The Committee convened in Parliament for public hearings on the Gender-Based Violence & Femicide (GBVF) Bill. Three different organisations, namely, Action Society, Gender Equity Unit and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, presented their submissions for the Bill.
The Gender Equity Unit expressed that its view is that the Bill as it stands should be revised and proposed as Section 76 to enable adequate engagement at provincial level as a way to broaden public engagement and participation. The Unit proposed the inclusion of certain stakeholders and the amendment of key definitions to include certain keywords.
The Congress felt that this was a progressive and long-overdue Bill. It was critical towards ensuring a coordinated response to the nation’s pandemic of gender-based violence and femicide.
Action Society recognised and appreciated the earnest efforts of government in seeking to address the pervasive issue of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Establishing the proposed National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (NCGBVF) reflected an important acknowledgment of this crisis. However, they firmly believed that the proposed structure and mandate of the Council, as it stood, was insufficient to effectively tackle the systemic, deeply-rooted issues that underpinned GBVF in the country.
There was a concern from the Members about the Council which would comprise 13 members. One suggested that having so few council members would be restricting, but they were also bound by the limitations stipulated in the Bill. Another mentioned that having a board of about 38 persons would place a burden on state funds. To this, the Member was assured that the board would not be bloated and that these members were being remunerated based on hours worked. There was a call for a bottom-up leadership approach rather than a top-down approach.
There was a lot of concern about the scope of what defined sexual harassment within the workplace. There was also mention of workers being exploited, be they farm workers who were barred from exercising their right to vote or undocumented immigrants. Members wanted to know what COSATU was doing about this.
There was also a discussion about Members’ right to speak and be apprised in their home languages. One Member in particular, Ms M Khawula (EFF), lamented constantly experiencing language barrier issues, saying that the absence of an interpreter was not the first incident.
Opening Remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson opened the meeting, and acknowledged the presence of all guests. She said that this meeting would be an opportunity for those organisations who did not get a chance to finish their presentations in an earlier meeting. She then listed all the Members present in the meeting and those who were yet to join the meeting.
She then handed over to Dr Fikile Vilakazi, Director of the Gender Equity Unit, University of Western Cape, to give the first presentation on suggestions for the Bill.
Submission by Gender Equity Unit
The Unit expressed that its view is that the Bill as it stands should be revised and proposed as Section 76 to enable adequate engagement at provincial level as a way to broaden public engagement and participation. The Unit recommended the inclusion of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as stakeholders in the Bill, under Section Six.
The Bill needs a preamble before section (1) that spells out the state of the GBVF pandemic in South Africa, and notes varied legislative and policy frameworks and treaty bodies that inform international, regional, continental and sub-regional levels globally, i.e., Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), UN Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, amongst others, that relation to the rights of children and people living with disabilities.
Amongst other amendments, the Unit proposes edits in three definitions, namely: (a) civil society, (b) gender-based violence and (c) femicide. On (a) civil society, they propose to include ‘academia’ as part of civil society. Another would be to include a new definition of the ‘public sphere’, generally conceived as the social space in which different opinions are expressed, problems of general concern are discussed, and collectivity solutions are derived communicatively. Another key edit would be to include ‘spiritual violence’ as recently provided for in the Domestic Violence Amendment Act (2021).
[See presentation document for more details]
Ms M Khawula (EFF) interrupted the first presentation to say that she could not continue listening to the presentation without an isiZulu interpreter (because her interpreter had not yet arrived).
The Chairperson instructed that the interpreter be found before continuing with the meeting.
Whilst all were waiting, Ms Khawula expressed her frustration that this was not the first time she was experiencing a language barrier issue in the meetings. She stressed that it was her right as a Member of Parliament to speak her home language.
The Chairperson echoed her thoughts and shared her frustration. She jokingly mentioned that they would struggle to go overseas to countries such as Germany, where they do not speak the African languages.
Ms Khawula mentioned that they insisted on speaking their own languages in all the overseas countries she had visited. She acknowledged that South Africa was very diverse, with 12 official languages, but African languages seemed to be pushed aside and made room for only English as a primary language. She did not think this was right at all.
