The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children in Manenberg, Cape Town has a local and international reputation as one of the finest one-stop centres to provide free shelter, legal and counselling services, job-training programmes and other resources to abused women and their children. As one of the shelter residents says, “The Centre is for abused women. But it shouldn’t be called “for abused women”! This is the only place where there is never any abuse against women – it’s against abused women!” She was laughing as she explained this, despite the fact that she lost a pregnancy three days ago because her husband kicked her in the stomach. The Centre has for the past 13 years been a vital part of Cape Town’s response to the issue of violence against women, in their homes and elsewhere. In 2011 alone, over 4000 women and children drew upon their services for safety, housing, legal and medical support, job-training and overall support.
In May, 2012, the Centre is facing imminent closure due to a lack of funding. Like other NGOs, the Centre has been resourced through a network of government support, international donors, and local individual and corporate donors. And like other NGOs, in the current climate of economic challenge and in-province political complexities, the Centre’s fundraising efforts have become more and more difficult. But the Saartjie Baartman Centre belongs to Cape Town, and general explanations for its struggles are not good enough. After 13 years of service to thousands of abused women and children, the Centre’s May birthday celebrations hang in the balance as more than 18 women and children get turned away from the emergency shelter per day. The Centre has already been forced to close their Worcester shelter, Eerste Begin, because the Cape Winelands Municipality withdrew their support from the project.
The imminent closure of the Centre, which needs an annual R4-million in operational costs to ensure its doors remain open, flies in the face of the national 2012 budget, which promised support and development of women and children through the continuation of education, health and social assistance as the largest categories of expenditure. “Going public with our plight is our last hope as a final appeal to keep the centre open and functioning in 2012,” says Synnov Skorge, Director of the Centre. “Empty promises on from political parties and government, a dysfunctional justice system and lack of resources, creates a harsh everyday reality,” she said. “If we do not bring in the money required, women will be left homeless and vulnerable, they will simply have nowhere to go.”
“Domestic violence and child abuse is on the increase in the Western Cape and the rest of the country,” Skorge said. More than 56 000 rapes were reported to police in 2010 / 2011, according to a police report. Research suggests however that only one in 25 rapes are reported annually, making the total number of sexual attacks far higher than the figures released in the report. “Increasing levels of violence in schools, families and the broader community and drug and alcohol abuse are fuelling an already volatile situation,” she said. Research done by the Medical Research Council last year on the vulnerability of women to violence reports that over 27% of the men interviewed said they had forced a woman to have sex with them. For some, “boredom” was their motivation.
South African is well known for the levels of violence within everyday lives. Men, of course, suffer from vulnerability to violence too (usually at the hands of other men), and in the end, it is not a numbers game. It is a question of what we mean by the just-celebrated Freedom Day, and what we meant 18 years ago when we rededicated the country to the possibility of new lives for us all.
Skorge explains more, “Government needs to come more fully to the party and assist with their commitment to fighting women and child violence. We invite Helen Zille, the Democratic Alliance and the ANC to put their money where their mouths are; it’s time for them to retake the opportunity to creating rights as realities.”
For more information on the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children and to assist with funding, visit: www.saartjiebaartmancentre.org.za or contact Synnov Skorge on 021 633 5287.