Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has unveiled a shelter for victims and survivors of gender-based violence in Bothaville, Free State, which will ensure that victims receive timely support to rebuild their lives.

The opening of Phelononofa Shelter for survivors of gender-based violence is another important step in government’s ongoing efforts to empower women and girls in abusive and violent relationships, help them to get legal assistance and rebuild their lives.

The centre will serve as a white door space to protect abused women, children, men and Lesbian, the Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) community.

The launch of the centre forms part of this year’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, observed under the theme ‘Women’s Economic Justice for a Non-violent and Non-Sexist South Africa’.

Speaking at the launch on Monday, Zulu stressed the need to do everything possible for survivors to ensure that those who seek help and protection get it.

“… When a victim of abuse leaves a violent relationship, it is often a particularly vulnerable time. Women often find it shameful to expose abuse by their abusive partners, and some find it difficult to leave when children are involved. Others remain trapped in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go.

“We need to make sure that every survivor of gender-based violence knows that if home is not a safe place for her and her children, she is not alone. There are services available to them in their moment of greatest need. As society, we need to ensure that if a survivor reaches out for help, we are there to lend a hand,” Zulu said.

Victim blaming

Zulu said in the past three months, she has been holding dialogues with men and religious organisations under the banner of #Asikhulumeni Interfaith District Forums, which seeks to get ordinary South Africans talking about violence in communities.

She said during the forums, which specifically focus on 30 GBV hotspots identified by Police Minister Bheki Cele, the department found that it is very common for men who use violence and abuse in their relationships to blame their partners.

“Again, there is no excuse because in love, there is no violence. This is what we call victim blaming [and] this is what discourages many women in abusive relationships to break the silence,” Zulu said.

The Minister said that the provision of shelter services like Phelononofa, is one way of breaking the silence because they provide response, care, support and healing for survivors.

“This is the mandate of the Department of Social Development Portfolio, under Pillar 4 of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for GBVF. The aim of this pillar is to ensure that victims receive timely and appropriate psychosocial support services as part of the healing process.

“Pillar 4 focuses on strengthening the existing response, care and support services by government and civil society in ways that are victim-centred and survivor-focused to facilitate recovery and healing. Secondary victimisation is eliminated through addressing specific individual and systemic factors that drive it,” Zulu said.

In March this year, Cabinet launched the first-ever National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (2019-2014), which takes a whole-of-government and society approach informed by grassroots activism and feminist action.

While services to empower victims have increased somewhat in recent years, Zulu noted that these services have not been managed as an integrated whole within the various government departments and other stakeholders.

“Many services are also not yet comprehensive and do not comply with the rights contained in the Service Charter for Victims of Crime in South Africa. Role players render pockets of services without guidance from an institutional framework, thus often exposing the client to secondary victimisation and discontent with service delivery,” Zulu said.

Zulu used the occasion to thank civil society organisations, “whose activism continues to be indispensable”.

She also thanked Cabinet colleagues and provincial leaders for providing the leadership and political impetus in the fight against GBVF.

“I especially want to acknowledge and thank the many survivors for their courage and determination in breaking the silence to end GBVF in South Africa,” Zulu said.

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