The first presentation continued.
After the first presentation ended, the Chairperson referred to Section Nine. Was this being covered? Was more clarity required? Perhaps specifics would make it easier to be understood.
Dr Vilakazi clarified that their presentation could be read alongside Section Nine to make better sense. Section nine stood.
Then the Chairperson asked the Department to comment on the Gender Equity Unit’s presentation.
The Department responded, echoing the Chairperson’s comments. The main issue was in terms of the National Strategic Plan (NSP), which stated that the Council must be limited to only 13 persons. The first draft had all the initially proposed departments, but they were reminded of the NSP. On this basis, they had to introduce a clause which allowed the Minister power’s to appoint ex-officials, should the need arise. And she made up an example of this. They felt bound by the stipulated limit of 13 persons.
The Chairperson mentioned that what was being proposed was that the stakeholders sit in all the board meetings but would not have voting powers. Perhaps the Committee could deliberate on this. She acknowledged how the ‘Department’ was being restricted regarding the limited persons, but the Committee did not feel restricted by this, so they should probably look into this.
Ms N Sharif (DA) mentioned that 30-38 people on a board felt very bloated, meaning that 38 people would have to be remunerated through state funds. She was very concerned about this. Regarding tagging the Bill and Section 76, pahes 13 and 14 outlined why it was tagged as a Section 76. They, as the Committee, would have to look at the structure of the Council and its implications. The board had to be able to trickle down to communities or it would not make sense.
She was very concerned about the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) being part of the board, saying that one could not be a player and a referee at the same time. In Higher Education, how would TVETs form part of the process? She was concerned about including too many people from all the provinces. Lines needed to be clearly drawn. Could one imagine a 50-member board?
She suggested that rather than the Minister doing the appointment. Perhaps the Portfolio Committee could do this.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked for clarity on the board members. The representatives of the Minister would take up a large portion of the seats, posing a problem for the universities. The representatives ended up becoming an interference. She was concerned about this. What was the view regarding this? Board members’ remuneration placed a burden on the government. How about having an inter-ministerial council composed of different members from different portfolios? This would ensure that costs were lowered. What did they think of this plan? The funding was already very limited.
Ms Khawula thanked Dr Vilakazi for the presentation. She referred to Sections 75 and 76 and agreed with these proposed amendments. She mentioned issues of access for many people. She recalled a time when they met in the community halls listening to the grievances of the people. She believed in the bottom-up leadership not the top-down leadership. She liked the spiritual part, saying that it was necessary to turn to spiritual leaders in times of difficulty such as the GBVF happening in the country. When she was growing up, she recalled the presence of GBVF. This issue was affecting people in their lives. She agreed with Section 75. They were living in times of limited funds. Looking at schools, human rights were necessary. The living conditions of the people were appalling. There was a case in Limpopo where a girl was in the presence of a 58-year-old male neighbour who raped and killed her. The perpetrators needed to be easily identified. Judges were required in these times. Many cases were not being followed up on and were left unattended.
She then mentioned the facilities which had liquor licenses. Why were there drugs and alcohol in the universities? This was a bad example for the youth. She mentioned sex workers. The places issuing liquor licenses should not issue them to schools. Women and children were drastically being killed. The 24/7 taverns were a problem, and were most prevalent within the Black communities. Why was this the case? How could they, as a Committee, not stand up and fight for these GBVF issues? The women were being affected by it. Abuse of drugs was prevalent among the youth. She was crying when learning of the female graduates introduced to drugs and dying as a result. Their futures were at stake. She did not see any mention of this in the presentation. She wished they could go back to the Women’s March of 1956.
The Chairperson reiterated that they were looking at issues of GBVF. She was hoping that someone named ‘Pinky’ would also present.
Responses from Gender Equity Unit
Dr Vilakazi responded to Section 76 tagging. They asserted that once it was tagged as Section 76, it automatically kicked in a public participation process within provinces enabling communities to participate effectively. But Section 75 would not make the provision easier. This was their major concern, and they voiced their concerns, and she listed the problems the people were facing. They wanted to make things easier for such persons.
