The Justice Desk against Gender-Based Violence in South Africa

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Gender-based violence is deeply rooted in gender inequality and continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations within all sectors of society.

The current president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, addressed the nation and declared that “another pandemic is raging in our country, the killing of women and children by the men of our country” a powerful message that has been stated by women for years. GBV (VAW) in South Africa is a present and consistent threat to women, yet our media, communities and government responses do not consistently reflect this.

The rates of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), specifically Violence against Women at the hands of men in South Africa, has infiltrated all aspects of the lived experience of being a woman. It is present in the school, home, community and public sector.

As a country, we have been slow to respond to this epidemic, and current attempts at addressing GBV have been haphazard at the least, and uncoordinated at best. Women are not safe in public spaces, in government buildings in their schools or even in their own homes.

It is the belief of The Justice Desk and all those who sign and support this petition, that in order to address gender-based violence and femicide, we are in desperate need of effective governmental services, leadership and coordination. In this submission, The Justice Desk notes that the following areas are of particular concern and require intervention:

  1. The structure of SAPS and the accountability required from this institution;
  2. The review of legislation that allows for more immediate and effective responses to the plight of women at the provincial levels, and,
  3. The effective prosecutions of offenders of GBVF. 
     

1.    The South African Police Service

SAPS is a vital service needed in the protection of women and children in South Africa. However, many feel that SAPS is failing its duties to the people of South Africa, especially in relation to Gender-Based Violence. We believe that part of SAPS inefficiency lies in its current structures that are deeply rooted in outdated modes and models of policing.

The United Nations Special Rapporteurs Report on Violence Against Women noted that in reality, women victims of violence in South Africa are unable to access vital service providers such as the police. The inability of the police to sufficiently provide such a vital service to women, in both urban and rural areas, is centred on a lack of accountability, provincially budgeted financial resources, and the necessary upskilling needed at a staffing level.

1.1.   Levels of accountability

The provision of the SAPS Act and the Constitution aims to create a system through which the national commissioner exercises effective control of policing in South Africa. However, the political environment in South Africa often influences and directs the ability of each provincial commissioner to be able to properly fulfil their functions as the leader of SAPS. This severely impedes the ability of the provincial legislatures to effectively provide an oversight and accountability function over SAPS at a provincial level.

The extent to which a provincial commissioner is held accountable for their decision making in terms of Section 207(5) is limited by the political environment. In the Western Cape, this has resulted in communities with high crime rates not receiving the necessary urgent intervention needed by SAPS. The most vulnerable groups in these communities are women and children, who are dying, due to political disagreements and grand standings. We are therefore seeking a more devolved SAPS structure at a provincial level, to ensure a more localised response to crime, which will also result in the provincial legislatures having to exercise more oversight and therefore accountability over SAPS.

1.2.      Specialisation of Function and Training

Another benefit of issuing more authority to the provincial commissioner is that this will make it possible to bring in specialisation functions within the SAPS. This will allow members of SAPS to receive continued specialised training on defined areas of the law, that will also be context-specific to the province and communities in which they are working in.  This will aid in ensuring the clients of SAPS receive a service that is informed and based on experience and knowledge. Critical areas of specialisation are Gender-Based Violence, Sexual Offences, Human Trafficking and Family Violence specifically focusing on children. These should be of the highest priority.

2.    Legislative Review

The failure of the South African government to fully implement its duty in accordance with the South African Constitution, rests on ineffective policy frameworks and coordination. The ability of institutions to respond to the country’s needs and directives have been unsuccessful due to the cross-contamination of policy directives.

The Justice Desk, therefore, submits that unless legislation is changed to create a conducive environment for cooperation, collaboration and coordination, the same systemic failures will persist. Legislative changes are not only to ensure collaboration and coordination between different agencies but it also increases levels of accountability of the different agencies and the role they play in combating GBV.

In line with the 2020 National Strategic Plan on GBV, the first pillar aims to increase levels of accountability across different tiers of government and sectors of society. In order for this objective to be achieved, real and measurable policy and legislative changes must be instituted.

We have noted with pleasure the proposed introduction by the Minister of Justice, Mr Ronald Lamola, of three pieces of legislation that aim to achieve the following:

i.         The amendment of the sexual offenders’ registry 

ii.         The amendment of the Domestic Violence Act and

iii.         The creation of stricter bail conditions for those accused of sexual offences.

With this in mind, The Justice Desk notes that if given the necessary directives, the government is willing and able to review legislation in order to improve their effectiveness. We, therefore, propose the timely review of all legislation and policies that influence and have an impact on the provision of services to survivors of GBV.  The coordination we are asking for requires departments such as The Department of Health and The Department of Justice to integrate their systems of both data and evidence collection.

3.    Effective Prosecution

The 2020 National Strategic Plan on GBV notes the lack of coordination, accountability and effective responses that South Africa has in relation to GBV. It also notes with concern, that the prosecution rates of offenders are incredibly low, which often results in perpetrators returning to their communities to continue engaging in acts of GBV. Efficient and effective legal systems are vital in the fight against GBV.

3.1.     NPA and SAPS Collaboration

We have identified that there is very little effective collaboration between the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Service. As a result, police are not trained or guided by the NPA in the type of evidence and investigating needs to be done in order for the successful prosecution of offenders. It is vital that SAPS receive more training from the NPA in the effective processing and collection of the necessary evidence needed in a trial. By having a continued relationship, an exchange of knowledge and experience can be shared in order for both the NPA and SAPS to be successful in their duties.

3.2.      SAPS and Community Collaboration

When it comes to legal systems attempting to address GBV, the creation of specialised courts is a step in the right direction, however, there are concerning limitations. The main limitation relates to the different parts of the investigative process.

In order to secure a successful prosecution, we need reliable evidence. A specialised SAPS contingent working alongside community leaders and members is an effective way to ensure that the correct evidence is secured for trial. However, due to the fact that many community members feel let down by the police, very little collaboration exists between SAPSs and the communities in which they work in. As a result, this often leaves community members not feeling unsafe or unwilling to work with the police.

Very little communication exists between SAPSs and community members, which also means that the everyday person is not aware of how they can play their role in protecting evidence that the police could hand over to prosecutors at trial. SAPS do not offer official trainings for the community, nor do they regularly have community dialogue sessions to empower communities to play their part in the provision of evidence, whether oral or physical. It is vital that this changes, as the current system of working in silos, is resulting in the mass murder of women and children in our country.

Recommendations

i. The Justice Desk requests that the Presidency put additional pressure on those responsible for the implementation of the South African 2020 National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence in order for the objectives to be accomplished.

ii.   We recommend that the SAPS Act be reviewed to ensure more accountability exists between provincial commissioners and the provincial legislatures.

iii.   We recommend that SAPS members receive continued, compulsory training on specific areas of the law, as well as social issues, especially those relating to             GBV.

iv.   We recommend that all legislation be reviewed to ensure the effective coordination and synergy of departments working to end GBVF.

v.   We recommend that the NPA and SAPS work more collaboratively to ensure that the necessary evidence collection, investigating and prosecuting takes place to ensure the successful prosecution of offenders.

vi.   We recommend that the SAPS at their individual community stations, be expected to host monthly community roundtables and trainings, in order to improve the relationships between SAPS and the communities in which they function, as well as to equip the community to assist in the collection of vitally important evidence.

For further information, please contact info@justicedesk.org or visit our website at justicedesk.org



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