Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, on “State Responsibility to Act with Due Diligence: Practice and Reality” at Ilitha Labantu’s National Conference on Eliminating Violence against Women, Gugulethu Sports Complex, 27 November 2014
On Tuesday this week I was busy preparing my notes for this morning’s event. In preparing I looked at the news headlines of the day. The headlines of the 6 top stories were as follows:
“Man arrested for raping granddaughter” – an article about a 70-year old man that had been arrested for allegedly raping his 7 year old granddaughter in Dutywa, in the Eastern Cape.
And then “Team work with Reiger Park community” which is about a multi-disciplinary team which will be assisting the Reiger Park community to deal with various issues following the murders of three children in the area.
The third article was titled “Lover killed child to spite mom.” This tells the story of an Mpumalanga mother, whose lover has been accused of raping, kidnapping and murdering her 8-year old daughter, allegedly out of spite because the mother refused to let him perform rituals on their newborn child.
The fourth headline reads – “Man appears for murder and rape.” This article is about a man who appeared in the Taung Magistrates Court in North West on Monday, on charges of rape, murder, kidnapping and robbery.
The next article is very close to home and involves Gugulethu: “Woman gunned down in Gugulethu,” says the headline and it tells about a woman who has been shot and killed here in Gugulethu on Sunday evening after visiting a restaurant in the area.
The last article, called “Worker warned Baby L’s mom about abuse”, is about a case in the North Gauteng High Court and tells of how a domestic worker warned a mother she would report her if she saw her hitting her 2-year-old daughter, known as Baby L. Baby L’s 20-year-old mother and her boyfriend are on trial for allegedly trying to kill the child, neglecting her, and failing to get medical treatment for her. They have pleaded not guilty, claiming the toddler fell down a flight of stairs and off a washing machine. The court earlier heard that the toddler had bruises at various stages of healing all over her body, a fractured hip, swollen kidney and a severe injury to her pancreas, for which she needed emergency surgery. A brain scan revealed bleeding on the brain. Since the incident the baby cannot speak, walk or eat and is in a vegetative state.
All of these articles are not just headlines, these are real stories about real people. Real women and real children, living among us in our communities. This is the reality we face.
Against this background, the state has a responsibility to act with due diligence in preventing and combating violence against women and children.
South Africa is party to various international human rights instruments. These take the form of many binding Declarations, Proclamations, Statements, Programmes of Action, Treaties, Covenants, Protocols and Conventions and these instruments commit the state to uphold certain legal obligations. Our Constitution and our legislation are often hailed as some of the most progressive in the world when it comes to human rights.
At the launch of the 16 days of Activism Campaign President Zuma said that violence against women and children has continued, despite South Africa having the right policies and legal framework to prevent it.
Similar views have been expressed by NGOs, as Shaheema McLeod, Director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children was recently quoted as saying – “Despite South Africa’s progressive constitution and extensive legislature, not enough is being done to combat gender based violence on the ground.”
How do we do this and what can we do better?
We have good laws and programmes. The problem is in their implementation. NGOs and CBOs have a crucial role to play in telling us where the problems are so we can address them.
Much has been done to combat violence against women and children. After 1994, special interventions were introduced to address gender-based violence and prevent violence to women and children. These interventions include many pieces of legislation, specialised courts dealing with sexual offences, Thuthuzela care centres, specialised police units, victim-friendly rooms at police service points, empowering SAPS members, prosecutors and magistrates with specialised skills and keeping sexual offenders on long-term supervision on their release from prison. We have the Khuseleka One Stop Centres to offer victims of gender-based violence a range of integrated services that include psycho-social support, medical care and shelter services.
We have re-introduced the specialised Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units and nationally, we now have 176 established FCS units attached to all police clusters within SAPS. This has resulted in lengthy convictions, achieved through the dedicated work of detectives and prosecutors.
