Letter to President Ramaphosa urging immediate intervention on funding of women’s shelters

Partner Analysis

Letter to the President Cyril Ramaphosa from the National Shelter Movement South Africa calling for an intervention to urgently address the murderous funding issues with women's shelters.

President Cyril Ramaphosa
Minister for Women
Minister of Social Development


Letter to President Ramaphosa urging immediate intervention on funding of women’s shelters


Dear President Ramaphosa

It’s Women’s Month again and the situation for women in South Africa continues to deteriorate. The violence and murder is becoming even more disturbing, with each life lost. As an organisation that exists to support those women who have mustered-up the courage and found an opportunity to escape a dangerous intimate partner or domestic violence situation, the National Shelter Movement (NSM) cannot ignore your government’s role in the ongoing massacre of women in the country, each time we lose another grandmother, mother, daughter, aunty, or sister at the hands of a man.

Mr. President, the Department of Social Development’s (DSD) inconsistent and also chronic under-funding, as well as a sheer lack of meaningful support for shelters for abused women and their children, has been central to the issues shelters and their staff face, in their efforts to support victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Yet, studies confirm that these shelters are a crucial crisis intervention, providing survivors with the support and tools they need to go on to live full, productive lives. However, as has always been the case for many years, the battle to secure sufficient funding and tangible support from DSD continues, and in fact, the situation seems to be worsening. In a report focusing on the financial status of non-profit organisations providing social care services – compiled by Margaret Grobbelaar (NACOSS Co-ordinator) and Lisa Vetten (The Carework Campaign), 20 July 2020 – three-and-a-half months into this financial year Eastern Cape DSD was yet to make most of its payments (most shelter payments remain unpaid as we write to you now). Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West also have payments outstanding.

According to the report, “late payment is, however, the norm rather than the exception in Eastern Cape (and other provinces). According to organisations paid on a quarterly basis their first tranche is routinely only paid in July and subsequent tranches on an unpredictable basis,” with a number of organisations having their subsidies unexpectedly cut, even though Service-Level Agreements (SLAs) had been agreed and signed. This, as you may already know, has resulted in a legal case being brought by the Eastern Cape NGO Coalition against the MEC for Social Development. It is a sad and disturbing fact that in the Eastern Cape the first quarter's funding was outstanding for ALL social services providers (including shelters, child protection/care and old-aged facilities).

The current situation in Eastern Cape is disturbing evidence that government neither understands the needs of victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, nor do they fully appreciate the role of shelters in stemming the murderous tide of violence against women. For this reason, Mr. President, we call on you to intervene in order to ensure that DSD staff and officials are held accountable for its inability to fulfil its mandate. It is important that processes be simplified to accommodate the situation on the ground, which it currently most certainly does not.

This poor service delivery on the part of DSD impacts the quality and quantity of services that can be provided to adequately address the needs of survivors and their children, and help them fully recover from their ordeals. The instability created by this situation also leads to stress in shelters. It is difficult for staff to cope for months without being paid, while on the other hand, services to shelter clients need to be cut and staff cannot be as effective as they need (or want) to be. This leads to further stress and is the main cause of the high staff turnovers in shelters, and it is ultimately the survivors of gender based violence who once again are victims, this time, of the system.

We call on you, Mr. President to ensure that measures are put in place to ensure that all payments to shelters are made in good time and those responsible should be held accountable when failing to do so. Delays of up to four months at times, is not acceptable. Furthermore, funding allocations to shelters – from Treasury to DSD – should also be ring-fenced and protected from re-allocation. And, funding must include additional resources for infrastructure and maintenance, which DSD rarely caters for.

According to the findings from our 3-year research project, another key issue relates to the sporadic funding “models” that vary from province to province. This has led to further inconsistencies in how shelters are funded, and there is an urgent need to formulate a more uniform approach. It makes no sense that in one province, shelters get as little as R9 per person per day, to meet the needs of women residing at shelters, while in another province shelters get up to R71.

As shelter services are expected to raise the balance of the costs – required to fulfil their commitments – elsewhere, we also need to point out that the country’s shrinking economy makes this an even more challenging task.

To address the inadequate funding of shelters, the National Shelter Movement has developed a funding model: “What is Rightfully Due? Costing the Operations of Domestic Violence Shelters – which leverages our years of experience with shelters for abused women around the country – and we call on you and your team to consider the proposals made here.

We therefore need to ensure that you hear directly from those of us who work in the field every day. We need you to help fix what is broken with the system because it is hampering our efforts to save the lives of women in South Africa. We urgently need government to focus on what can be done immediately to keep our country’s women and children safe from further violence and abuse.

While we appreciate the measures implemented recently, like the National Strategic Plan, the National Shelter Movement believes that by repairing the broken DSD funding processes, greater inroads can be made to empowering GBV survivors. We believe that government should also be focused on supporting the existing structures that are already providing the services that at-risk women can rely on.

Recently, R100-million was allocated from the Criminal Assets Recovery (CARA) Funds Account, as a way to provide financial support to shelters and other organisations providing services to victims of gender-based violence, femicide and other crime. Many of the shelters that have applied have still not received this funding. For example, in the WC only 1 out of 14 have been funded.

We call on you and the relevant government departments to look internally at the bureaucratic issues which are hampering government’s service delivery to essential shelter services. As a start, the SA government must acknowledge the role of shelters and their practical impact in the lives of women escaping abuse.

Mr. President, shelters and their staff teams need committed and reliable support from government. It does not help the women in the country to mourn them after they have been violated and/or killed. The CoVid pandemic and the resulting lockdown have only made things worse for women, with increasing unemployment forcing many to be stuck at home with their abusers.

The NSM hopes that you accept this letter in the spirit of constructive engagement – the cornerstone of strengthening our democracy – in an effort to ensure government leverages its current resources for the good of the people. We look forward to hearing back from you and for the opportunity to engage meaningfully about the ways shelters should be supported by you and your government, in an effort to effectively assist all the women escaping abuse in this country. We need a commitment from you, Mr. President and your government that you will stand up and fight – by fixing the broken system – for the human rights of the women of this country, even after the outcry from yet another murdered woman has died down.

We also hope that you will hold the Department of Social Development accountable for its role in abuse of women and children seeking refuge from abusive homes in South Africa.

Yours faithfully,

National Shelter Movement South Africa

This open letter was published by the NSM on the 20th of August 2020. Further information on the NSM can be found at www.nsmsa.org.za