliament.

The Chairperson asked for clarity regarding the policy of protecting children at school, and on progress with the sexual offences register. It had been reported that there was no updated register, resulting in teachers with previous sexual offence charges being employed.

Mr S Ngcobo (DA) asked what recourse the CGE had taken when the colleges, TVET colleges and departments had not come before them, despite being subpoenaed?

Ms T Mgweba (ANC) said the CGE’s strategic objectives 2 and 3 had been close to 100% met, but, strategic objectives 3 and 4 were at 38%. This should show the CGE that they were capable of improvement, and they should feel encouraged. She said that a boy in Cape Town had been molested by a man on parole, and this needed to be followed up by CGE and the Department of Justice. Another incident was where a young girl by the name of Kutloano had been gang raped. She had reported the case, but only two of the perpetrators had been arrested. She had later been killed in front of her mother and grandmother. The ISC had to come before the Committee, as transparency was needed around GBV. It had been reported that 70% of spending had been achieved on service delivery. The lack of spending was attributed to vacancies, so those vacancies needed to be filled. The CGE should not be under-funded, as the mandate of the CGE was clear and the need was great.

The Chairperson said that there had been an increase in reports of aged women being raped in rural areas such as Chris Hani, Emalahleni and Lady Frere by young men. What was the Department of Justice doing to protect the elderly in such cases?

Ms Maluleke said that a grandmother had been raped in Tzaneen by a young man, showing that this was a far reaching issue.  She concurred with the other members of the Committee that it was important that the ISC come before Parliament, and proposed that a letter should be sent to the Presidency regarding this. With the few targets that the CGE was yet to meet, what it plan to do about this as the financial year drew to a close? Was it paying debtors within the 30 days as prescribed? How had the targets not met affected the budget? When would vacancies be met to ensure there was no additional under-spending?

Ms Masiko asked if the ISC had any legal grounds for not coming before Parliament.

The Chairperson replied that Parliament had the power to subpoena anyone to Parliament.

Ms Khawula said a two-year-old had been kidnapped by a school-going learner. The CGE and the Committee also needed to consider the issue of clergymen raping people in their congregations. This largely went under-reported, as people were afraid to speak up against people from the clergy. The chiefs were also involved in sexual acts in exchange for land/housing.

The Chairperson asked if the practice of women begging on the side of the road with children was considered child abuse, as they were exposing children to car emissions and ultimately a harmful environment. This should be a matter of consideration for the CGE and Human Rights Commission. She asked for clarity regarding the child registration of foreign nationals, and how the Minister of Home Affairs had lost the case.

Ms Sonti said there was many issues the Committee needed to deal with, one being the number of churches springing up out of nowhere in South Africa, many of which operated as businesses. They were exposing people to dangerous and even poisonous substances, sometimes resulting in sicknesses and even death. The CGE needed to deal with this matter.

Response from CGE

Mr Moshabi Putu, Chief Financial Officer, CGE, said that the ISC was an advisory committee, so the Portfolio Committee could summon them to Parliament. Their terms of reference/appointment needed to be looked into for a better perspective. With regard to the registration of the children of foreign nationals, the issue was that some children were born in South Africa and never went to their parents' home countries. They did not identify with their parents' home country, but were unable to be registered in South Africa. The Minister had lost this case, as there had been a timeline issue over amending the Citizens Act at the Constitutional Court.

Ms Keketso Maema, Chief Executive Officer: CGE, said strategic objective 4 had been omitted. It had about four sub-objectives, and the inward strategic objectives would not be met before the end of the financial year. This was because the new commissioners were appointed only in August, and the necessary documents could not finalised without them. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) tools and frameworks had been drafted, but were not yet completed. As the CGE would not meet this target before the end of the year, it would be brought forward again with the annual performance plan (APP) in the next financial year.

The Department Basic Education had a policy regarding protecting school children from sexual offenders, but the schools themselves had to implement this policy. Sexual harassment within the work place in both the private and public sector were dealt with by the Public Service Commission, so the CGE needed to sit down with them to understand the magnitude of what was happening.

The CGE had noted the cases mentioned, and they would all be followed up.

The CGE had budgeted for 12 commissioners to be appointed in April. However, some had started only in August. A group had been formed to deal with targets the CGE was struggling to meet due to vacancies. The delay in the recruitment process was that reference checks took time to be completed. However, to address this issue, the CGE was appointing people without completed checks under the terms and conditions that they could be fired should their references come back negative.

Ms Mathebula said that the CGE had appointed all the commissioners. However, they had received one resignation in the third quarter. They had five temporary commissioners and six permanent commissioners. The CGE was completing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National Human Rights Commission of South Africa that would deal with how churches could be recognised and registered.

TVET colleges and government caucuses that had not appeared before the CGE when subpoenaed were being dealt with internally. Furthermore, there had been a recommendation to revoke section 18 going forward, so these entities knew that the CGE meant business.

Dr Nthabiseng Moleko, Deputy Chairperson: CGE, said that women were bearing the brunt of climate change, and the CGE was working on the matter. However, under-funding continued to hinder the work that could be done. The CGE appealed to the Committee to be given the opportunity to bid for additional funding from Treasury. This would also benefit the rural women mentioned, and other projects that the CGE would like to take on.

The meeting was adjourned.


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