A major component of our fight against sexual gender-based violence really are the Thuthuzela Care Centers (“TCCs”), which embody a coordinated approach in the way we effectively manage sexual offences. When reporting a crime, the victim is removed from an environment such as a police station, to a more victim-friendly environment before being transported by police or an ambulance to the ThuthuzelaCare Centre at the hospital. The person also receives crisis counseling. If the medical examination happens within 72 hours of the incident, post-exposure prophylaxis is given. The investigating officer on call at the center will take the person’s statement. The person will receive appropriate medication and is given a follow-up date for further medical treatment, before being transported home or a place of safety. A referral letter will be given or an appointment made for long-term counselling.
Before the trial, as part of the TCC-model, a case manager will oversee the prosecutor-guided investigation and will ensure that the case is trial and court ready. The Thuthuzelamodel is an outstanding example of interdepartmental cooperation. But again, what I have outlined is how the Thuthuzela model is meant to work. The reality in some centres may be different, but we need you to tell us where things are not working the way they should so that we can see what can be done to correct the problems.
These services are available. However, to ensure that persons access these services it is vital that our communities are aware of them. The JCPS Cluster departments recently held provincial service delivery meetings and 86 public awareness programmes throughout Women’s Month during August 2014 as a build up to the 16 Days Campaign. Through these programmes we were fortunate to engage with about 10 000 women from across the Western Cape – from George to Khayelitsha – to empower the most vulnerable in our community on the free services available to them, including maintenance and domestic violence services.
On the issue of domestic violence: domestic violence touches the lives of all ages, leaving a devastating impact on women, men, and children of every background and circumstance. The family home becomes a place of fear and desperation when a woman is battered by her partner, when a child witnesses the abuse of a loved one, or when a senior person is victimized or neglected by family members.
According to our Department’s Annual Report for 2012/2013, there were 246 609 applications for protection orders. This resulted in 151 423 interim orders being granted. Of those, only 88 930 were finalised. We must ask ourselves why do victims of domestic violence who apply for a protection orders against their abusers, not return to court to finalize those orders?
At our public meetings women tell us that the fear of reprisal from their abusers and their financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members increased their vulnerability. It is for this reason that many victims are reluctant to take action against their abusers. Even after reporting the matter to the police, many still go back to request the withdrawal of protection orders.
If women are economically disempowered, their chances of being victims of violence increase. In “Ready to Govern: ANC policy guidelines for a democratic South Africa” which was released in 1992 it states that “in providing that women should be allowed to take their rightful place in every area of South African life without impediment or discrimination, the law should take account of the reality of the lives that women lead and the contribution they make to society through maternity, parenting and household work. Much of the work that women perform goes unrecognised and unpaid; the contribution of women to national income must be acknowledged.”
This is why government looks at our communities holistically, that is why, for example, we have various programmes for poverty alleviation, why the Department of Social Development provides for social security and grants, why we have school nutrition schemes, why the Department of Labour provides for minimum wages for domestic workers, which recently were adjusted upwards in order to protect workers in sectors where they were exposed to potential exploitation, where worker organisations and trade unions were absent. All these are inter-related and aim to better the lives of women and children.
Another reality is that often fathers don’t pay maintenance for their minor children. In our meetings with communities, women also expressed the need for drastic improvement in our child maintenance system so as to ensure that the best interests of their minor children are protected. The message received through this interaction was clear; that defaulters of child maintenance must be brought to book.
It is with this in mind that the Department has identified the tracing of maintenance defaulters and beneficiaries through our Operation Isondlo as the focus for this year’s 16 Day Campaign in the Western Cape, in addition to other activities such as all law enforcement agencies committing to give effect to protection orders issued in terms of the Domestic Violence Act.
In addition to having appointed additional maintenance staff to trace maintenance defaulters and beneficiaries, we have formed formal partnerships with non-governmental organisations. Operation Isondlo further ensures that the administration of the maintenance system and enforcement of court orders relating to child support is dealt with more efficiently and is designed to minimise the time spent in queues by maintenance applicants and beneficiaries. Our Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) system now provides for the rightful beneficiary to be paid within 4 days.
