Gender-Based Violence Bills: Department of Communication and Digital Technology on state readiness to implement laws

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Justice and Correctional Services

25 November 2020
Chairperson: Mr G Magwanishe (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, 25 November 2020

The Department of Communication and Digital Technology (DCDT) briefed the Committee in a virtual meeting on its state of readiness to implement the provisions of Bills related to gender-based violence (GBV).

The DCDT said it had the mandate to enable the country to be digitally ready, and in this regard it would be best placed to advise on how technology could play a role in combating GBV and domestic violence. This was one of the key roles it could play. In terms of readiness to play this role, it had already implemented relevant programmes, and there would be a need to expand on some of them to include matters related to domestic violence, so it may have to review the financial and human resources available to do this.

The Committee expressed disappointment that the Department appeared not to have understood the brief, which was to provide its input on how it would implement the Bills. A Member pointed out that a big portion of the struggle in South Africa in the fight against GBV was that victims were not always knowledgeable about the avenues available to them, and one of the reasons the DCDT had been asked to give a presentation was to tell the Committee in what ways they would assist in the implementation of these Bills when they became law, by communicating and educating.

During the discussion, the Department was asked if it had given consideration to the needs of the deaf community in terms of access to GBV information, and reporting on it. Its views were sought on the monitoring of undesirable online content, and the screening of violent films, which played a part in perpetuating GBV. It was also suggested that the Department should explore the option of installing surveillance cameras in known GBV hot spots in the country.

Meeting report

Meeting Report

The Chairperson said government departments had been invited to indicate their state of readiness on the implementation of the GBV Bills. Two issues had arisen from the public hearings:

  1. The text of the Bills;
  2. The ability of the state to monitor and to implement the GBV Bills.

Because of these issues, the Committee felt it would be important to check the state of readiness of the departments that were mentioned in the Bills. The Committee would not only have one meeting with the departments, but rather this process would be part of its continuous monitoring and evaluation with the departments mentioned in the Bills. The DCDT had not been prepared -- it had come without a presentation and expected to be asked questions, but the Committee did not work like that. He understood that the Department was busy, but all the departments were busy. For instance, the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Higher Education were present, though they were in the middle of exams.  He felt it was important to have the DCDT’s presentation and hear why it did not deem it necessary to give its presentation. The Committee found it strange that the DCDT had expected to be asked questions when they had not made a presentation

Ms Nomvuyiso Batyi, Director-General, Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, apologised to the Chairperson and the Committee. She said she had written a letter to say the DCDT was not able to make it because it was being held up by the issues around the section 189 at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), as she was leading the monthly monitoring team of SABC, together with the chief executive officer (CEO). The Department also had to coordinate with its eleven entities, as they were still not ready.

The Chairperson called upon Members to give their comments before proceeding.

Ms J Mofokeng (ANC) said the Committee had received the document from the DCDT. She asked if the Department understood what was needed in the presentation, and stated firmly that she had not got anything from it.  The Department was meant to talk about slides nine, ten and 11, and not the rest of the slides. The other departments who had come to present had presented only on the three GBV Bills, and said what their part was, but it appeared the DCDT had not got the briefing right. She was not impressed.

The Chairperson endorsed Ms Mofokeng’s concern, saying the culture of the Committee was that Members would go through the document before the meeting so that by the time someone presented, they would know what was in the document.

DCDT on its state of readiness

Ms Petronella Linders, Chief Director, Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), said she agreed on the need to focus on the state of readiness of the Department. The background information had been provided because the Department was undergoing a merging process and in that context it was important to highlight what the mission, vision and mandate was in the context of the GBV Bills being discussed.  

On the state of readiness of the Department, their key areas were economic and social justice according to the Bills, as per its mandate. The DCDT had set up a specific structure that focused on coordinating issues on gender, disability, youth and children (GDYC). This was important because survivors of GBV were young people, women, children and persons with disabilities. In the Department’s context, it looked at a coordinated approach to how it implemented programmes and processes towards supporting issues on GBV. The Department was ready to enable a coordinated approach on the implementation of the Bills on institutional arrangements. It had targeted programmes in its work that dealt with issues on gender equality and women’s empowerment. In those programmes, the Department specifically focused on how to prevent GBV and put in place support for a digital technological perspective for survivors of GBV.

The Department had finalised these programmes, and in this current financial year there was a focus on providing digital literacy education to women on how they could use mobile devices and technology instruments to enable them to report abuse, and also to seek help when they found themselves being abused. The third area of the mandate of the Department was primarily to remove the country from an analogue to a digital country. In this process, there were several opportunities for the Department around ensuring that women, young people, children and persons with disability who may be affected with issues of GBV, were not left behind.

