Events

Sexual offences court opens in Bethlehem

With the recent reports of children being victims of crime in the country, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, MP, officially opened the Bethlehem Sexual Offences Court in the Free State on 15 August 2014.

The sexual offences court opening, which coincided with Women’s Month celebrations, was part of ensuring access to justice services especially in previously disadvantaged communities including rural areas.

Addressing the community at the event, the minister said: “These efforts are geared towards ensuring that necessary facilities are brought closer to communities hence the opening of the Bethlehem Sexual Offences Court.”

The re-establishment of sexual offences courts aims to provide victim support services and to eliminate secondary victimisation of complainants in sexual offence cases. “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,” remarked Minister Masutha.

The department committed itself to re-establish 57 sexual offences courts and on 23 August 2013, the first sexual offences court was opened in Butterworth, Eastern Cape. Within a week after the launch, a serial rapist, who had been terrorising the community for over four years, was convicted and sentenced to 25 life terms for the murder and rape of over 23 elderly women and children in the area.

According to the minister, it has been discovered that perpetrators of these crimes now seek ways to destroy 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 this is a fundamental responsibility bestowed on government by our democracy and our Constitution,” said Minister Masutha.

Acting Court Services Deputy Director-General, Mr Tsietsi Malema said due to a large number of sexual violence cases reported in the Bethlehem area, the department is now responding to the needs of the community by having sexual offences court in that area. “As men, we are here to say we condemn these practises. We say they must come to an end,” said Mr Malema.

After the launch of the sexual offences court, the minister held a community Imbizo where he listened to issues affecting the surrounding communities. One resident, Ms Matjhabaku Sithole, from Paul Roux, told the minister that she was chased out of her house by her abusive husband with her children after a fight.

“I want to know how the department can help me because we live like street kids. He married another wife and I do not have a place to stay with my kids,” she said.

Ms Lizzy Mofokeng, from a nearby Bohlokong Village, said she travels a long distance to the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court to attend her small claims court matter without help because her case is always postponed. “I use a lot my money to go there. I urge government to open a small claims court in our area as well,” she appealed to the minister.

Another resident, Ms Mookho Mokoena appealed to maintenance officials in the Bethlehem Magistrate’s Court to speed up their process of paying beneficiaries, saying that she always receive her child’s maintenance monies late, while the money has already been deposited into the departmental account.

“I always make sure that I contact the father of my child and would confirm that he paid the money to the court, but when I go there, they will tell me that it is not available and I have to come back again,” she complained.

Free State Legal Services Director, Mr David Ramolibe explained that the department has made great improvements in paying maintenance monies through the Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) system. “Sometimes monies delay because some employers do not pay the money into our account on time,” he said, adding that sometimes the mistake does not lie with officials, but because of the slow system.

Mr Ramolibe encouraged beneficiaries to register electronically so that they can receive their monies timeously and avoid long queues.

By Mokgethwa Ngoepe

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Published: 20 Aug 2014