Budget cuts threaten safe house

A safe house in Kirstenhof that provides emergency shelter for victims of abuse could face closure due to budget cuts. Picture: Supplied

An emergency safe house in Kirstenhof for victims of abuse is threatened by state budget cuts, says Lucinda Evans, the founder of Philisa Abafazi Bethu, a non-profit organisation that runs the home.

The house has received an annual conditional grant of R750 000 from the provincial Department of Social Development (DS) but has been informed that the department may not be able to fund Western Cape shelters beyond April 1.

The provincial Department of Social Development informed non-profit organisations last year that conditional grants from the national government would be reduced by R642.2 million in 2024.

“This budget cuts from national to the Western Cape put women in a vulnerable position that they are not even able soon to access places of safety. Women are going to be killed. Our stats are already high as it is,” said Ms Evans.

She said Philisa Abafazi Bethu had a team of social workers and worked closely with police, courts and hospitals. The safe house is a temporary refuge for abuse victims from across the city until they can be placed in long-term shelters

“In the last three quarters as an emergency service, we have seen 125 women – that excludes their children – in our facility. That is how hectic it is. Our beds are full all the time. The last time we had a quiet period was the last week of October 2023. We have been full to capacity since the beginning of the year,” Ms Evans said, adding that they had been inundated with calls from the National Gender-based Violence (GBV) hotline and National Shelter Movement.

“We have an eight-bed facility. Our turnover of clients and cases is very, very high and our clients are coming severely injured.”

National Shelter Movement South Africa’s national co-ordinator, Mariam Mangera, said the Department of Social Development’s decision to reduce funding for conditional grants was deeply worrying. “This reduction poses a significant threat to the fight against gender-based violence and femicide,” she said, adding that the decision was perplexing given a presidential commitment to increase the number of shelters in the country.

“These safe houses serve as lifelines, offering a supportive community, counselling services, and empowerment resources,” Ms Mangera said.

Ms Evans said: “We have women with their children who only come with their clothes on their backs. So we are looking for donations of food, clothing, shoes, even sanitary towels and products like soaps and shampoos. We are asking businesses to partner with us.

“We have to pay for our clients to see doctors and dentists, sometimes for reconstruction on their teeth or an operation on their jaw. Specialised treatment may be needed with children being severely traumatised or getting sick. We use public services, but sometimes we use private services.”

Sharna Fernandez, the MEC for Social Development, said the department’s budgeting process for 2024/25 is not yet concluded “and we therefore cannot pre-empt the outcome”.

“This means we cannot comment on the number of NPOs impacted as yet. However, the provincial budget shortfall for the Western Cape is R1.1 billion (across all provincial departments) as a result of reduced national budget allocations to provinces and nationally-determined wage agreement which provinces are compelled to cover. This will impact the transfer allocations and number of NPOs the department is able to fund across its sub-programmes, during the next funding cycle. These details will be communicated to NPOs, in the various sectors – not just in the GBV space.

“We appeal to the private sector to assist NPOs where possible, so that they are able to continue their work, particularly with the most vulnerable.”

Asked in what way the department is bolstering or showing its commitment to the fight against gender-based violence and femicide, Ms Fernandez said: “The Western Cape Department of Social Development is the lead implementor of the Western Cape GBV Implementation Plan, which is aligned with the National Strategic Plan on Gender-based Violence and Femicide (2020). The plan has, and continues to, strengthen collaboration between provincial and national government, and external stakeholders in the GBV sector. It fortifies current GBV services and interventions, and also allows us to explore new opportunities.

“The Provincial GBV Implementation Plan includes key interventions that have been identified and agreed upon to be prioritised by the heads of departments of the 13 departments within the Western Cape government.

“Interventions include the establishment of a transversal task team, and an increased roll-out of GBV services and interventions on the ground; the establishment of the eight Thuthuzela Care Centre in the province in partnership with the National Prosecuting Authority, the Department of Health and Wellness, and civil society organisations, and a sharp increase in shelter capacity for victims of GBV.

“The department also funds 26 shelters across the province that provides psychosocial and therapeutic support services to women and their children who were victims of crime and violence.

“DSD’s budget for GBV services has increased to R68 million in 2023, from R45 million at the beginning of my term of office (2019).

“Furthermore, the department continues to make psychosocial support services available for victims of sexual crimes. Psychosocial support includes trauma containment, therapeutic support, court support, and practical assistance.”

For more information on the Philisa Abafazi Bethu safe house, call 021 565 0668.

Anyone in need of assistance such as counselling following a GBV-related incident, can access services by visiting the nearest DSD office, or by contacting one of DSD’s funded NPO partners. Services can also be accessed by calling DSD on 0800 220 250, or the GBV Command Centre on 0800 428 428.