Dear Fellow South African,
Since we declared the nation-wide lockdown, we have found that the majority of South Africans have responded with patience and understanding despite the considerable hardship.
There is a common appreciation that the measures that have been enforced since Friday 27 March are in the best interests of all.
While the majority of South Africans continue to respect the rules of the lockdown and the rights of others, there are some among us seeking to exploit this crisis for their own sinister ends.
It is a great indictment of our society that dozens of schools have been burgled, trashed or burnt to the ground. When the lockdown is lifted and learning resumes, thousands of our children will have no school to return to, depriving them of the right to education. Eskom has also reported an increase in cable theft and vandalism of its infrastructure since the lockdown began, resulting in power supply interruptions and damage that will cost a considerable amount to repair.
That public property is being vandalised while the entire country is experiencing hardship because of the lockdown, is a demonstration of utter disrespect and disregard for the majority of South Africans who are law-abiding.
It is despicable that criminals are using this period of the lockdown as a cover to break the law at a time when our law-enforcement authorities are occupied with supporting the national effort to contain the pandemic.
Unfortunately, criminals are also preying on the weak and vulnerable.
Our hearts go out to the family of Mama Ngenzeni Zuma who was raped and killed in KwaZulu-Natal last month by men who allegedly pretended to be soldiers to gain entry into her home.
We feel the pain of the family of 14-year-old Simphiwe Sibeko who went missing from her Soweto home, and whose body was found dumped in bushes last week.
As a nation, we are saddened at the death of Constable Percy Ramalepe who was shot and killed while attending to a domestic violence call in Johannesburg last week.
It is disturbing that during a time of such immense difficulty for our country, women and girls are being terrorised inside their own homes, forcing them to make desperate calls for help. The number of calls to the GBV National Command Centre has increased since the lockdown began on 27 March.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, violence against women has become a global problem.
Last week the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message that since restrictions were imposed by countries around the world to contain the coronavirus, women and girls were increasingly facing violence “where they should be safest: in their own homes”.
While reaffirming that lockdowns and quarantines were essential, Secretary-General Guterres said they were trapping women with abusive partners, resulting in “a horrifying global surge in domestic violence”.
“In some countries, the number of women calling support services has doubled,” the UN Secretary-General said.
As South Africa we have heeded the call for governments to prioritise gender-based violence in their national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We continue to implement the Emergency Response Plan to end gender-based violence that was announced last year.
Support services to vulnerable women and children remain operational throughout the lockdown, including psycho-social services like counselling for women and children, sheltering and places of safety, and medico-legal services in cases of sexual violence.
The Gender-Based Violence National Command Centre remains operational. I have directed the Minister of Police to ensure that Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units are reinforced at police stations during the lockdown and beyond.
We recognise since people may not leave their homes, women and children in abusive situations are vulnerable. Survivors of violence may not have access to phones or airtime, or public transport to take them to a police station, shelter or a doctor.
To this effect the Interim Steering Committee on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, in consultation with civil society organisations is developing guidelines and protocols for GBV management in the context of COVID-19.
Our law-enforcement officials are to be commended for swiftly arresting suspects in the recent murders of the two women. They should also be commended for arresting and charging 148 suspects for crimes of gender-based violence since the start of the lockdown.
We are aware that the restrictions that have been placed on people’s movement and the confinement to their homes is a frustration for many.
But there is no excuse, nor will there ever be any excuse, for violence – against women, children, the elderly, members of the LGBTQI+ community, foreign nationals, not against anyone.
Vandalism of public property and key economic infrastructure will not be tolerated. We call upon communities to play their part in reporting such acts, because they seldom take place in the absence of witnesses.
When communities allow themselves to be passive bystanders when they witness crime, they become party to the sabotage that ultimately disadvantages ourselves, our children and our communities.
I have a message for those callous criminals who think they can take advantage. The criminal justice system is not on leave. Our law enforcement authorities will deal with those who transgress the law. You will be arrested, you will be tried and you will be put behind bars.
As the UN Secretary-General said in his message, women’s rights and freedoms are essential to strong, resilient societies. Violence against women erodes the moral fibre of our society. It sinks its insidious roots in families and communities, causing the cycle to be repeated across generations.
Our resolve and commitment to rid our country of this scourge remains firm. We will continue to bring all the state’s resources to bear to support vulnerable women and children, and ensure that perpetrators face the full might of the law.
I call on the men of South Africa and all citizens to play their part to combat gender-based violence and to provide survivors with the necessary support and assistance. This time of difficulty does not diminish the responsibility of every citizen to respect the rights and dignity of others.
Some have called for a gender-based violence ‘ceasefire’ during the time of pandemic. This is not enough. We want to see it end, once and for all.
With best wishes,
President Cyril Ramaphosa