Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs, of the Republic of South Africa, the Honourable
Ms Sue van der Merwe, at the Function to Commemorate
the 16 Days of Activism: No Violence against Women and
Children Campaign, Union Buildings, Pretoria, 9 December
Colleagues of the Department of Foreign Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen:
As we commemorate "the 16 days of activism: no
violence against women" campaign, let us remind
ourselves that this is a United Nations-endorsed campaign
that is held especially in the time between the 25th
November (International Day of No Violence Against Women)
and 10th December (International Human Rights Day).
South Africa has acceded to various international conventions
- for example the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child, the African Children's Charter - and at a political
level together with other countries we have tried to
ensure that in the organs of the African Union and in
international dialogues that are focused on post conflict
reconstruction, women are properly represented, so that
they actively build a new Africa and lead their countries
into an African renaissance. Our Minister has been one
of the leading advocates for women's' equality within
the structures of the AU.
I think as we also prepare for the twenty-third special
session of the General Assembly in 2005 (Beijing +10),
as we ask ourselves what have we done for the women
of our land, we need to recommit ourselves to the struggle
of women to be free.
We are pleased to have with us here today representatives
from the Office on the Status of Women located in the
Presidency as well as from the Office on the Status
of the Child and the Office on the Status of Disabled
Persons, because all of these have been working tirelessly
to organise this campaign.
Thus the South African Government's Campaign spearheaded
by the Deputy Minister of Correctional Services is part
and parcel of an international effort to raise awareness
about the violence against women and children.
Speaking at the Opening Ceremony of this Campaign,
President Mbeki emphasised that this is an opportunity
for us to show our unity as a nation. He pointed out
"This [campaign] is in support of the national
cause to unite in the fight against violence and abuse
of the women and children of our country."
He said that we should "use this occasion to renew
our commitment to end brutal and dehumanising behaviour
by some in our society." Let us therefore agree
to the call to "use this period to recommit our
country to the inalienable human rights of women and
This Campaign is also a serious attempt to inculcate
a new consciousness of change, to promote national resistance
to women abuse and child abuse. And even beyond this,
the campaign is intended to encourage the South African
people to recommit ourselves to working towards a more
people-centred society, a caring community of South
Africans who will look after each other as indeed they
work together to create a better life for all.
I think we should even go as far as to say that "a
better life for all" means also a better life for
our country and our continent's women and children -
for every African woman and every African child to be
able to participate fully in the life of their countries
and in accessing the fruits of their freedom. In the
Department of Foreign Affairs, when we speak about "consolidating
the African agenda", part of our task in this regard
is also to bring about a better life for the women of
Women's emancipation is inextricably linked to the
struggle of Africa's people to overcome poverty and
underdevelopment and to bring about prosperity and sustained
social and economic development.
In a book brought out by Gender Links titled Ringing
up the Changes, there is a poem by the Ugandan poet,
Mildred Kiconco, which I thinks helps to tell us what
we are fighting about in this Campaign.
She tells us that:
"I wasn't there when God was creating a woman,
But one thing I'm sure, He made her human,
To lead, to head, to direct and to help,
God adorned her with Grace,
That whoever looked at her would say Yes."
The poem goes on to explain how women have suffered
and have been oppressed by men and yet it shows us how
true liberation meant that the suffering of women would
also have to be brought to an end.
"The knock of liberation was really true,
She was to sit on benches with men,
In her fingers also hold a pen
On panels she sat, no longer the home made mat,
Newspapers she started to read,
And the men became afraid,
They were shocked to hear, what women held dear,
Equality? Rights? Emancipation?"
This 16 Days of Activism campaign should enable us
to confront our fears, to assert our rights, to speak
out against suffering and violence and most importantly,
to examine our individual and collective commitments
to ending violence against women and children - and
by this we also mean violence within the household,
violence that finds its ways into the working environment
and into situations of conflict.
It is also about us accepting that we need to teach
our children respect, human dignity, their rights and
the rights of all people in a free society. It is about
freedom of speech, freedom of movement, the rights of
families, of women, of children to live productive lives
and to flourish at what they do, so that we all live
in peace and harmony together.
The 16 Days Campaign is also in order for us as a nation
to be able to say a big, collective 'NO' to the kind
of discrimination that targets women and children -
making those who are vulnerable the deliberate victims
of violence and undermining their power.
The kind of powerlessness that perpetuators of violence
inflict on those they deem weak and worthless must come
to an end. As we say "NO", our efforts should
also be as agents of change, who wish to see the full
emancipation of our people.
As we say "NO", let us also say that we shall
speak out against domestic violence, that we will not
allow a sister to be abused and keep silent about it,
that we will help families to solve their problems peacefully
and we will assist women and children to leave situations
that endanger their lives and that together we shall
build an environment that is safe and in which the laws
protecting our people are enforced.
It is very important that we should not simply speak,
but also commit ourselves to action. This is why we
ask our people to pledge towards the ending of this
scourge of violence - we must all be proud about making
our voices heard and actions speak our loud to stop
Let our contribution towards bringing an end to this
violence be seen also as part of our battle to end poverty
on our continent.
Let our words resound and our deeds be seen by all
throughout the African continent, so that the regional
and continental progressive forces of change work together
so that an enduring peace can reign for all women, children
and men, for the families, the communities, the countries
that are part of this continent and the wider world.
An African peace means stopping the violence and NOT
allowing our youth, our girl children and our boy children
to be sucked into the violence, so that they do not
become perpetrators or child soldiers or victims of
violence, but to allow children to be children and to
lead vibrant and joyful lives.
I think that as the Ministry and Department of Foreign
Affairs, this is what we would want for the women and
children of South Africa, Africa and the world.
And we commit ourselves to working towards this reality
and to truly fulfil the African people's dreams of freedom
and renewal and of being treated as equal and as fully
human in this world.
I thank you.
Issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag x152
9 December 2004