The Department would be focused on giving survivors of GBV more power to participate in the digital world which would enable them to have more power with prevention and post-trauma implementation. The Department was also focusing on the economic empowerment of women, as it had been found that there were women who were economically abused -- they were in a situation where they were economically dependent on the abuser, and the domestic environment did not allow them to move out of that situation.

One of the opportunities of the 4IR was looking at how the Department was able to allow women to become economically empowered so that they had better opportunities to release themselves from situations of abuse. The 4IR technology could enable the country to do better reporting and data analysis on what was happening to survivors of GBV, on how they were supported, and prevention and post-trauma support. There had been some programmes that had been implemented, but there was an opportunity to increase and enhance these programmes to support the work that would be done on the Domestic Violence Bill, because there was an extension to the number of ways that reporting could be done in this Bill. There was also a need for online registration of information and for the Department to look at how it could support some of those initiatives, seeing that some programmes had already been implemented and there was need to review and expand them.  As indicated by the ADG, there were a number of state-owned entities that reported to Parliament, and in the current situation these entities could play a big role in raising awareness around the provisions in the Bills and providing access to services through digital technologies. For example the Electronic Institute for Media at UNISA was the Department’s training institute, and it could provide training to persons affected by GBV. The SABC was able to provide awareness.

The second issue on the Department’s state of readiness was that it had the responsibility to oversee the implementation of getting the country ready for 4IR compliance. It had looked at developing instruments for this, one of which included the digital future skills strategy. This would be one of the key areas where the Department could support the implementation of the Bills through providing citizens with the necessary digital skills so that they were able to take the processes in. Another 4IR area was the new technologies that would be introduced, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), where the Department would be able to utilise that for data collection.

Thirdly, there were areas where the Department would be using augmentative and virtual reality technologies. These could be deployed for providing support on reporting processes for survivors of GBV and strengthening the work that the courts were doing in enabling people to testify during instances where cases were brought before the court.  4IR compliance was essentially looking at how the Department could use the new technologies to enable structures such as the various government departments, civil society organizations (CSOs) and businesses to utilize the technologies to prevent and report GBV, and to support processes when the cases had been brought up to the courts.

She confirmed that the DCDT had a great opportunity to support the implementation of the Bills and as a result, it believed that it was ready to do so and could provide the coordinating support. Communications and digital technology was an overarching matter, so the Department would explore how it could  assist other government departments, SOEs and CSOs to utilise this opportunity through communications such as broadcasting and new digital technologies.

There was need to influence some of the content in the Bills, looking at some of these areas. When the DCDT had reviewed the amendment, it realised that there was not much in the Bills that talked about new technology issues. For example, there was need to work on how to incorporate matters of online violence and cyber violence, where women were also abused through technologies. The Department needed to look at how to ensure that electronic communication providers supported the processes on information, dissemination and provision of support to survivors of GBV during the court processes, as there were a lot of opportunities for that.

Lastly, there was a need to understand that sexual offences could also be perpetrated online. The DCDT would like to provide relevant support on strengthening platforms that would enable victims of sexual offence or sexual abuse online to have more of an opportunity to report and feel safe when providing information on what had happened to them. Some offences began with the use of technology, where young women and children were lured into relationships or sexual online interaction which eventually progressed to offline interaction, and in some cases led to human trafficking. That was why the Department saw there was an opportunity to support online platforms to enable victims of sexual abuse online to be supported.

According to the President’s announcement around the NSP on combating GBV, the DCDT was one of the departments that was expected to look at issues of prevention and economic empowerment of men and women that had found themselves in these situations. The Department would work hard to incorporate these issues into all their work.

The introduction of the amendment Bills, as discussed by the Committee, was a direct response to the NSP and it would strengthen its implementation and enable government departments to take it more seriously. On the Bill, there were no direct obligations on the Department, but there were indirect obligations in the context that now electronic and online platforms were being promoted, and were being more emphasised on how victims of GBV must be supported. The Department was taking its obligations very seriously in ensuring that it supported the efforts concerning these obligations, especially on the national registration and the extension of the offences, including an opportunity for a protection order to be developed. In all of these areas, there was an opportunity for the Department to enable it to happen more quickly and more effectively using technology. The DCDT would continue to engage the state-owned companies to look at their specific strategic plans on how they would be supporting the Bills’ implementations.

