GBV terror: Does SA have the moral authority to celebrate Women’s Day?


South Africa’s moral authority to celebrate women has come under negative scrutiny as the gender-based violence (GBV) terror rages unabated, with perennial rhetoric not matched with action.

In contrast with South Africans celebrating women during August, growing sentiments are that the criminal justice system has failed to support victims of GBV and deliver justice.

Women’s Day in South Africa

GBV terror and DNA backlog

The DNA testing – key in solving sexual assault and rape cases and profiling of perpetrators – is in shambles, with backlogs in sample processing growing to a staggering 180,381 last month, from 150,131 the previous month.

This is in sharp contrast to Police Minister Bheki Cele’s statement that they were making progress with eradicating the DNA tests backlog, with the FF Plus noting this was an increase of more than 30,000 within a single month.

“[… and] once again it was signed by Minister Cele himself. So, the Minister is misleading the public by saying that the backlog is being cleared,” said party leader Dr Pieter Groenewald.

“Clearly, the Krugersdorp incident is a great embarrassment for the police and that is why [Cele] is using falsehoods in an attempt to create the impression that police labs are prioritising DNA tests.”

He said this was despite Cele’s 2021 parliamentary debate admission that the situation hampered the finalisation of murder and rape cases, and President Cyril Ramaphosa telling parliament in May the backlogs were unacceptable.

At the time, the president committed to approaching the private sector for help.

Lip service and empty promises  

 “It has now become abundantly clear that those words were just empty promises, and that the government’s undertakings and statements about the crisis mean nothing,” Groenewald said.

According to NGO Action Society, this lip service was depressing, especially in a country where five women are raped per hour and only one rape of nine is reported due to lack of faith in the justice system.

“The system is failing our women and children. As a result, there is no cause to celebrate,” Community policing activist and head of NGO Action Society, Ian Cameron, said.

ALSO READ: Act now to end GBV- Ramaphosa

To shine the spotlight on how the criminal justice system has failed victims of GBVF, the NGO, working with Philisa Abafazi Bethu, used the story of Janelle Laattoe’s case against her boyfriend.

In 2019, Janelle, a 27-year-old woman from Mitchells Plain in the Western Cape, finally had the courage to report her abusive boyfriend; he was promptly arrested.

Despite making several court appearances over the following year and a half, the case was provisionally withdrawn in December 2021.

In January of 2022, Janelle pleaded that her case be put on the court roll but all was in vain and, out of desperation, she reached out to Action Society.

After 15 calls to the Delft police station, couple of physical visits, it emerged that the docket could not be found and her last statements were not digitally captured.

“I’ve been silent since 2018, but now I will tell my story, unlike the women like me who never got the chance,” she said.

“I had to endure postponed court appearances for over a year, my abuser walked free, assaulted three other women and now my docket disappeared. But I am speaking up, and this is not how my story will end,” she said.

Protecting a predator

Section 27 has told a story of how it took seven years and legal action to finally get the North West department to act against a school caretaker who sexually assaulted pupils.

The incidents involved siblings, both minor pupils, sexually assaulted in different incidents beginning in 2015.

After the failure of the principal and school governing body to act against the caretaker, it is alleged the perpetrator sexually assaulted the pupil’s sibling in 2017.

Parents of the pupils reported the rape of their child to the school principal but the perpetrator was not disciplined or suspended.

For years, no action was taken against the perpetrator, who continued to be employed by the School Governing Body (SGB) and continued to pose a risk to other pupils.

The perpetrator was eventually suspended six years after the original incident, only as a result of legal action instituted by Section 27.

This despite the 2019 Protocol for the Management and Reporting of Sexual Abuse and Harassment in Schools stating that school officials have a duty to report, investigate and take action against accused parties in any suspected incident of sexual abuse or harassment immediately.

The caretaker has since been fired after he was found guilty of sexual assault but, although pleased by the outcome, Section 27 said it was disappointing that the department had to be compelled to act.

South Africans observe Women’s Day on 9 August 2022.

Source: citizen