NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DEBATE
CAPE TOWN : OCTOBER 15, 2002
Madam Speaker, on June 24 of this year this National Assembly adopted the report of the task group on the sexual abuse of children. This report highlighted the dimensions, extent and features of the hideous phenomenon of child rape and child abuse, and proposed a comprehensive course of action for our Government to follow. The report of the Task Group outlined details of the responsibility of each relevant line function and created the parameters for Government’s response to this scourge.
The report also dwelt upon the investigation of the causes of child rape, identifying its connection with poverty and underdevelopment. The publication of this report was the point of arrival of a long process of growing awareness and mobilization within Government and in the various building blocks of our society. As a consequence of the implementation of this report, there is now an almost horizontal function which cuts across the line function responsibilities of many of our Departments. Moreover, many political parties have developed their own programs to protect our children and to mobilize important institutions of civil society, such as churches and community organizations, in a comprehensive effort to eradicate this curse.
However, child rape has not stopped. A few weeks ago, press reports shocked the country and a new wave of moral indignation swept our communities as we were confronted with the graphic picture of a six-year old girl with her intestines hanging out of her vagina, after having been brutally raped. I am a man who has seen more horrors and brutality then most. I bear the weight of all the horrors I have witnessed through decades of atrocious conflicts which have tainted our country’s soil with blood. And yet, I could not but be moved to tears and seized with unparalleled horror when confronted with such blind and inane brutality. The whole of the country had a similar reaction.
It is important that this National Assembly expresses again its horror at the phenomenon of child rape and child abuse because we cannot accept that these may ever become a feature of our society which we may ever become used to. I feel that even if we need to hold debates of this nature over and again we shall relinquish no opportunity to express our horror and voice in this House how our people on the ground feel about it. However, on this occasion, it becomes clear that we must go beyond ritual condemnations, no matter how strongly and sincerely we feel about them.
From this House we need to mobilize the logistical, moral and spiritual forces necessary to redress this phenomenon and eradicate it from our society. Condemnation and remedial action must go hand in hand. We should not risk a new tragedy of the type which took place when our communities were seized with the brutality unleashed by the
internecine conflict among our people in the 80s and 90s, which cost so many lives. We now have an entire generation of our people who grew up in many communities becoming used to brutality, violence and savage practices of torture, such as neck-lacing. For them, that brutality became part of the only reality they knew and set the basis of what is acceptable. From this venue we must send a clear and loud message that child rape and child abuse is not acceptable in any way, shape or form, and that even though the media may report several instances of such hideous occurrences, by no stretch of the imagination should anyone grow to believe that they are part and parcel of the life we live, or a fact of life.
The findings of the report of the task team indicate that the root causes of this hideous phenomenon run deep into conditions of social and economic underdevelopment and break-down in the social and moral fibre of our communities. For this reason, remedial action cannot come exclusively from what Government can do, but must become an effort which runs horizontally throughout all the building blocks of our society, including churches, workplaces, community organizations and families. Child rape and child abuse is the hideous tip of a much larger iceberg. We cannot deal with this tip unless we have the courage, the strength and the determination to expose the whole of the iceberg and deal with it with single-minded resolve. We need to change long entrenched attitudes and move our people away from brutality and forward into a new moral matrix capable of holding together our communities as we struggle to uplift them from a social and economic viewpoint. We must change mind-sets and attitudes as we promote physical, infrastructure and economic development and, if the latter does not come fast enough, we must not hold back on developing the former. It might be the case that moral upliftment and spiritual renewal must come first.
The tip of the iceberg of child rape and child abuse lies in the ocean of poverty, abject social economic conditions, underdevelopment, human degradation and ignorance for lack of education, knowledge and exposure. Below its floating line, this iceberg consists of a deep-seated lack of respect for women and children mixed with despair. As a Government, we have entered into a number of international conventions protecting women and children and have adopted extensive legislation to this end. However, unless we change individual, collective and community attitudes towards women and children the successful implementation of these international and domestic provisions of law will remain elusive. We need to change attitudes in communities, workplaces and families and, with the assistance of all building blocks of society, promote respect for women and children. We need a national campaign which promotes mental health, greater individual respect and greater awareness on the facts of human sexuality and human dignity. All civilizations have marked their path of individual and collective growth through the awareness of and respect for the importance of life and dignity of a single individual, so that no-one should be perceived and treated as a lesser being.
We must look at all the components of the large submerged iceberg and acknowledge that amongst the causes of human degradation which we are not sufficiently addressing are the abuse of substance, not only illegal substance, but also alcohol. We need to promote programs to teach physical and mental health to our people and the importance of proper nutrition as part of one’s own basic dignity. We must also begin promoting a nation-wide campaign to address the degradation of alcoholism on our people, which is one of the great plagues of our nation which thus far we have chosen to not pay sufficient attention to. We must also fight with all ways possible the spread of this idiotic myth that the raping of a virgin may in any way assist in coping with HIV/Aids, or even curing it.
For this reason, we need to treat this problem with the collective approach which I can only liken to the one which brought us together when we were fighting against apartheid. Our country has a beautiful history of people coming together across the then existing social, economic, ethnic and cultural divides to join hands together to bring about the change from apartheid to democracy. Rich and poor, black and white, worked together to build a new and democratic country. It is very painful to me that I now do not see the same spirit of goodwill in action. It is painful for me to see that many segments of our society with the capacity bringing about a positive difference, instead insulate themselves from the hideous phenomena of social and human degradation such as child rape and child abuse, merely because they are not affected by them. We need to recreate the awareness that we are a united and continuous society and whatever happens in it must, and will affect all of us. We need to bring about the spirit of a revolution of goodwill in which we all become responsible for making a difference.
For this reason, I hope that through the debate today we can highlight our shared commitment to a revolution of goodwill, setting aside political divisions and show that we, as South Africans, are equally committed to bring about a society which no longer suffers from the type of human degradation and social abjection which has produced child rape and child abuse.
I thank you.