HSRC briefing on SA National Survey on Health, Life Experiences, and Family Relations

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

17 November 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary


In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio Committee was presented with a comprehensive update by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) on the progress of the South African survey on health, life experiences, and family relations, commonly known as the national Gender-Based Violence (GBV) study.

The HSRC provided detailed insights into the study's objectives, methodology and challenges, including delays attributable to COVID-19 and resource competition. It further elucidated on the survey design and progress, emphasising its thorough and inclusive nature.

In the discussion, Committee Members raised queries regarding staff recruitment, qualifications, the extended protocol development period, and the absence of a dedicated focus on GBV at higher learning institutions. Safety concerns in specific areas, and the effectiveness of government policies in combating GBV, were also prominent topics.

The Committee highlighted the significance of diverse representation among staff, stressing the need for collaboration with relevant entities, and for proactive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of the research team during fieldwork.

Meeting report

The Chairperson thanked the Members for attending, highlighting their frequent interaction with subjects that cut across committees, particularly with the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities. She emphasised the importance of extending invitations to other Portfolio Committees, and expressed appreciation for the continued participation of Members from the mentioned Committee.

She said the Committee would receive a briefing from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and one of its entities, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). The focus would be on the findings and recommendations of the South African survey on health, life experiences, and family relations, commonly known as the National Gender-based Violence (GBV) study. The Committee had had a longstanding involvement in the study since its commencement.

Although some committees were not present, she hoped the report had been shared with them for future engagement. She extended a welcome to the delegation from the DSI and the HSRC, expressing eagerness to hear their presentation.

DSI on societal challenge of GBV

Mr Daan du Toit, Deputy Director-General (DDG): International Cooperation and Resources, DSI, said he appreciated the privilege of presenting on a project that he believed illustrates a key role of the Department -- putting science into effect to inform policy and decision-making. He emphasised that responding to the urgent societal challenge of gender-based violence and associated issues within family and public health was a pressing priority.

He introduced the HSRC as one of the Department's entities, expressing pleasure in inviting them to present a progress report on the important study. He outlined three key principles of their capital plan, aligning with the project's goals. These principles were the role of science in informing policy and decision-making, the continued importance of investing in the social sciences and humanities, and the significance of international cooperation.

Mr Du Toit highlighted the international funding and support secured for the project, and introduced Dr Mpumi Zungu, a research director at the HSRC.

HRSC on SA national survey on health, life experiences and family relations

Dr Zungu said she would not be presenting alone, and introduced Prof Khangelani Zuma, Executive Director, HSRC, who confirmed his role as one of the principal investigators in the project.

Dr Zungu reflected on the feedback received during the planning phase of the study, noting that it was a new initiative, and there had been no precedent for a project to present to Members of Parliament before its launch.

She recalled the Committee's input during the initial presentation, emphasising the importance of inclusivity, extending the study beyond the age of 49, and addressing issues related to substance abuse. She highlighted the Committee's influence on their decision to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, to expand the age range, and to refine the methodology to ensure inclusivity.

The objectives of the study had a dual focus on women's experiences and men's perpetration and victimisation of gender-based violence. It aimed to collect data on the prevalence and patterns of GBV, including all forms and all sexual orientations and gender identities. The study encompassed various aspects, such as gender norms and attitudes, HIV risks, mental health impacts on survivors, and the economic impact of GBV.

She provided an overview of the project's journey, starting with funding from the Ford Foundation in late 2020. The timeline included protocol development, workshops, consultation with regional organisations, and the submission to the Ethics Committee in early 2021. She detailed the extensive ethical considerations and preparations, leading to the final clearance in July 2021.

The presentation covered the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the pilot phase in September 2021, and the subsequent training sessions. Due to pandemic-related restrictions, they had had to adapt their plans, moving the pilot from Gauteng to KZN, and addressing logistical issues such as limited room capacity. The actual fieldwork was conducted in 2022, due to the challenges faced in 2021.

The presentation set the stage for Prof Zuma to delve into the survey design, sampling, and progress report, providing the Committee with comprehensive insights into the study's evolution.

Dr Zungu continued by discussing the challenges faced during the project, categorising them as areas of stretch that posed difficulties. She referred to the delay in data collection, leading to an extension of the project timeline. Unforeseen cost drivers, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), multiple training sessions and the use of technology, were discussed, along with the impact of COVID on staff and their families.

She elaborated on the global competition for resources, including cars and computers, which had led to delays in acquiring the necessary equipment. The study had coincided with other large-scale surveys, such as the census and the HIV survey at the HSRC, creating resource competition among organisations.

Recruiting males, particularly from white and Indian communities, proved challenging due to the need to match data collectors with the communities they served. The high turnover of staff was attributed to demands from other surveys and the development of symptoms of trauma among those working extensively on GBV.

