Speech by Hon Michael Masutha, MP, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services on the occasion of the launch Sexual Offences Court in Bethlehem Magistrates Court, 15 August 2014
Program Director Mr Kuse
Premier Ace Magashule
Executive Mayor of Thabo Mofutsanyana District Municipality: Councillor Vilakazi
Acting Judge President Rampai
Regional Court President Mr Z Mbalo
Chief Magistrate Mr Hinxa
Advocates and Attorneys present
Senior officials from other government departments
Ladies and Gentlemen
The late Tata Mandela once said “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”. Celebrating Women’s Day in 1996 he said: “We know that the criminals, including those who abuse women, depend on people around them, women as well as men, keeping silent even though they reject what they are doing. The time has come to speak up and expose the criminals”.
When the women of South Africa converged at the Union Buildings 58 years ago, from every corner of South Africa, they created one of the enduring landmarks of our country’s history. They declared that women would insist on their role in making history. Then, they vowed to a stubborn oppressor that they would resist and fight for liberation. This year, we are celebrating 20 years of freedom and democracy and this month we are celebrating Women’s Month in recognition of the continued struggle for gender equality. Sadly, today we are face a different kind of struggle due to the escalating rate of sexual violence against women and children.
But today’s august occasion is a demonstration of the ANC government’s commitment to establishing Sexual Offences Courts as a strategy to combat sexual violence, especially against women and children who bear the disproportionate brunt of these forms of crime.
It has been discovered that perpetrators of these crimes now seek ways to obliterate evidence by using more violent means such as killings and burning of victims. It is the heinous nature of these crimes that have forced me, particularly, to take a reflective moment to support my departments’ policy on how these crimes need to be dealt with. We seek to protect our citizens from sexual violence as a matter of urgency and the stark reality that this is a fundamental responsibility bestowed on government by our democracy and our Constitution.
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has enacted various measures to deal with all forms of gender based violence including sexual offences. Some of the progressive legislations include the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998; Older Persons Act 13 of 2006, Children’s Act 38 of 2008, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act No. 32, 2007 and the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 7 2013.
It is important to speak of sexual offences as a form of gender based violence and human rights abuse as it deprives women and children the various rights and freedoms provided in our Constitution and other international instruments. It is our obligation as government to put in place measurers to strongly condemn these violations in defence of our democracy.
In June 2012, my predecessor and colleagues, Dr Jeff established a Ministerial Advisory Task Team led by Adv Kambula who gave a good presentation earlier. Its mandate was to investigate the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. As a result of this investigation, he then accepted the recommendation which advocated for the re-establishment of these courts. In 2013/14 the Department committed itself to establish 57 Sexual Offences Courts which are closest to the Sexual Offences Model and to thereafter continue to gradually and progressively establish additional Sexual Offences Courts. On the 23 August 2013, the first Sexual Offences
Court was opened in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape. Hardly a week after the launch, a serial rapist who had been terrorising the community for over 4 years was convicted and sentenced to 25 life terms for the murder and rape of over 23 elderly women and children.
This clearly demonstrates the efficiency of these dedicated courts and aggressive stance adopted by police, prosecutors and judiciary which is commendable. In the past three weeks, the country has been under-siege from ruthless people who have been kidnapping and killing children. In one case, the child had been mutilated but law enforcement must be commended for acting swiftly in respect of the other case where the accused is now in police custody.
I have been advised that on 23 March 2014, Bethlehem community members had submitted a petition to the then Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr Andries Nel for his intervention in view of the escalating levels of sexual violence against elderly women and children. We are a government that listens to its people hence this intervention as we cannot allow criminals to be a menace to society.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The re-establishment of this Sexual Offences Court aims to provide victim support services in a bid to eliminate secondary victimisation of complainants in sexual offences. This will also ensure that sexual offences trials are
dealt with speedily, especially those involving children, and that the investigation and prosecution of the sexual offences is effective and strengthened through the cooperation between stakeholders. This cooperation will be fostered through the consultative processes that will be forged between role-players in the upgrading of these courts and in their re-establishment. The cooperation is forged through the requirement for the establishment of the National, Provincial and Local Re-establishment Committees which will not only oversee the upgrading of the courts but will also be responsible for monitoring their functioning and effectiveness.
Just recently, in addition to other Acts mentioned earlier, President Zuma assented the Judicial Matters Second Amendment Act No. 43 of 2013 in January 2014 to enable me, in consultation with the Chief Justice and the Judiciary, to designate certain courts for the purposes of dealing with sexual offences and related matters.
As part of the three year commitment to the roll out the 57 Courts and beyond, our Department received funding to monitor the outcomes of the first 9 Sexual Offences Courts which were established in terms of the 2013/2014 Medium Term Strategic Framework from the Criminal Asset Recovery Account.
The department and role player departments and institutions provide specialised services to minimise secondary victimisation of vulnerable groups including victims of sexual offences like the Thuthuzela Care Centres which provide services to victims of sexual offences under the auspices of the National Prosecuting Authority but mainly located within hospitals in structures provided by the Department of Health. Khusela One Stop centres which were established and managed by the Department of Social Development provide services to victims of gender based violence.
Civil Society Organisations work closely with role player departments and other institutions in providing essential services in court. Their services include provision of intermediary social workers, trauma counselling and in some instances legal advice and or support to victims. We are grateful to these partners for the services they continue to pride.
Ladies and gentleman, this is the sterling work done towards enhancing the services in respect of sexual offences to protect and promote the rights of victims as complainants in the Sexual Offences Courts.
We ought to take pride in our Constitution for globally positioning our country as one of the liberal countries that expressly affords all victims of crime with internationally-recognized human rights that entrench the culture of equality.
I thank you.