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The Faculty of Arts and Design at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) hosted its online Dean’s Dialogue Series themed: Gender Violence and South Africa’s COVID-19 Lockdown on Microsoft Teams, last Thursday, 2 July 2020.

The dialogue looked at the relationship between gender and violence, to investigate it within the context of the lockdown.

The main presenter was Ms Lisa Vetten who has worked in the field of violence against women for over 25 years. Vetten has worked in a range of capacities: Counsellor, Para-Legal, Trainer, Researcher and Policy Analyst. She is currently working on a policy for the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation which aims to identify a set of social core care services for victims/survivors of gender-based violence. Her other policy for the Department of Social Development focuses on the development of a framework for shelter services.

Vetten, a co-chair of Wits Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee is also a member of the Ministerial Task Team established to guide the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology around the implementation of policy addressing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in higher education institutions.

During her presentation, Vetten said people need to look at the dynamics of violence, what is actually happening beyond the numbers.

She said the conversation is focusing on the dramatic numbers that the Minister of Police, Mr Bheki Cele mistakenly put out but then they are leaving what is unsaid and what else is happening as well as people’s ability to understand violence and to take action against it.

“ I think Gender-Based Violence is offering us those ways that we can use of discussing and thinking about the unsayable things around death, gender and disease. What is being left unsaid is what is actually happening under lockdown. We are getting little glimpses of this, the fact that we are focusing on how big the numbers are, means we are not looking at what are the dynamics, what is the reality, the nitty gritty of this,” said Vetten.

She added that one of the issues not talked about while putting in place telephonic hotlines is permits.

“There has been a difficulty around those students who had to go home, had to leave the university residence during lockdown and go home, but home is a very unhappy place. Home became a violent place but the student could not get a permit under level 5 and 4 of lockdown to leave home and travel back to the university residence. In a couple of institutions, I have been involved with, I discovered that not being able to move and leave had an effect in confining people in an abusive environment, not only at university level but also a case in abusive relationships,” said Vetten.

She further stated that people need to consider that in South Africa, people live in extendend houses, a possibility of violence is not only between couples, but also between siblings and extended family.

One of the challenges she said is the victims find it difficult to seek help from the police under these circumstances.

In addition, She said since lockdown there are 11 people who were killed as a result of police, army action or while in police custody, making the role of police and the army not to be a positive one.

“We can count 11 people, 10 men and 1 women who were killed as a result of police or army action or while in police custody. The role of the police and army played was not necessarily a positive one.”

Vetten said it was sad that the courts have been turning away people seeking protection orders, which is a violation of the law.

“COVID-19 seems to affect service delivery, people are scared to treat people as they fear contracting the virus. One of the consequences is that they are trying to limit the numbers of people coming to court. A notice put up on the door of the court says persons assaulted should first open a case at the police station and submit proof with a case number to the clerk before the application is to be considered. The law says those who don’t want to lay charges can go directly to court and apply for a protection order,” said Vetten.

She said it was disturbing that in court only applications that are urgent or violence which has occurred are considered.

She explained that this is ignoring the provision of the domestic violence act, which states that domestic violence is not only physical violence, it is also economical, psychological and sexual.

DUT’s Faculty of Arts and Design Executive Dean, Dr Rene Smith who was facilitating this dialogue thanked Vetten for her detailed presentation.

She raised concerns that even though the COVID-19 stats are out but people are still left in the dark as to who is dying and why.

Smith expressed that she recalls the stigma that emerged when they had a suspected case in their faculty.

She emphasized that victims of gender-based violence should seek help, and make use of the numbers shared by Vetten below:

Lifeline Durban 031 312 2323
Lifeline Stop Gender Violence helpline 0800 150 150
GBV Command Centre 0800 428 428

Pictured: A screenshot showing part of Ms Lisa Vetten’s presentation looking at gender violence during lockdown.

Simangele Zuma

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