She described the phased implementation of the study, which began in April 2022, referring to several cost drivers, such as the adaptation of the sample size, recruiting additional staff, flood-related issues, and challenges in attracting locally located staff. Distrust in communities had increased, leading to safety concerns. In some communities, data collection was not feasible due to safety risks. Training sessions beyond the initial budget, fake news, and misinformation on social media were additional challenges faced by the project.

Despite the challenges, she appreciated the support they had received. She handed over to Prof Zuma to discuss the survey design, provide highlights, and share the progress of the study.

Survey design, highlights and progress

Prof Zuma said the study was a population-based survey covering just over 84 000 small area layers, each representing a geographic community with approximately 250 to 315 households. The team randomly selected 1 096 of these small area layers to conduct the household-based survey, ensuring a representative sample. The layers were stratified by province and locality type (open areas, urban areas, and farms).

Once selected, each small area layer had a map generated, and the Geographic Information System (GIS) team had geocoded all households within them. From each household, 20 visiting points were randomly selected. Within each household, one eligible person was randomly chosen for participation to maintain confidentiality.

To include marginalised communities, such as the LGBTQIA+ community and persons with disabilities, a respondent-driven sampling approach was used. A member of the targeted community served as a seed, referring others who met the criteria.

The sample size calculation was based on a 21% estimated prevalence of physical violence among women. The targeted sample size was over 23 000 individuals, with around 3 647 from marginalised communities.

Prof Zuma discussed the progress of data collection, noting that 92% of the small area layers had been visited, covering 9 707 eligible individuals. Challenges, including financial constraints, had led to delays, but funding had been secured to complete the data collection.

For a comprehensive analysis, he emphasised the importance of covering all areas, including farms and those dominated by different race groups. The participation rate was encouraging, with a 94% agreement among eligible individuals.

The implications of the study for programming, policy, and advocacy were discussed. Prof Zuma highlighted the information's potential to reveal prevalent forms of GBV-affected population segments, and the drivers of GBV. This data could help understand the economic and familial impact of GBV and contribute to the development of targeted interventions.

The information collected would contribute to a national GBV surveillance system, supporting monitoring and evaluation of the national strategic plan on GBV. The data could be used to formulate and analyse policies, develop interventions, and address challenges faced by survivors, including those in marginalised communities.

Prof Zuma outlined the research team's plans, indicating that data release would occur after completing overall data collection and analysis. An independent panel of experts would review the results before sharing them with key stakeholders. The release process would involve briefings for government departments and civil society, with a peer review providing valuable feedback.

The implementation plans included completing data collection by January 2024, followed by data cleaning, analysis, and reporting between February and March 2024. The expert panel would review the results by April 2024, with the study launching in May or June 2024. The dissemination of results would take place between May and December 2024.

Prof Zuma expressed thanks for the support received from the DSI and various funders, emphasising the collaborative and international nature of the project. He thanked the Members for their attention and patience, acknowledging the sensitivity of the study and the importance of engaging with participants.

(See attached presentation for further details)

Mr Du Toit expressed gratitude to the HSRC for the informative presentation, acknowledging the importance of their work from the Department's perspective. He submitted the report to the Committee, and welcomed comments, advice, and guidance from the Members. He also committed to keeping the Committee informed about the study's progress.

He specifically appreciated the initiative of the Chairperson to open the discussion to other Members of Parliament, recognising that broad discussions were crucial for science to have a meaningful impact on society.


Ms J Mananiso (ANC) acknowledged the honesty in discussing the potential delays in the research process. She sought clarity on several aspects.

Were demographics available for the additional staff trained, particularly regarding their qualifications? She inquired about the recruitment process for these staff.

She commented on the lengthy three-month period for the development of the protocol. She suggested that while it might have contributed to delays, it was crucial not to take shortcuts in the governance of such protocols.

She questioned the involvement of specific counsellors in specific wards during the household-based sample survey. She inquired about the Department's relationship with counsellors and how they navigated the process in areas where people might be reluctant or resistant.

She asked whether any sources from Statistics SA were used in this survey, and if that organisation had been involved in the research.

She acknowledged the concern about the lack of participation from marginalised groups, and suggested involving specific organisations representing these groups in future research. She emphasised the importance of including organisations that champion the interests of LGBTQIA+ communities, and persons living with HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and other chronic diseases.

Ms Mananiso concluded by expressing her overall impression of the work done on gender-based violence and femicide, stating that she was impressed with the progress made to date.

Ms C King (DA) acknowledged the progress made in the research, and expressed a brief concern about the absence of a separate account measuring GBV at institutions of higher learning. She also raised questions about how government policies addressing GBV were being measured for effectiveness, emphasising the importance of aligning policy positions with the goal of combating GBV.

Mr S Ngcobo (DA) asked about safety concerns in certain areas where the research team had faced challenges in obtaining police assistance. He sought clarification on whether the police's inability to accompany the team was due to human resources constraints, or a lack of general resources.

