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Speech by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, in the Debate on 16 Days of Activism, National Assembly, 29 November 2019

House Chairperson
Honourable Members

Patriarchal practices have characterized all cultures in our country. Under colonialism and apartheid, the majority of women in South Africa faced the triple oppression of gender, class and race.

Women and children are still a vulnerable group in society today with their rights often violated through domestic violence, trafficking, child pornography and labour exploitation.

We must also not underestimate the existence of intergenerational trauma – where multiple generations transmit the damage of trauma over a number of years. Our past has left us as a deeply traumatised society.

Gender-based violence also perpetuates gender inequality. Patriarchy, like other forms of discrimination, must be dismantled.

The experience of other societies has shown that gender equality is not a by-product of a struggle for democracy or national liberation. It has to be addressed in its own right.

Perhaps most shockingly, crimes against women and children are often perpetrated by persons know to them. Earlier this month, in the Cape High Court, in the same week, convictions were handed down in the murders of Susan Rohde, Hannah Cornelius and the 3yr-old Courtney Pieters. Mrs Rohde and Courtney were murdered by people known to them.

Government has responded to, and continues to respond to this scourge of violence with a number of priority interventions.

In addition to passing legislation preventing and prohibiting Domestic Violence, Sexual Offences, Harassment, as well as Trafficking in Persons, we also have various policies and programmes to support victims and to prevent secondary traumatisation.  

Since August 2013, the Department of Justice has been progressively establishing new sexual offences courts every year.

Sexual Offences Courts offer a number of victim-support services, which include, amongst others, court preparation services and intermediaries who convey questions and statements received from court to the victim in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner. They currently appear in cases involving child witnesses and witnesses with mental disabilities.

In addition, we make use of in camera testifying services for children, persons with mental disabilities, and all traumatised victims, irrespective of age. These witnesses testify at the private testifying room and out of the physical presence of the accused and other people via a CCTV system.

These services are primarily available in sexual offences courts, but the Department is now in the process of extending them to other victims of gender-based violence, where possible.

Last Saturday, Minister Masutha launched the Botshabelo Sexual Offences Court which was also in response to the Declaration of the Gender Based Violence Summit, held earlier this month, which requires the continued roll-out of Thuthuzela Care Centres – or TCCs as we call them - Sexual Offences Courts and shelters for GBV victims, with an adequate budget allocation.

The Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority established 55 operational TCCs, in support of victims.   TCCs are centres attached to hospitals or clinics where a survivor can go to for medical attention and have evidence of the crime collected.

The Regulations on the minimum requirements for sexual offences courts are close to being finalised after having been extensively workshopped with stakeholders.

The final draft regulations will be submitted to the Chief Justice for concurrence in terms of the Sexual Offences Act.

Domestic violence doesn’t just mean any physical or sexual abuse, it includes emotional, verbal, psychological and economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant, where such conduct harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or wellbeing of the complainant.

Of the over 209 000 reported abuse cases, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse were the most prevalent forms of domestic violence, contributing 50% to the overall number of cases received.

One of the demands raised during the recent Gender Summit was the proposed introduction of an automated national registry for protection orders to track down all persons against whom the protection orders were granted and to understand the magnitude of domestic violence in the country. We are currently engaging with civil society on this issue.

On the issue of human trafficking, our Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act which came into operation in 2015, creates a comprehensive legal tool to combat trafficking in persons in all its forms. 

A National Inter-sectoral Committee on Trafficking in Persons which comprises of national government, the SAPS, the NPA and civil society organizations was established. The Committee leads the implementation and administration of the Act at national government level.  Provincial Task Teams were also established as well as Provincial Rapid Response Teams to attend to operational matters.

From the side of the JCPS Cluster, tackling gender-based violence is an absolute priority, with the SAPS’ focussed integrated implementation and monitoring of the six point plan on Gender Based Violence and Vulnerable Groups.

Interventions as part of the Cluster response include: 

  • Increased training of frontline desk staff in all relevant departments in the dealing of victims in a more sensitive manner.
  • Focusing on 32 hotspot police stations and Improving the quality of interactions between victims, police and other relevant role players as well as ensuring the police and prosecutors are better trained
  • Implement methods to measure client (victim) satisfaction – from reporting phase to court proceeding phase.
  • Plans are also underway to further capacitate the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units of SAPS.
  • Improving the turnaround time on DNA (SAPS) Forensic Services processing and improving the processing of blood alcohol analysis. 

As at 31 March this year, SAPS reported that 1 049 Victim Friendly Rooms are operational throughout the country. SAPS is also expanding the establishment of Victim Friendly Rooms to a further 110 police stations and prioritising the remainder of hot-spot and rural police stations as well as to ensure optimal utilisation thereof.

So what more can be done?  Reducing levels of gender-based violence can never be the responsibility of government alone – we need our communities and our partners in civil society to assist.

We also need to empower communities and build partnerships through Community Policing Forums, Community Safety Forums and street and ward committees. The CPFs should be in position to direct victims where to go and how to proceed in instances of gender-based violence.  In addition,

  • Each one of us must teach our boys that they are because women are.
  • No woman must be told by the police to “go fix things at home”.
  • No woman must be turned away from a police station without a proper investigation.
  • We must encourage the reporting of gender based violence through all relevant role players; and strengthen School Safety and Campus Safety programs.
  • We must participate in the various 16 Days of Activism events and activities around the country and show our support on social media.
  • When someone talks about abuse, be supportive and encourage them to go to a police station to open a case or to call the GBV Command Call Centre on 0800 428 428.

Another area where the community can play a role is in the granting of bail. A magistrate is supposed to consider a number of factors before deciding whether an accused should be let out on bail and at what amount.

Among the factors, they are supposed to consider the severity of the crime, the threat that the accused poses to the victim and other witnesses and the accused’s risk of flight. If members of the community are aware of information that could affect the granting of bail, they should contact the Investigating Officer – as relevant information can influence whether or not the accused will be let out on bail.

Finally, when people do decide to testify in court, let us be supportive. Many members of the public followed the case of the rape trial of Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso and his two co-accused.

Many of us saw the first witness, Cheryl Zondi, and were outraged at the tone and content of the cross-examination that was directed at her.

Whilst legal practitioners should act in their clients' best interests and have the right to cross-examination, there is an obligation to protect witnesses from inappropriately harsh and/or irrelevant lines of questioning – all the more so when such witnesses are sexual violence survivors.

In this regard, we are proposing that we consider changing the law so as to allow for the testimony and cross-examination of adult witnesses in sexual offences case to also be via an intermediary, so as to reduce further unnecessary trauma.

Honourable Members, violence against women and children is violence against all humanity – it must be stopped.

To the victims of violence I want to reiterate the words of President Ramaphosa at the Gender Summit: “We hear you and we will not fail you.”

I thank you.