It was very rare to find national structures reaching down to people on the ground, because power was highly centralised. Section 76 allowed for new possibilities to arise, amidst all the restrictions.
Regarding remuneration of board members, they were guarding against having a bloated leadership structure who would not be doing their jobs. Not more than 15 persons, to ensure that work flowed faster. With 13 members, it meant that they would have committees which were less capacitated. They may need experts to interpret the law. But if there were too few, they might be overstretched. Why not employ more persons who would dedicate their time to their duties?
They were suggesting that the more centralising of power, the better. There needed to be a delegation of power. This was not the first time having a law which ended GBVF. They had an issue with implementation of the laws. This time round, council members would be reimbursed based on hours they had worked; they needed to deliver to be paid. TVET colleges were included in their proposal, post-school sectors.
The issue of costs may not apply to the Bill because if one worked for the government. They would not be remunerated, except for transport, etc. Remuneration would only be for the 15 members of Council. She acknowledged Ms Khawula’s comments, saying that they were very important.
Submission by COSATU
Mr Matthew Parks, Parliamentary Coordinator for COSATU, presented the submission. The Union supported the National Council on GBV and Femicide Bill wholeheartedly. The Congress felt that this was a progressive and long-overdue Bill. It was critical towards ensuring a coordinated response to the nation’s pandemic of GBV and femicide.
It was critical that Parliament expedite & ensure its passage before the 2024 elections. COSATU urged Parliament to consider its proposals to provide for organised labour’s inclusion in the Council.
[See presentation document for more details]
Ms F Masiko (ANC) agreed with COSATU on workplace harassment which contributed largely to GBVF in the country. The structure proposed that Council should consist of 13 members; how would labour formations organise themselves, so there was one representation that would accommodate all labour formations?
Ms Khawula emphasised the importance of taking action. She mentioned that women in the workplace sometimes felt compelled to have sexual relations with their superiors to stay employed and be promoted. Employers were not following the law on payment of salaries and were wrongfully dismissing the employees for very minor issues, like in the case of Shoprite. Was this, too, not harassment? There were issues of university graduates being employed but not being paid what they deserved, as the employment agencies exploited them. What was COSATU’s stance on this?
She mentioned the cases of unfair dismissal within the workplace. General elections were coming up next year. COSATU needed to take action now because workers were being intimidated from voting. They were being threatened with being fired or being bribed to vote for certain political parties. This was a serious issue. It did not matter which party one voted for, as long they voted. Temporal employments were prevalent in the country, and not being followed with permanent positions, and this contributed to unemployment.
There was a case of an 86-year-old woman being kicked out of her house with her grandchildren. She asked COSATU to do something about the rights of workers which were not being respected. Handicapped persons were disadvantaged in buildings without facilities for them to access. Youth were being affected by drug abuse and unemployment. These issues need to be escalated to government rather than spending time discussing all the fancy English laws. Society needed to truly reflect the democratic nation it stood for.
She asked for the COSATU presenter’s business card because the matter of the elderly woman who was beaten by her male white Afrikaner employer (Mr Gerhard) was still pending and needed to urgently be attended to.
Responses from COSATU
COSATU confirmed that they gave a written submission to the Committee on the issues raised. It was important to show support for Bills. COSATU supported the draft Bill and understood that it would not end GBVF tomorrow. The Congress commented that issue of workplace harassment was very bad, along with the high unemployment rate that was sitting at 42%. Workers were scared to even take maternity leave. COSATU resolved to have inspectors go onto the grounds and observe how employees were treated in the workplace. There needed to be a Labour representative, so that they could be held accountable for their words and actions. They had four federations representing more than 3 000 000 workers, all with a vested interest in resolving the issues faced.
It was correct that there was much talk and little action. He also echoed Ms Khawula’s thoughts on workplace harassment and unfair dismissal. He said that farm workers in Upington did not know about all these fancy English laws and would not be able to exercise them. They would then become exploited by their bosses. Should these workers become dismissed, they lose their homes too and get fired the moment they join Unions. The reality was not matching what was written on paper. The process of unionising was very long. Not many workers were aware of it, and some were too scared to form part of the Unions. COSATU was lucky if they even got five percent of the 900 000 farm workers to join Unions.
