Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the Launch of the Sexual Offences Court in Boschfontein, Mpumalanga, 24 March 2017
Programme Director, Cllr M.R Shongwe, Speaker of Nkomazi Municipality
The MEC for Community Safety, Security and Liaison, Mr PS Ngomana,
The MEC for Social Development, Ms Shiba
Speaker of the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature, Ms Shongwe
Chairperson of the Provincial House of Traditional Leaders, Kgoshi Mokoena
The Executive Major of Nkomazi Municipality, Cllr Khoza
Dr. W Otieno of UNICEF South Africa
The Regional Head of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Mhlanga
Chief Prosecutor of the Nelspruit Cluster, Mr Van Heerden
Representatives of government departments, the NPA and the SAPS
Representatives from civil society
Community leaders, ladies and gentlemen
Good morning and thank you for the warm welcome here in Mpumalanga.
There is no better time to launch the Boschfontein/Tonga Sexual Offences Court than during this month of March when our country celebrates human rights month.
Sexual violence is a grave human rights violation that still plagues our communities.
As you know, South Africa has implemented numerous interventions to combat gender-based and sexual violence.
From the Domestic Violence Act, to other laws dealing with sexual offences; minimum sentencing; trafficking; domestic violence and harassment to policy initiatives such as the establishment of the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit in the NPA, the establishment of Thuthuzela Care Centres and Sexual Offences Courts, the fight against gender-based and sexual violence has remained high on Government’s agenda.
Other measures have included the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on violence against women to investigate the root causes of violence against women and to develop national plans to prevent and respond to violence against women in a coordinated manner.
We have a 24-hour Gender-Based Violence Command Centre, dedicated at providing support and counselling to victims of gender based violence.
We have 24-hour Khuseleka One Stop Centres which provide services to victims of violence, such as trauma counselling and psychosocial support, health care, police services, legal assistance and shelter services.
We have SAPS’ Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units.
Government, in conjunction with the NPA, has been running the Ndabezitha Project which seeks to train traditional leaders, prosecutors and court clerks on domestic violence matters in rural areas.
We have been running numerous awareness campaigns aimed at sensitising communities about domestic violence services.
In the quest to eradicate violence against women and children, Government rolled out National Dialogues on Violence against Women and Children around the country, talking to women and men from all spheres of life
Our country can be proud in the great strides we have made in achieving freedom, equality and dignity for all, but despite these achievements and initiatives many of our women and children still face sexual violence.
Every woman that gets raped is somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s grandmother or somebody’s sister.
Our courts do not hesitate to impose harsh sentences for these crimes.
Here where we are today, a 72-year old accused from Block B Trust near Tonga was sentenced to many years in jail by the Boschfontein Regional Court last month for raping two minors, aged 7 and 10. They were his neighbours' children. He was sentenced to 20 years for each child he raped.
The NPA has told us that the sentence breakdown (per offence per accused) for the Year-To-Date (as at Q3 of 2016/17) includes 219 sentences of life imprisonment, 127 sentences of 20 -25 years’ imprisonment and 568 sentences of 10 -19 years’ imprisonment.
But our courts can only impose harsh sentences if people report crimes. The prosecutors who prosecute these cases need good witnesses and circumstances must be so that victims are not afraid to testify in such cases.
We must make it easier for victims to report these cases and easier for witnesses to give evidence.
That’s why we have special courts for sexual offences.
Figures from our National Operations Centre from April to December 2016, as well as the SAPS quarterly crime statistics which were presented to Parliament’s portfolio committee recently, show a drop in the number of sexual offences. SAPS also tells us the stats show a three-year downward trend.
Our Department of Justice’s figures show that rape is the most predominant sexual offence charge reported - over 80%. For the period April to December 2016, over 10 300 children were victims of sexual offences.
These are the reported cases. But very often rape and sexual offences are not reported.
Sometimes victims may choose to not report cases, for a number of reasons.
These victims are living among us, in our communities. They remain silent and have to carry the trauma and pain alone.
That is another reason why we need Sexual Offences Court and Thuthuzela Care Centres.
We currently have 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres.
The conviction rate of sexual offences reported at the Thuthuzelas is 71%.
The main objectives of the Sexual Offences Courts are to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the secondary traumatization from the court system, to improve the conviction rate in these cases; and to improve the turnaround time in the finalization of these cases.
In 2013, the former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development approved the MATTSO Report which recommended the resuscitation of the sexual offences courts.
The Sexual Offences Courts Project was established by the Department and has 2 phases. Phase 1 is the upgrading of 57 regional courts into sexual offences courts over a period of 3 years, while Phase 2 is the upgrading of 106 regional courts into sexual offences courts over a period of 10 years.
We are proud to say that thus far, 55 courts have been established, and the remaining 2 courts are almost done, and will be finalised before the end of this month.
Thereafter, the Department will commence with Phase 2 of the Project.
As at 2016/2017, 5 sexual offences courts have been established in Mpumalanga.
Boschfontein/Tonga Sexual Offences Court serves as a key service point to Nkomazi Municipality.
We know of the challenges this community is facing. The unemployment rate is estimated at 34%. There are high crime levels, substance abuse (mainly of alcohol and drugs) and other socio-economic factors that play a role.
Poverty remains as the main contributor to crime in this community - with consequences of a high prevalence of sexual violence against women and children. What is more unsettling is that in Tonga, children are the most affected by this epidemic.
As soon as the MATTSO Report was approved in 2013, a decision was therefore taken that the Tonga community be amongst the first communities in Mpumalanga to have a Sexual Offences Court.
This court has been in operation since 2013/2014, and is also among the sites identified for the 2016/2017 victim-satisfaction survey.
This court is situated in a rural community. It represents the Department’s commitment to give priority to rural communities so as to address the disparities of the past.
The outstanding roll for the Boschfontein/Tonga Hybrid/Sexual Offences Regional Court is currently at 139 cases of which 51 cases are Sexual Offences related.
In 2016 the Court finalized 47 sexual offences cases of which 32 were convictions and 15 were acquittals. This is a conviction rate of 69%.
As you know, we are living in tough economic times. Our Minister of Finance has often said that we need to take stringent cost containment measures. We must do the best with what we have. So we are aware that there are vacant posts for Sexual Offences Regional Courts such as Middelburg, Ermelo, Masoyi (Kabokweni) and Boschfontein. I have discussed this matter with Adv Shaun Abrahams, the NDPP, who has promised to address the problem.
We are also told that there is a shortage of Court Preparation Officers. Currently, the NPA has a capacity of 160 CPOs, who predominantly deal with victims of sexual offences.
To address this challenge, in this financial year, our Department finalised the production of the Information DVD for the Court Preparation of Adult Victims of Sexual Offences. This DVD will be shown at the Adult Waiting Rooms to ensure that victims are empowered where there is a shortage of supply of CPOs.
These are but some of the initiatives to strengthen our criminal justice system so as to assist survivors of rape and sexual offences.
To conclude, ladies and gentlemen,
Women were key in the struggle for our human rights. Now we must ensure that we protect the human rights of women.
As African activist, Wangari Maathai, says:
“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
I thank you.