Another objective of Operation Isondlo is to strengthen the investigation process, trace maintenance defaulters and bring them to book with the help of maintenance investigators at our courts, the police, Home Affairs and the Trans Union Information Trust Corporation (ITC) System. SAPS will execute warrants of arrest against maintenance defaulters and the NPA will prioritize maintenance cases by prosecuting defaulters. Home Affairs will trace both defaulters and beneficiaries through their database and provide updated contact details to a joint task team on a regular basis. Correctional Services will also trace defaulters who have been incarcerated in their correctional centres. We have just introduced a maintenance amendment Bill in Parliament to tighten up some of the provisions relating to maintenance.
This approach and partnership with communities has already resulted in many maintenance defaulters across the province being arrested and brought to court which resulted in hundreds of maintenance beneficiaries receiving regular maintenance pay-outs. This year we identified 1 639 warrants of arrest against maintenance defaulters who collectively owe R5.3m, which will be executed. There are 94 untraced maintenance beneficiaries in the province to whom the Department owes a total of R120 842.14 in respect of unclaimed maintenance at our courts. Just this past week, we have traced some of these maintenance beneficiaries and paid out more than R500 000 owed to them. The remaining beneficiaries will be traced during the campaign.
These are some of the initiatives through which we seek to improve the reality of people’s day-to-day lives. These are not pie-in-the-sky programmes that exist only on paper, these interventions make a real difference on the ground, in the daily lives of women and children.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Government can never take over the role that parents or grandparents play. There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. This is true. The socialisation of boys is a core component of addressing the issue of violence against women. One community-based study on rape perpetration and South African masculinity showed that most men who rape admit to having raped for the first time while in their teens.
The Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster, which includes the departments of Justice and Constitutional Development, Correctional Services, Home Affairs, Social Development, the South African Police Service and National Prosecuting Authority, has resolved to deal decisively with gender based-violence during this year’s 16 Days of Activism Campaign under the national theme: “Count me in: Together Moving a Non-Violent South Africa Forward”.
“Count Me In” is a call to mobilise all sectors of society to stand up and be counted in the fight to end violence against women and children. It calls for people to take individual responsibility and to be part of the collective. It calls on men, parents, care-givers and a united community to take a stand against all forms of abuse.
The 16 Days Campaign will this year have a greater focus on mobilising and partnering with men to assist in the eradication of violence against women and children. Fathers, brothers and sons must take a stand against the war being raged against our women and children in our homes and communities.
Ladies and gentlemen
Government needs the assistance of civil society, we needs communities, we need religious institutions, community leaders and NGOs in the fight against gender-based violence. We need to change the reality and the mind-set of society in which we live. As Shaheda Omar, of the Teddy Bear Clinic, recently remarked, South African society often pretends to be oblivious of what is happening around it.
But society cannot be oblivious. If we want to successfully prosecute cases of violence against women and children, we need people to speak out and to come forward. And successful prosecutions are possible: On Monday the Western Cape High Court sentenced Bennet Hakkies to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of attempted murder and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm after assaulting his girlfriend’s 2 year old son with his fists and feet and burning the little boy’s feet with boiling water. On Tuesday Judge Tshifiwa Maumela sentenced the man responsible for killing a young lesbian, Duduzile Zozo, to an effective 30 years in prison.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Like we had not given up the struggle for freedom and democracy before 1994, we should not give up today’s struggle against the oppression of women and children. Today we fight a different battle, a battle of violence against the most vulnerable amongst us, our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.
As I raised earlier, we have good laws and strategies to address gender based violence. If you think there are areas where these laws and strategies can be improved, tell us about it so we can see what changes need to be made. The main problem is in the implementation, because this is done by people who, as human beings, have their own weaknesses and faults. But, in order to correct these, we need to be told where things are not working and NGOs and CBOs have a crucial role to play in alerting us to where this is happening.
In concluding, let me thank civil society and our NGOs for their invaluable work in our communities. NGOs often reach where government cannot and for this we want to express our appreciation. As Ilitha Labantu celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, an estimated 150 000 00 people have been assisted through its primary and secondary prevention methods.
A society free of violence, a society where women, children and other vulnerable groups are safe and feel safe is possible. We can achieve it, together.