UN Recognition For ‘Zero Tolerance’ GBVF Programme In Limpopo

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Like any ‘virus’ that infects a community, gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) is present 24-hours-a-day,  365-days-a-year, and is not selective about those it targets. Like any society-based ailment, it cannot be effectively tackled unless its existence is acknowledged, and people band together to find solutions and structure programmes to prevent its spread.

This may sound like a call to ‘community action 101’, however, when you regularly have more than 100 cases of assault and 49 incidents of rape reported to your organisation every month, fighting this scourge is not easy to achieve. This is perhaps even more challenging if your organisation operates in a remote rural area consisting of more than 100 villages housing about 600 000 people.

However, for the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP), this is a challenge that has not only been met but has set international standards. For Thohoyandou and the Thulamela Municipality in Limpopo, about 500 kilometres from Johannesburg, this has meant that problems like HIV/AIDS, sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse are now constructively addressed.

“TVEP has a staff of 44, of whom 38 are women. This means we can reach out to women who are most often the survivors of GBV, identify and sympathise with them, and help them to find solutions,” says Fhatuwani Manthada, Project Manager: Access to Justice & Trauma Services at the non-governmental, community-based organisation (CBO).

Help begins with ensuring that women can report abuse at the two TVEP trauma centres located at the regional and local hospitals. Through its relationships with the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Social Development (DSD), TVEP ensures that women who are being abused are supported through the medical, legal and counselling process. Keeping in touch with the survivor, making home visits, and offering a ‘shoulder to cry on’ through a daunting process is a ‘TVEP buddy’ who assists the survivor for as long as is required.

Assistance usually involves the provision of clothing, medication and accommodation for up to a month for women who cannot go home because of the personal risks involved.      

“Women who involve us through visits to our offices or trauma centres do not need to spend time at a police station. We have an agreement with SAPS that they will come to our centres within two hours to get the complaint details. Doctors respond to medical calls within 30 minutes, and trauma counsellors and social workers are constantly on hand while we work with court prosecutors to keep criminal investigations and action on track,” says Manthada.

While each survivor is assisted and supported according to her needs, the unique ‘Zero Tolerance Village Alliance’ and the ‘Zero Tolerance School Alliance’ programmes are at work in the background. They offer interventions, education and action for those who wish to become involved in making their villages safe and happy places.

Following what are considered to be standard processes in rural areas, the village chiefs, local leaders, school principals and teachers are sought out to lead the programmes. Following education programmes and the distribution of material designed to alert and inform community members of their rights, all participants sign pledges in which they commit themselves to not perpetuate or participate in GBV, or hide facts regarding violence imposed by others.

Sworn to in public, accompanied by signing the pledge and registering participants, the ceremony is led by a magistrate. These types of events have proved effective in reducing GBV reports in at least 11 villages in the area. Leaders compel those who transgress after signing the oath to leave the community.

“Up to now, we have had only one person who has broken the pledge,” says Manthada, who adds that TVEP carefully selects the villages it approaches for the ceremony. We check statistics to find out which areas have recorded the most GBV cases and approach the leaders. In most cases, they take our interest and the health of their communities to heart and welcome us to their areas.”

“There are, however, times when our approaches are refused on the grounds that we are interfering with events typical of rural patriarchal societies that are none of our business,” adds Manthada.

The proof of the programme’s success is underscored by its adoption by the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner of Refugees in Rwanda and Uganda. It is currently being applied in four villages in Uganda.

In the meantime, learners between the ages of 13 and 21, at 13 secondary schools in Limpopo are being taught about treating others with respect – and have taken their own version of the pledge as part of a pilot programme supported by the Department of Education (DoE).

For Manthada, having the GBVF Response Fund (the Fund) identifying their organisation as one of the 110 high-impact non-profit South African CBOs for funding was a boost to their work – enabling them to continue making an impact despite a loss of staff and income caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are truly grateful for this assistance that is helping us serve the community while we face the challenges of locating new, more affordable office space and finding new donors,” says Manthada.

The other beneficiaries of the Fund’s first tranche of R69 million, allocated to the 110 CBOs, will be the women and other members of communities in the area suffering from similar social problems to Thohoyandou.

Commenting on the role and successes of TVEP, Lindi Dlamini, CEO of the GBVF Response Fund, says: “In the Fund’s role to act as a catalyst to accelerate action in the fight against GBVF, we are immensely pleased to see how TVEP is putting their funding to such positive and innovative use. It is not easy to break through in areas where there are such strong and embedded ‘norms’ linked to patriarchal societies and practices. TVEP has made some significant strides in this regard. It is also very encouraging to see this innovative approach to a ‘traditional’ mindset being applied outside of South Africa.”

“Additionally, it is certainly heartening to see that emotional support is being translated into practical action and that this CBO is proactively making communities aware of the problem and helping them take action to improve the lives of residents. TVEP’s ties with the local SAPS and other partners offering support to women in the area illustrates what can be achieved when multiple stakeholders co-operate for the benefit of others.”

To find out more about TVEP, visit www.tvep.org.za