The Chairperson appreciated the comprehensive presentation by the HSRC team on the progress of the study. Acknowledging the sensitivity of the topic, she stressed the importance of ensuring the safety and well-being of the research team during fieldwork. She encouraged a proactive approach in engaging with other government departments to garner support and address challenges faced during the research process.

A key concern raised by the Chairperson was the reported withdrawal of researchers from certain areas due to safety concerns. She stressed the need for innovative collaborations, suggesting exploration of partnerships with the military reserves or other entities to provide additional support for fieldwork. The importance of mental health support for the research team was underscored, and the Chairperson proposed collaboration with Higher Health to address psychosocial needs.


Department of Science and Innovation

Mr Du Toit thanked the Members for their valuable comments and questions. He acknowledged the legitimate concerns about the delays in the research study, emphasising the critical need for timely interventions in addressing GBV. He assured the Committee that efforts would be made to work closely with the HSRC to minimise further delays and secure the necessary funding for the study.

Highlighting the financial challenges faced by the public finances and the Department's budget, he affirmed that the study remained an unequivocal priority for the country. He discussed ongoing engagements with the HSRC to explore various funding avenues, including reprioritising funds within the Department, and seeking support from international partners, including the European Union (EU).

Mr Du Toit addressed the issue of engaging the government as a whole in the study's work, noting that the research findings fed into the Presidency's efforts in responding to GBV. He agreed with the suggestion to enhance engagement with the security cluster to address security concerns encountered during the study, emphasising the importance of efficient and effective collaboration.

In conclusion, he pointed out the significance of learning from the challenges encountered in the study, considering it essential for future efforts in supporting social science research to address societal challenges. He invited Professor Zungu and HSRC colleagues to respond to specific questions related to the study's conduct, allowing for a more detailed examination of the research process and outcomes.

Human Sciences Research Council

Dr Zungu expressed appreciation for the support received from the DSI and all funders, highlighting their focus on capacity building and ensuring the successful completion of the study. She acknowledged the challenges faced in various communities, particularly those with gang violence in the Western Cape, where resource constraints had hindered police support.

Addressing concerns raised by Ms King, she clarified that the study did not measure GBV at institutions of higher learning, as it was primarily a household survey. She recommended a targeted study in collaboration with Higher Health to specifically address GBV in higher education settings. She also confirmed consultations with Statistics SA and the detailed protocol development process, emphasising the need for rigorous planning and verification to align with international standards.

Dr Zungu discussed gatekeeping strategies and the recruitment process at the HSRC, ensuring representation and diversity among the staff. The minimum qualification required was matric, with a preference for individuals with degrees, diplomas, and relevant experience in gender studies or GBV counselling. Training, lasting two weeks, covered topics such as gender issues, questionnaire administration, and the psychological well-being of the interviewers.

She assured the Committee that measures were in place regarding mental health support, including Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for referrals. She stressed the importance of addressing the mental health of the research team, limiting interviews to three per day, and conducting regular briefings to discuss the emotional impact of their work.

Dr Zungu concluded her response by inviting Prof Zuma to address any additional questions and to provide further insights into the study's conduct, including community entry approaches and engagement with counsellors.

Prof Zuma referred to the collaboration with Statistics SA, emphasising the use of the sampling frame and data analysis partnership with the national statistical agency. He highlighted the meticulous process of community engagement before fieldwork, involving teams that introduced the study to gatekeepers, the police, and community leaders. The goal was to ensure transparency, address any misunderstandings, and receive community support.

In response to concerns about measuring the effectiveness of policies in curbing GBV, he explained that the questionnaire included questions linking data to policies. Researchers analysed the data and presented findings in reports, policy briefs and articles, aiming to assess whether existing policies were achieving their intended goals. The study's reporting would scrutinise policy implementation and recommend adjustments, if needed.

Prof Zuma emphasised the entity's commitment to thorough research on GBV in communities, recognising the need for continued research and understanding of this complex issue.

Closing remarks

The Chairperson thanked the presenters, acknowledging their responses to the questions posed.

Reflecting on the recommendation from Ms King regarding higher education institutions, she stressed the importance of collaboration and avoiding duplication of efforts within government initiatives. Drawing parallels with the work of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) on GBV in higher learning institutions, she highlighted the need for synergy between the HSRC and the CGE. She suggested that collaboration could extend to research coordination between the HSRC, the CGE and other relevant entities, pointing out the shared nature of challenges and potential solutions between broader societal issues and those in higher education institutions.

In reference to Prof Zuma's earlier remarks on the experiences of students, staff, and academia living at home, the Chairperson emphasised the significance of understanding the dynamics within institutions of higher learning. Proposing the establishment of connections between research conducted by the HSRC and other entities, she suggested exploring the role of Higher Health in facilitating collaboration and finding correlations between research sites.

The meeting was adjourned.


No related

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: