Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has lamented the justice system’s failure to function properly, resulting in the creation of a “lawless society” which has little faith in the authority of the state and its ability to bring perpetrators to book.
The justice department’s annual statistics on sexual offences paint a picture as spine-chilling as the crime figures released last week by the SA Police Service.
According to the department’s report for 2018/19, more than 65% of cases related to sexual offences were withdrawn prior to trial.
Rape accounts for 75% of the sexual offences, with Welkom and Bloemfontein courts recording the highest number of registered cases.
Last week’s crime statistics indicated that 52 420 sexual offences were reported in the past financial year, an increase of 4.6%.
This means that an average of 143 reported sexual offences are committed per day.
In an interview with City Press, Lamola said that his department had the urgent and ongoing task of resurrecting the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in order to restore the institution’s ability to bring about justice.
“People used to respect protection orders, it was a big thing. But because of lawlessness people no longer respect court orders or protection orders.
“Women being violated despite protection orders is an indication of this. It is important that we restore the moral values of our society. We do that by ensuring that our systems function. There have been various incidents which point to some system failure, where people raise the issue that even though they tried to report matters, they were not assisted in the manner in which they expected the system to respond,” he said.
“People no longer accept the authority of the state. We fix that by ensuring that when crimes are committed, people are apprehended and they get the necessary sentence.
“We see these challenges. That is why we speak of strengthening the NPA – so that it can assist the police with investigations so people are caught and sentenced.”
Amidst growing calls for stricter legislation to be penned around matters related to gender-based violence, the minister says Parliament will have to tread carefully despite the current climate.
People no longer accept the authority of the state. We fix that by ensuring that when crimes are committed, people are apprehended and they get the necessary sentence.
Among some of the proposals which have recently been made is the scrapping of bail and parole for those accused and convicted of crimes related to gender-based violence.
Calls for the list of sexual offenders to be regularly updated and made public have also been resuscitated.
“Parliament will have to debate that list. There are considerations that Parliament will have to contend with.” Among the difficulties currently being experienced with regard to the list is at which point a name should be added to the list: when the accused is alleged to have committed a crime, or when they are convicted of it, Lamola asked.
“Remember, for the rape of minors we have the list, but it is difficult to implement because of all those issues. When do I put you on the list? What does it mean to be on the list? You will have to debate that in the context of a broader list that would be expanded beyond those who violate minors to whoever commits a sexual crime.”
He added that part of the debate Parliament would need to have was the issue of the safety of those on the list, given the growing propensity of vigilantism in some communities.
“We must debate things, as a constitutional democracy. However, at some point we must be able to say: ‘We have heard you and we think your view does not pass the constitutional muster.’ And I think that is our position on the death penalty and other views that are coming. Whatever view comes, it must meet constitutional scrutiny.”
The minister said that the department had also grown sensitive to the fact that its systems in place were not accommodating to victims and that amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act would have to factor in the role of those who survive these crimes.
“The victim needs to have a role to play. The system must be victim-friendly and enable them to also have some kind of closure and a sense of justice being served. In the current system, immediately when the inmate is sentenced, it is over with the victim. It becomes a thing between us and the inmate. The only time the victim will hear from us is when we want to release the inmate on parole.
“Most become very angry and ask: ‘Why call us now when we have not heard from you in 10 years?’ Some of the families are still suffering and it evokes terrible memories. These are some of the issues we have to confront to ensure the victim’s role does not end on the day of sentencing. A balance must be struck.”
On Friday hundreds of people marched to the JSE calling for a 2% levy on listed companies to go towards funding programmes to assist in fighting the scourge of gender-based violence.
President Cyril Ramaphosa this week wrote to the Speaker of Parliament, Thandi Modise, to call for a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the national council of provinces to discuss the matter.
In his letter, Ramaphosa said that “South Africa’s approach to violence perpetrated against women has changed fundamentally. We all have a responsibility to ensure that these events become the turning point in our fight to end gender-based violence.
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