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Feminist Call to Action: Use your power to help create the world of our dreams

As a collective of feminists who urgently convened to respond to the social unrest of July 2021, we were aware that those who were poor would be criminalised while the big looters of our country’s resources would once again get away with acting with impunity without any serious consequences.

The #CodeRed Feminist Collective

#CodeRed is a collective of feminists demanding an equitable, accountable & feminist society and government


In July #CodeRed activists disrupted former Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s talk on a virtual public platform. The #CodeRed feminist framework identifies the need for urgent budget choices to advance socioeconomic rights and end gender-based violence (GBV), within a long-term vision for humanity and the earth.

We stand in solidarity with people, movements and organisations who have been systematically excluded by poverty, inequality, unemployment and gender-based violence, who have long been making the demands outlined below.

In CodeRed’s protest, the Minister’s budget, which had cut critical health and education spending, was denounced as an austerity budget. Treasury’s cuts, during the Covid-19 pandemic, ignored youth unemployment of almost 75% and the fact that 30% of people go to bed hungry.

During Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu’s briefing, #CodeRed reiterated demands for a universal basic income grant for an individual adult of R1,268. The Child Support Grant and Social Relief of Distress Grant both need to meet the Food Poverty Line of R585 per month. #CodeRed’s slogans included: “Can you feed a family on R350 a month?”

Cash transfers are urgently needed to address widespread unemployment and stave off destitution, but it is critical to have effective Labour Guarantees that prioritise informal labour and care sectors, such as nursing, community health work and domestic work. A living wage is vital so the National Minimum Wage can meet the average monthly cost of a household food basket of R4,137. Active investment can sustain and strengthen livelihoods.

Those responsible for food and other unpaid care work in homes and communities are mostly women. Precarious paid work secures poverty wages and women’s contribution to social reproduction is invisible and unvalued in budgets that reflect neoliberal economic priorities.

Apartheid-era ghettoes remain largely untransformed, often with unsafe, expensive transport far from places of work, healthcare and education. Homes are often vulnerable to destruction in extreme weather and are often located at a distance from water and toilets on dusty roads with no lighting.

Structural violence always increases vulnerability to patriarchal gender-based violence, including assault, rape and murder. #CodeRed demands that President Cyril Ramaphosa implement his budget commitments to prevent and address gender-based violence as a systemic, structural problem.

The socioeconomic and political conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age are key determinants of health. Universal health care and primary health care need to be prioritised. The National Health Insurance (NHI) can move us towards this and needs to be funded.

According to Oxfam, global vaccine apartheid made vaccine manufacturers, whose discoveries were largely publicly funded, an estimated $3.9-trillion between March and December 2020. Wealthy countries stockpiled vaccines and poorer countries were asked to pay more than wealthy countries. The resulting delays cost millions of lives across the world. Private-public sector corruption has proven deadly. In this Covid-19 crisis the state has to target those most vulnerable to the worst impact.

#CodeRed calls for a feminist political economy that prioritises the life, health and wellbeing of people and planet above corporate profit. Equal and dignified access to basic human rights such as food, water, sanitation, housing, land, health, education and decent employment are fundamental to urgent economic restructuring. Meaningful public participation and transparent budget processes are critical.

We support the call for a corporate wealth tax that targets high net-worth individuals and an end to corporate theft through global illicit financial flows (IFF). Global Financial Integrity estimates that IFFs cost South Africa $80-billion a year.

As a collective of feminists who urgently convened to respond to the social unrest of July 2021, we were aware that those who were poor would be criminalised while the big looters of our country’s resources would once again get away with acting with impunity without any serious consequences.

The state did not move swiftly against leading players in the ruling party, state security sector, private security industry and crime syndicates implicated in the targeted violence of strategic access lines including to food, healthcare and social grants. Instead of the army and police focusing on securing and reopening these strategic access points, to ensure no area remained a ‘no-go zone’, the state seemed to focus its energy on ‘Operation Show Your Receipt’. Police went door to door in poor communities, violating Constitutional rights to dignity, equality and the rule of law, breaking into homes, demanding receipts for food, confiscating and destroying the food they found.

#CodeRed demands that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) exercises its discretion under Section 4 of the National Prosecution Policy not to prosecute destitute people charged with stealing food and other basic necessities.

Poor communities have often become militarised by armed vigilantes, criminal syndicates, the private security industry and state security members who do not respect the Constitutional rights of people who are poor. In KwaZulu-Natal, more than 30 people were killed, mostly from and in poor and working-class areas. All those found guilty of murders committed in KZN and Gauteng, during this unrest, whether by armed vigilantes, gangsters or police, must face the full power of the law.

#CodeRed denounces all forms of prejudice including those based on gender, race, nationality or sexual orientation. Patriarchal leaders from any party, group or institution cannot be allowed to sow misogyny, racism or xenophobia. This happened during former President Jacob Zuma’s 2016 rape trial, where his supporters called for the death of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.

A few days ago, in KZN, police shot and killed a local woman leader of Abahlali, 33-year-old Zamekile Shangase outside her home. Zamekile is survived by her children who are six and 11 years old. The media did not speak to people who had witnessed her murder, including other members of her organisation. They simply published the story they were given by the police.

#CodeRed demands that the criminal justice system ensure the right to equality before the law.

All Constitutional institutions, including the judiciary and Chapter 9 institutions, must be protected from threats, intimidation, attacks and fake news. Political leaders must demonstrate commitment and accountability for the protection of Constitutional institutions and accurate dissemination of information. The NPA must be enabled, with adequate funding from the fiscus, to accelerate the prosecution of perpetrators of state corruption. The impunity of the politically connected who have plundered resources meant to meet the human needs of the most vulnerable must end.

This op-ed grew out of #CodeRed’s statement which had been collectively formulated by diverse feminists from different movements, backgrounds and generations who came together in the midst of the crisis and grappled with understanding the unrest, its causes and structural violence. Despite many differences, we share a deep commitment to feminist solidarity. Our ancestors fought against the patriarchal, racist violence of slavery, colonisation, indentured labour and capitalist apartheid. On National Women’s Day we recognise their immense, inspired organising work. They united across race to resist apartheid’s divide-and-rule strategies and its planned pass laws on women who were Black.

Today, we say to all in leadership positions – move beyond the usual empty rhetoric. Use your power to help create the world of our dreams – of justice, peace and equality.

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