The nature of the sector provided struggles for the Unions. Most tried to take up education and training. People were scared to exercise their rights because they knew the risk of unemployment. The Unions were male-dominated, so there was still work to be done.
Those on three-month contracts needed to be offered permanent positions so they were not easily dismissed. More than 1 000 000 workers worked for labour brokers. Employers tended to agree with many of the progressive laws but did not implement them within their own facilities.
COSATU acknowledged that Ms Khawula’s comments were always very important to note and that she gave hope to the people. The Congress acknowledged the comments made about voting, saying that it was very important that all citizens vote. There needed to be transport provided for workers for the day of voting. Voting registration was drastically decreasing. And with migration issues, it was difficult to follow up on voting. There was an issue of public transport workers working on the day of voting, and those who work at call centres who finish work very late. COSATU had proposed that Election Day allow workers the day off to go and work, except for essential personnel. Perhaps Election Day should be two days rather than one day. There was intimidation of farm workers from their employers, and many of them were not even aware that their vote should be secretive. The threat of eviction was prevalent. There were huge gaps in the Labour laws, which they hoped to rectify.
There was a delay in court cases being heard and victims and perpetrators were forced into the same spaces where intimidation existed. He said that access to basic needs was very important, and he appreciated Ms Khawula’s comments. There were several instances where undocumented immigrants were being exploited in the workplace because of their circumstances. He mentioned the xenophobic violence prevalent in society. The main goal was to grow the economy of South Africa.
Submission by Action Society
Action Society recognised and appreciated the earnest efforts of government in seeking to address the pervasive issue of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Establishing the proposed National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (NCGBVF) reflected an important acknowledgement of this crisis. However, they firmly believed that the proposed structure and mandate of the Council, as it stood, was insufficient to effectively tackle the systemic, deeply-rooted issues that underpinned GBVF in the country.
Their primary concern revolved around the need for a holistic, multi-pronged approach to GBVF – one that addressed not only the symptoms but also the root causes of the crisis. The current proposal for the Council failed to thoroughly address these root causes and risked creating another layer of bureaucracy that lacked the necessary power or resources to affect real change.
Moreover, the proposal did not adequately address the critical deficiencies within the justice system and law enforcement bodies, particularly the South African Police Service (SAPS). They feared that the Council's efforts would be severely undermined without substantial improvements in these areas. The persistence of these deficiencies continued denying victims of GBVF the justice they deserved, undermining Action Society’s collective efforts to deter such violence.
[See presentation document for more details]
There were no questions or comments from the Committee in this regard.
The Chairperson mentioned that the presenters would be informed when the Committee would deliberate on the report (possibly in the following term after recess). They would also engage with the Department on their consultation process. The Committee has fulfilled their duties thus far. This should be known to all.
The Chairperson thanked all the presenters for their contribution. She mentioned all the platforms that these meetings were being livestreamed on, so the public could access them. The Department should submit responses to all presentation queries (oral and written) by August 2023. If all was not captured well, people could submit their queries in this regard. She invited all Members to lunch and reminded them about the upcoming trip to Germany.
She scolded the isiZulu translator for his absence at the meeting, saying that this was unfair to Ms Khawula. There was a general acknowledgement of Ms Khawula’s right to have an interpreter.
Ms Khawula jokingly said that she would escalate this matter with her own political party.
The translator apologised for his absence to the Chairperson. He said that he was misinformed about the details of the meeting.
The Chairperson accepted the translator’s apology.
Ms Khawula mentioned that she would continue to speak her home language, as it was her legal right.
The other Committee Members supported her in this regard and wondered if Ms Khawula received the documentation in her own home language. They said that Parliament needed to support her in every way possible.
The Chairperson mentioned that she too would sometimes brief Ms Khawula on the agenda of the meetings prior to their commencement. She would continue to do this in the near future, especially for their upcoming trip to Germany. She agreed with what the other Members had said. This right should be recognised and practised by all who wish to do so.
The meeting was adjourned.
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