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Monday, March 21, 2011

Victory! Ministry of Justice Agrees to ‘Corrective’ Rape Activists’ Demands

By Benjamin Joffe-Walt -

In late November, thousands of us were horrified by ‘corrective rape’, the increasingly common South African hate crime in which men rape lesbian women to 'turn' them straight or 'cure' them of their sexual orientation.
A tiny group of lesbian activists hiding out in the townships of Cape Town called us to action, and in the 100 or so days since, tens of thousands from 163 countries around the world join in to demand action on 'corrective rape', making it the largest campaign of all time.
It is with great pleasure that I announce, we won!
Earlier today, those same township activists walked into the halls of South Africa's Parliament and convinced some of the most powerful officials in the country to agree to the long term, sustained engagement of various government arms and civil society groups to research, develop and implement a national action plan to tackle 'corrective rape' and the intersecting issues of gender-based violence, anti-LGBTI violence and hate crimes.
In short: we demanded that the South African government take 'corrective rape' seriously, and they have agreed to do so... and then some!
View a slideshow of today's events here.
Here's how it all went down:
At first, those of us organizing the event were worried, as our plans to bus in hundreds of supporters for a rally were doused by a public transportation strike which debilitated the city.
But much to our surprise, more than 100 grassroots activists from across the city and the far off townships managed to find their way, and a sizable, inspiring rally of support for the 'corrective' rape campaign was held outside Parliament ahead of the meeting.
Various representatives of different activist groups and coalitions then went into Parliament for the long promised first meeting with senior officials at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development, who flew to Cape Town for the meeting.
Ndumie Funda, the one-woman founder of Luleki Sizwe who started the campaign, began by delivering the record-breaking 170,000 signatures of support from people in 163 countries around the world. She then presented a written statement calling on the ministry to embark on an inclusive, long term and sustained process of taking action against 'corrective' rape, exactly what they ended up agreeing to.
The Triangle Project, Rape Crises Trust Cape Town and Women's Legal Centre, three local groups, then presented another statement calling on the ministry to take a series of specific, immediate steps to address the intersecting issues of gender-based violence, anti-LGBTI violence and hate crimes.
Both statements were collectively endorsed by no less than 23 South African organizations working on these issues.
“Today marked an incredible achievement, and I humble myself to the 170,000 people from all over the world who made this possible,” said an elated Luleki Sizwe Founder Ndumie Funda. “It was about time this happened. The 14th of March will now always be a day of celebration in the history of my life.”
“It was a great meeting,” she continued. “I was very impressed by the level of cooperation, they have agreed to work with us and other stakeholders and I am looking forward to a very constructive, tangible, progressive working relationship.”
Best of all was the government's response. Far from the dismissive arrogance we have been dealing with for months, ministry officials were sensitive, engaged and surprisingly responsive to a smorgasbord of concerns raised over two hours of discussion.
“This is a government by the people and for the people, and when there are issues that need attention, we must make ourselves available,” Tlali Tlali, the ministry’s acting chief of staff, told us. “Whenever concerns of this nature are brought to our attention, as government there is every duty – legal, constitutional, moral, ethical – to act. The officials you see here are the people who deal directly with these issues and we are here to listen to every word that comes out of your mouth.”
“Governments do not interact in a vacuum,” he continued. “It is never an issue of ‘us vs them’, and a conversation of this nature will help the nation in many ways. We want you to contribute to solving these problems.”
The ministry officials asked for details of specific cases in need of immediate attention, committed to a series of meetings beginning in six weeks, and promised to present “concrete proposals” to tackle ‘corrective rape’ by the next meeting!
“We have a framework to move forward,” said Tlali Tlali. “You have already identified areas where we can immediately start working around and I want us to continue in the spirit of seeking to find solutions.”
“We clearly need an intervention plan,” said Adv Praise Tsidi Kambula, the ministry’s Chief Director of the Promotion of the Rights of Vulnerable Groups. “It is our responsibility as a department to ensure that victims of ‘corrective rape report on these cases. We cannot do this thing alone. We need you guys to define for us what is needed.”
Also present were:
  • Siphiwe Ntombela, Senior Legal Officer, Justice Department
  • Bonnie Currie-Gamwo, Senior State Advocate, National Prosecuting Authority
  • Bronwyn Pithey, Senior State Advocate, National Prosecuting Authority
  • Theresa Ross, Senior Law Advisor, Justice Department
  • Corlia S. Kok, Director of Child Justice and Family Law Justice Department
Everyone who participated in this campaign should feel a sense of pride today, as what has been accomplished here is incredible. In just 100 days, a tiny group of township activists have managed to mobilize more than 170,000 people from 163 countries and gotten the highest levels of government to address their basic demand: that ‘corrective’ rape be taken seriously.
If there was any question about the effect we had, the chief of staff himself confirmed it: at one point in the session he explicitly said in an almost begging voice "Please don't petition us again."
There is still lots to be done, and we will be in touch about the next steps as we head into what will surely be at least a year of negotiations, but for now let's enjoy the moment.

Benjamin Joffe-Walt is a editor. He is an award-winning journalist and has written extensively on human rights issues in the US, Africa and the Middle East. 


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