She said the Department was grateful for the opportunity it had to present to the Committee, and emphasised that it was committed to:

  • Ensuring the role the Department had to play in ensuring that communications and digital technologies enabled preventative programmes to be successful;
  • Enabling reporting to happen more efficiently;
  • Supporting the survivors of GBV on the processes they would need to undergo after the reporting of the crime;
  • Empowering women, young people and children through skilling them in digital literacy and how to utilise digital devices


Ms N Maseko-Jele (ANC) said the DCDT had not provided the briefing the Committee had expected, which was input on the three GBV Bills. The DCDT had said they were in support of the Bills, but did not say what exactly they were supporting. The NSP on combating GBV launched by the President stated that departments were obligated to respond to combating GBV in their work, and to ensure they incorporated this into their own implementation and whatever mandates. She was disappointed that the DCDT had focused on the implementation, which was not relevant now. Though they talked about economic empowerment, they did not mention the problem with the current domestic violence involving economic abuse. They talked about public education, which was the implementation process. They talked about technology, but did not mention the online abuse, or the disadvantages and advantages of things they had seen there. It did not talk about what it was going to do about human trafficking. The Department was supposed to communicate to the nation and use its resources to ensure the poor, the old, the young, the rural and the urban, to get access to this information. They did not talk about the integrated justice system -- what would they do in that system to help other departments? They did not talk about the national register of sexual offences – were they supporting it? If they supported it, what were they going to be doing? They did not talk about the centralised orders – were they accepting them? The Department had not got the script, and everything that had been said was about the implementation, while the Committee wanted to know about now.

The Chairperson said the Director-General of the Department of Justice and her team, and Parliament’s legal services were also present to hear what the Department said about domestic violence. He asked both DGs whether they had been part of the drafting of the Bills, or if they were commenting after the Bills had been drafted.

Mr W Horn (DA) said from certain portions of the presentation, he felt that the Department was under the impression that part of the brief was to influence the content of the Bills. He added to Ms Mofokeng’s comments, that the Committee should have heard the extent to which the Department was willing and able to assist in implementation through their programmes to prevent, communicate and educate the nation about the new provisions in the Bills when they became law. A big portion of the struggle in South Africa in the fight against GBV was that victims were not always knowledgeable about the avenues available to them, and one of the reasons the Department had been asked to give a presentation was to tell the Committee in what ways they would assist in implementation of these Bills when they became law by communicating and educating. The Department should have mentioned if they were able to provide service points and access to technology specifically for online processes throughout communities -- for instance, near police stations, care centres or courts, for people who did not have their own access to technology, as part of the education and communication on the Bills.

Ms W Newhoudt-Druchen (ANC) said she was not impressed by the presentation, because the Department spoke a lot about the programmes which would be done, but there was no clarification on what programmes relating to GBV had been completed or which programmes were currently available.

She said there was lack of accessibility to information for the deaf community, and suggested that there should be sign language interpreters, or even subtitles, for national broadcasters like the SABC.  She asked what the Department was doing to spread awareness to children about GBV online, especially in the deaf community. In her opinion, the Department was supposed to assist the Department of Basic Education with such online provisions.

She was concerned about rolling out Wi-Fi infrastructure and putting protection actions online. She asked whether people in the rural areas would have easy access to such provisions.

Mr X Nqola (ANC) asked if the Department had considered online tracking of GBV perpetrators in places where GBV incidences started on social media, and whether the Department had resources available to track the perpetrators.

He said that in the administration of justice, sometimes evidence was lost during court processes, so the Department of Justice should be engaged and should consider moving to electronic documentation. This was to avoid cases where perpetrators were released back into society as a result of lost evidence in their cases, which would decrease the confidence people had in the justice system.

He said there were known GBV hot spots in the country, and asked whether within the budgetary resources available there was consideration of installing cameras in such areas as a way of piloting the prevention of GBV.

Adv G Breytenbach (DA) said the presentation did nothing to inform the Committee about the DCDT’s readiness to implement their goals, and that was disappointing.

Ms Maseko-Jele said she noted the danger of children being exposed to GBV issues online. She asked what the view of the Department on parenting was, and the need for help to educate parents when it came to the parents buying expensive gadgets for children who were still in primary schools.

She asked what the plan was when working with other departments. Being the key department for communication, how were they getting a hold of other departments so that their work was coordinated or communicated in a unified way? Who sat in the committee of these coordinated structures, and at what level?  If people without influence were put in such positions, they were not taken seriously and issues remained unresolved.

The Chairperson noted the challenge that there was a violent society which was against women, children and the elderly. This was partly because people were exposed to violent films. To win the war against GBV, there was a need to reengineer society to a particular mindset. Violent films instilled the wrong value system in children. He cautioned on the need to engage viewership. He asked what the Department was doing to make sure that the industry was not promoting a view that to be violent made one successful, because GBV became a byproduct of that.

He asked to what extent the Department had engaged the phone industry. Were there any free apps that people could download that GBV victims could use, without the need to use data?

Department’s response

Ms Batyi said that the Committee should have the impression that the Department had been consulted, and that the team worked closely with the Department of Justice.

On the issue on technology, she explained that the Department had 11 entities, and some of them were not yet exposed to the work that was done by this Committee. For instance, with the installation of surveillance cameras as a Department, there was need to work with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), and SITA had to advise and help on how this was implemented and how ready it was.  There was a Film and Publication Board (FPB) which was under the DCDT, and they were the main driver of communications on online content and educating children in vulnerable groups insofar as undesirable content and GBV was concerned.

