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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP at a Conference on Ensuring Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Violence and Abuse, hosted by Ilitha Labantu, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and AWIF (African Women’s Independent Forum), held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, 28 November 2019

Programme Director,
Representatives from Ilitha Labantu,
Representatives from Cape Peninsula University of Technology,
Members of the African Women’s Independent Forum,
Members of the judiciary,
Members of civil society,
Representatives of various government institutions
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen, friends
                   
It is indeed a pleasure and an honour to be able to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ilitha Labantu, which was established by Mandisa Monakali in 1989.

Ma Mandisa herself is a survivor and conqueror of domestic abuse and she formed the organisation to empower women who were in similar situations.

In a recent interview she says -

"In those days talking about violence against women was taboo, inside and outside our homes, nobody used to talk about it. It was a secret issue. And the woman who was kicked carrying a baby on her back and twins in her stomach, running from her house, knocking on neighbours' doors for shelter, lying in the street and people thought by the way the man kicked her, she may be dead, that was me 30 years ago.”

As reported, in its 30 years of existence, Ilitha Labantu has helped more than 54 000 women and children.

I’ve been asked to specifically discuss the details around Government’s Emergency Response Action Plan.

But before we discuss the plan, it’s perhaps good to look at the extent of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) in our country.

In 2018/19, a total of 2,771 women were murdered in South Africa – this means a woman is murdered every three hours. A total of 1,014 children were murdered.

The number of reported sexual offences increased to 52,420 in 2018/19 from 50,108 in 2017/18. Most of these were cases of rape. The police recorded 41,583 rapes in 2018/19. This means an average of 114 rapes were recorded by the police each day.

There has been an increase in the number of people reporting sexual offences to the SAPS. According to the Victims of Crime Report by Stats SA, which was released in October this year, the percentage of victims reporting this type of crime was 88%. This is an increase from the 73% recorded the previous year. 

South Africa had the fourth highest female interpersonal violence death rate out of the 183 countries listed by the WHO in 2016 and Stats SA’s 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, have showed that, on average, one in five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence by a partner.

If we look at domestic violence specifically: some 389 000 new civil domestic matters and 208 000 new criminal domestic cases were registered by our courts during 2018/19.

In September last year, the President and Government affirmed our commitment to addressing gender-based violence and femicide, in response to social activism across the country against the inadequate response to the scourge.

The Declaration of the Presidential Summit against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide states that a range of laws and policies, programmes and interventions are in place across all sectors to address respective forms of gender-based violence and femicide, but notwithstanding all these interventions, prevention has not received the necessary attention to make a meaningful impact.

When it comes to laws and implementation, Articles 5 and 7 of the Summit Declaration are important as these articles call for existing laws and policies applicable to gender-based violence and femicide to be reviewed to ensure that they are more victim-centred and responsive, that the identified legislative gaps are addressed without delay and that any outstanding legislative measures and policies that relate to GBV and femicide, as well as the protection of the rights of women and gender non-conforming persons, be fast-tracked.

The implementation of the Presidential Summit Declaration is currently monitored by the Interim Steering Committee against GBVF, which is co-chaired by the Presidency and civil society.

The roll out of immediate measures, in the next six months, to fast-track a more medium-term approach to addressing gender-based violence and femicide was made a priority and an Emergency Response Action Plan was announced in Parliament in October.

The plan focuses on improving access to justice for survivors of violence and prevention campaigns to change attitudes and behaviour. 

It also involves measures to strengthen the criminal justice process and to prioritise the creation of economic opportunities for women who are vulnerable to abuse.

The respective interventions that will be rolled out between October 2019 and 31 March 2020 are based on certain key pillars, such as amending and fast tracking legislation and strengthening human resource capacity.

We are looking at improving and increasing infrastructure and resourcing and supporting those involved in response, care and support and looking at ways to challenge harmful social norms through a communication plan and prevention interventions.

Some of the interventions of the plan include:

There is also a strong focus on the immediate roll-out of training on victim-centric, survivor-focused services, with a specific drive to train police, prosecutors, magistrates and policy makers.

When it comes to legislation it is important to highlight that there is not only one piece of legislation, but a number of different laws pertaining to GBV, such as laws dealing with domestic violence, harassment, sexual offences, abuse of older persons, trafficking in persons, bail and minimum sentences.

