Speech by Bantu Holomisa, MP Open Disclosure Foundation - Celebrating Womens' Month Fighting the abuse of women and children (25 August 2006)
At the outset we should acknowledge that among the many things that we can celebrate during Women's Month, few are as worthy of our recognition and joy as the fact that the Open Disclosure Foundation has been operating for the past four years. Its continued existence is a testament to how the courage of one individual can inspire others and multiply in the face of overwhelming odds. To digress for a moment, in Parliament and Government and Business, we are constantly speaking about leadership and what it means. Well here, in the birth and existence of this organisation, is an example of true leadership.

Organisations such as these have sprung up and become the advocates of the many women and children who are victims of abuse. Often it has been the case that due to failures in our society and our legal system the only refuge for abused women and children has been an organisation such as the Open Disclosure Foundation. For this selfless dedication and remarkable courage we must salute them.

As a society we are humbled that you have found the strength to perform these tasks which otherwise would have been neglected. Your advocacy is shining a light on these terrible things that previously were being hidden under a cloud of ignorance and denial. It is this light of advocacy that opens eyes of society to the truth and forces the legal reform that we have seen happening in the past few years.

As we take stock of what democracy has achieved in the past eleven years, we can see that there have been a certain amount of women's emancipation. We have placed or deployed some individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds in high positions or awarded them lucrative business deals. Empowerment, especially of blacks, in Government and Business has focussed on economic and political transformation. Social transformation, however, seems to have been neglected. Indeed, who has the authority to enforce social transformation? This is a complex topic, yet it seems that we have pursued democracy - including gender equality - without asking what were the old values that underpinned the old culture of abuse and exploitation and what are our new values? This is why we continue to see aspects of the old culture's abuse and exploitation persisting under democracy. Our world-renowned Constitution must be unpacked and its values inform every aspect of our lives, if we are truly to break free from the shackles of our divisive and repressive past.

Respecting and protecting women and children requires a paradigm shift in culture rather than relying on law alone.

For all that we have achieved, the challenge remains immense. I do not wish to dwell on the horrific statistics regarding the physical and sexual abuse of women and children in this country. On the one hand, the statistics are so overwhelming, the numbers so incredibly large, that we are facing the very real danger of becoming numbed and desensitised, or even demoralised by the scope of the problem. On the other hand, the statistics unintentionally trivialise the individual experience - the suffering and the courage - behind each of those thousands of numbers.

How I wish the day would dawn tomorrow when there is only one statistic, and it is uncontested in the mind of every South African, namely this: One incident of abuse, is one too many!

Sadly, the culture of abuse and violence is often rooted in the home and the family. This is part of the reason why the challenge is so difficult to address and so easy to hide or ignore for some people. We should all attempt to build a society outside the home that makes the safety and security of our citizens paramount. When the workplace, the streets and the schools are havens of safety and dignity, then the message must eventually permeate into every household.

Law enforcement alone won't stop this problem. Education and awareness is the key to change. That is why we must start with the children, because a child that is raised in a household where violence is an everyday occurrence will often replicate or accept that behaviour as an adult. The frustrations of unemployment sometimes lead to alcohol abuse in households and in turn fuels the violence and abuse. Such children may one day become police officers who ask: Why should I do something about a complaint in a household when this is what I grew up with in my own house? This is a cycle of violence that we need to break. Unfortunately, the culture of abuse and violence in the household is often justified in the name of culture, tradition or religion. It is therefore clear that across our society we need programmes that stop the perpetuation of this culture of violence and abuse. This is where education at classroom level must teach our children that violence and abuse is never acceptable. Similar education and awareness efforts must be aimed at adults. We; need to realise that this is a challenge that will require more than a 24-hour solution, but requires rather a generational solution.;

This culture is itself rooted in a long history of patriarchy, male dominance and the persistent refusal of some men to be led by a woman. For instance, when President Mbeki suggested that his successor should be a woman, there were immediate rumblings of discontent. In the workplace that same resistance to women in positions of equality or leadership persists. This is also a question of education and awareness: How do we educate this crowd of resistant men?

Talking of a women President for the country, I was happy that Bishop Tutu, who led the struggle in this country for many years, has joined my earlier clarion call that the electoral system needs to be reformed, so that the people of South Africa can directly elect the President of their choice. In this way, a strong female candidate won't be excluded simply because the men in a single political party cannot stomach the idea of a woman leading them.

The core of the challenge we face as members of this society is: How do we reach and assist the individual? From a parliamentary perspective we have pursued measures that seek to enhance the rights of the individual being abused. Whilst many of these measures are still inadequate or inefficiently implemented, the fact remains that today we have things such as Protection Orders, greater maintenance benefits, improved police awareness and facilities and more victim-friendly laws and legal process. Still the person who is being abused can easily feel that she is isolated and facing the disapproval and denial of an entire society and system. We have so much that we can still do in terms of the law, and even more in terms of implementation. But in the final analysis these things are broad measures that need to be supported by the entire society. This is where the
parliamentary and government effort depends on the other sectors of society to join us in this fight.

Again it is at this critical juncture where organisations such as the Open Disclosure Foundation connect us with each other and spreads the message. They connect with the other members in our society, such as the business sector, which I note is very well represented here today. Business, too has done much, and yet can do much more to implement policies that address abuse and to support organisations such as the Open Disclosure Foundation.

I am confident that many strides have been taken and are being taken to create a society that nurtures and respects all of its citizens. Many important concessions and rights have been won to protect and promote the rights of those who have been abused or are at risk. Yet, if there is one thing that I have seen in the past eleven years of democracy, it is that the rights you win today can be eroded again tomorrow. Indeed, rights and progress do not come to us gift-wrapped, as presents that we receive and that we can put on a shelf and admire from time to time. No, the pursuit of rights and the battle for freedom is continuous. As the liberation movements used to say: The struggle continues. So whilst we celebrate the advances we need to be aware of this fact.

That is why we salute the Open Disclosure Foundation, because they walk in the vanguard and remind us of what much remains yet to be done. They are the beacon that calls us to action whilst promising sanctuary and support to those who have been abused.

I thank you.

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