President Cyril Ramaphosa outlines a number of steps to beef up the state’s response to the rape and murder of women. It’s old wine in old bottles, but President resists calls for a state of emergency and the death penalty, writes FERIAL HAFFAJEE.
“Death penalty, death penalty,” shouted some in the crowd. Ramaphosa promised a national address in an hour and then took five hours more to deliver it. When he did, the president was obviously exhausted. The SABC broadcast an earlier prerecording in which he fluffed and had to recompose himself, showing the strain. Perhaps that is why Ramaphosa did not seize the moment.
Ramaphosa said the right things: he said that he spoke as the President, as a husband and a father to his daughters, he called it a “war” against women, a sign that he understands the serious crisis of fear and violence that is normative for South African women.
“Women have every right to expect that they be free from harassment and violence on the streets, in schools and campuses, on buses, taxis and trains, at places of work and worship, and in their homes,” he said.
Deflecting from calls for a state of emergency, Ramaphosa said he had heard the calls but downgraded emergency to urgency.
“I will, therefore, be asking Parliament to discuss and identify urgent interventions that can be implemented without delay.”
He called it a crime.
“It is a crime against our common humanity.”
But when it came to outlining the crucial “what”, he did not use his power to seed far-reaching ideas and added a few deliverables with timelines.
Instead, he presented a lukewarm plate of leftovers that have not worked already, such as an updated and modernised sexual offenders’ list (the state has not been able to draw up one that is accurate); to introduce harsher minimum sentences (an old idea that is sometimes implemented and sometimes not); that the state should oppose bail and parole applications (a new idea); rehabilitation programmes; to strengthen emergency rapid response teams as well as other criminal justice measures such as more specialised courts and care centres, which have been on the agenda for over two decades but which have never been quite delivered at the speed, or scale, commensurate with the urgency of war response.
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