Pretoria - Even with renewed commitments and plans to address gender-based violence and femicide, Human Rights Watch has painted a dismal picture of the government’s efforts to assist shelters across the country.
The international human rights watchdog released a new report on Wednesday that detailed the challenges faced by shelters for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide in South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The organisation said while the government had acknowledged the high rates of GBV both during and before the pandemic, even to the extent of making promises to address this through its national strategic plan, it had failed to provide the necessary funding for shelters and other services.
The report was compiled following interviews with staff at seven shelters across the country and six other front-line organisations working with victims, to prevent GBV and to provide emergency support to survivors.
It also interviewed activists and other experts from 12 organisations. Those interviewed said the biggest problem was a lack of adequate government funding to help overwhelmed NGOs provide direct support to victims, including shelters, during the pandemic.
“South Africa is facing a situation in which survivors have been locked down with abusers, and need economic security to free themselves from their abusers, all during a very tight job market and a period of food insecurity,” said Wendy Isaack, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Key services such as shelters have been under huge stress for months because of pandemic-related problems, costs and long-standing difficulties like late payment of funds in some places, and patchy government support.”
DA social development spokesperson Refiloe Nt'sekhe previously highlighted how the Department of Social Development had failed to spend R438.1 million of its 2020/21 annual budget, leaving many vulnerable people destitute.
Nt'sekhe said the under-expenditure had affected crucial programmes run by the department, including the social welfare services, child and family programmes, restorative services for substance abuse as well as development and research programmes.
The watchdog said the government support to shelters during the pandemic also appeared to vary enormously among provinces.
While shelters such as those in the Western Cape provided guidance, solidarity and personal protective equipment, with funding for shelters arriving on time, in other places funding was reportedly late to the extent that some staff even had to take personal loans to pay for the expenses.
“The government has been addressing GBV during the crisis over the past year, but a large-scale and fully resourced effort will be needed to ensure the Covid-19 crisis and its fallout over the next years doesn’t result in GBV worsening further.”
While the organisation said attempts to interview or obtain feedback from the Social Development department were unsuccessful, the department’s Feziwe Ndwayana said they had noted reports of underspending. She said the department had actually spent 93% of its budget, which nullified reports that it had failed to deliver on its mandated services.
“Only 7% of the budget was underspent, and there were various reasons that led to this anomaly and the reasons differ per programme.
“It’s crucial to note that the department made use of all mechanisms in place to ensure underspending is mitigated and service delivery is not affected,” she said.
Ndwayana stressed that since stepping into the office last year December, Social Development MEC Morakane Mosupyoe had worked tirelessly as the political head in stabilising the department, with tremendous progress noted to benefit communities.
“The Department of Social Development remains committed to its mandate for the social protection and development of vulnerable groups in our communities. The services it implements are deeply rooted in changing lives at ground level and transforming disadvantaged communities.
“While the department acknowledges its numerous challenges – some induced by Covid-19 – it will steadfastly not only provide welfare, but ensure groups under welfare progressively transition to self-sustenance.”
Ndwayana concluded that the department would continue to work with all stakeholders and oversight bodies.