On subtitles for the deaf community, she responded that the technology in the country did not allow for auto captioning, which rather worked with pre-recorded programmes.

Further to the response of Ms Linders, she said the Department had a programme that supported children on the risks when they were online, as well as the benefits of being online. There was also a programme which helped parents to participate and support their children in the digital environment. The programme focused on age appropriate interventions for the parents and children, and was done in coordination with other government institutions, the private sector and the civil society. The Department also implemented several interventions -- for example, working with ChildLine SA to strengthen the work that they do, raising awareness in cyber bullying and how such instances could be reported.

On engaging mobile operators and broadcasters, the Department had a programme that engaged civil society and stakeholders in understanding various pieces of legislation and policy were viewed by society. In South Africa only children were protected in terms of what they viewed, while adults had the right to view what they wanted, but the board worked on choosing what films got displayed in public.

As for supporting deaf people, there was a programme which worked with schools for the deaf. They were provided with information on how they could access reporting platforms and protect themselves should they be the victims of abuse.

On working with other government departments, the DCDT was part of the integrated committee that the Ministry for Women and Youth had set up relating to issues of gender equality and implementing the national strategic plan. They had participated in those processes and provided inputs into some of the issues that had been raised.

Mr Tshegofatso Kgarabjang, Director: Legal Services, DCDT, in response to the comments and questions raised, said the bill had been approved by both Houses, and was currently awaiting the President’s date for when it would come into operation. One of the problems that had led to the establishment of the Bill was that there was no enforcement mechanism when someone was posting illegal content. The other problem was that there was no online regulation that could easily protect children and consumers from harmful and undesirable content. Unlike advanced countries, where illegal content was quickly detected when posted, in South Africa there was no remedy for that. The aim of the Bill was to protect children from exposure to online content such as pornography, sexual violence, and anything that could have adverse psychological effects. The Bill aimed to reduce this online content. However, it was not easy to take action against someone who had posted something, and to remove such harmful content.

Before the Bill was approved by the National Assembly, the Department had worked together with the Department of Justice and considered their comments, to make it even simpler for the Department of Justice when dealing with prosecutions. For instance, child pornography was aligned with justice legislation for easy prosecution. The Department had conducted a socio-economic impact assessment. The results of the assessment on the Bill revealed that it would protect children from online distributors of films and would enable law enforcement agencies to effectively prosecute the perpetrators. The victims of revenge pornography, which applied to gender-based violence, would have the mechanism whereby they were empowered to raise concerns. The Bill would create an enforcement committee that would help to see, adjudicate and monitor the complaints.

Ms Newhoudt-Druchen said that with GBV being a second pandemic after Corona-19, there was need for a WhatsApp group, where people could access and get information. With almost everyone in the country having a phone, there was need to look at what more could be done. A deaf person should be able to send an SMS for help. With SITA being responsible for electronic devices, the Committee could get it to explain what they were doing with their resources to deal with GBV. She asked if phone operators could be asked to include an emergency number for GBV. There was a need to make sure there were subtitles for television programmes, since that would greatly help the deaf.

Ms Batyi responded that the technology was there, but the challenge was that there was a public broadcaster on an analog system which did not allow for auto captioning at the moment. However, pre-recorded programmes could have subtitles.

On the issue of WhatsApp, all departments that were impacted by Covid-19, such as the Departments of Health and Education, had been asked to state their requirements from the communication sector, and there had been application for emergency numbers and WhatsApp numbers to prevent fake news.

The SABC registered its films so that viewers were notified at the beginning of a movie whether it could be watched by children or not. 

On actual programmes, the Department they would like to showcase what each entity had done in terms of readiness. She admitted there was room for improvement, but the showcase would provide a gateway to what had been done so far. There was a contract with Facebook through the FPB, where Facebook could take down undesirable content, such as fake news or rape videos, so this was also a WhatsApp platform. Realising the challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic, they had partnered with civil society, since it had better strength in monitoring what happened online.

The Chairperson confirmed that a showcase of the entities would be done next year, when the entities would have to show their readiness for the implementation of the GBV Bills. This would give the DCDT, as a parent department, enough time to coordinate with all the entities and speak on their behalf.

Since the Justice Committee was not the main committee that was doing oversight on communication, but rather looking at a specific area within a limited timeframe to pass the Bills, some of the issues that were ongoing and required oversight would be forwarded to the relevant Portfolio Committees.

He informed the DCDT that for the three GBV Bills, it had to inform the Portfolio Committee at regular intervals on the implementation by the various departments.  The Committee would continue working with various Portfolio Committees in monitoring the implementation.

The meeting was adjourned.

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