Important legislative developments that we are working on and which are vital to the fight against GBV include a Bill to establish a National Council on GBVF, amendments to provisions relating to bail to provide for more stringent measures and considerations in certain cases related to GBVF as well as possible amendments to sentencing laws to introduce stricter measures in certain GBVF related crimes. 

We have also started with a review of the Domestic Violence legislation.

As many of you may have seen, there has been a strong focus on additional resources to prevent and combat GBV - SAPS now has 1071 victim-friendly rooms and has allocated 312 new recruits currently undergoing basic training to the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units.

As reported by SAPS, to date, 7,000 rape evidence collection kits have been distributed to police stations across the country.

The responsible government departments have together reprioritised R1.6 billion for the plan to be resourced and implemented.

We also have CARA funding which we can use. CARA stands for the Criminal Assets Recovery Account. This is a separate account within the National Revenue Fund, into which monies and property are deposited following a judicial forfeiture or confiscation order – in other words, its funds from the proceeds of crime which is taken by the State and which we can then use for programmes to fight crime.

We have 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres across the country and we are in the process of establishing three new TCCs in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Post-Summit, we have upgraded 13 regional courts into sexual offences courts. We currently have 94 SOCs countrywide and are on track to establish 11 more by the end of this financial year.

The response of our courts to sex crimes is growingly becoming expression of unified goals of survivor-safety, community-safety, perpetrator-accountability, and well-balanced judgments and sentences.

In the previous financial year, the Thuthuzela Care Centres recorded 348 life sentences in cases of sexual offences that went through these centres, whilst the SAPS FCS (Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences) Units obtained 692 life sentences imposed for sex crimes investigated by their specialised police officials.

As recently expressed by the President, stringent measures must be undertaken to tighten the parole legal framework, particularly when it comes to life sentences imposed on sex offenders and other offenders of related crimes.

Despite this emerging success, a lot more is expected from the sexual offences courts. In the Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) we specifically moved for an additional indicator on strengthening the performance of Sexual Offences Courts (SOCs). 

I suggested that we select a few identified SOCs with high caseloads of sexual offences to participate in the 100 Days Rapid Results Challenge. The aim is to unblock the court system of chronic operational delays, reduce case-cycle times and improve overall court performance.

The aim of these courts is to adjudicate cases, but these courts must - at the same time – also provide survivors with a court experience that is caring, compassionate, prompt and effective. The identified sexual offences project sites are in Gauteng, North West, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. We’ve also included two more provinces, being the Free State (at Welkom SOC) and KwaZulu-Natal (at Umlazi SOC).

It is in these provinces that the Department has commenced with the Justice 100 Days Rapid Results Challenge to speed up the implementation of the Emergency Response Action Plan.

The 100 Days Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) introduces a new planning approach. Through this initiative, performance is steered towards achieving impactful results for the survivor. It places a strong focus on operations of the frontline staff to ensure the speedy manifestation of change at service points.

I chair the Justice 100 Days Rapid Results Leadership Committee which seeks to realise the aspirations of the ERAP within the set time.

With the permission of the Presidency and the support of UN Women, we have partnered with the Eastern Cape Premier to deliver the ERAP ‘Access to Justice’ indicators through the Rapid Results Initiative. On Tuesday this week, the Department and the judiciary met with the Eastern Cape Premier’s Coordinating Forum, constituted by mayors and councillors (and chaired by the Premier), to collectively identify common areas of support towards the joint implementation of the ERAP. The prime focus of this pilot is on improving government services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence.

The Department of Health currently has 281 designated health facilities offering services to victims and the Department of Social Development has 112 shelters, 20 White doors and 8 Khuseleka One Stop Centres.

The ERAP also requires the Department of Public Works to identify under-utilised buildings that can be refurbished and used as shelters. As reported to the GBVF Interim Steering Committee this work has begun.

With regards to the Femicide Watch, it will be the very first Femicide Watch in the country and in Africa. The Femicide Watch is the country’s repository of all female homicides which is primarily intended to provide trend data so as to improve our country’s planning, prevention, response, and resource allocation for interventions to end femicide.

The Department is already engaging with the Gender & Health Research Unit (GHRU), based here in Cape Town, which conducted the first two National Femicide Studies in South Africa, to find ways of supporting the 3rd National Femicide Study in the country. It is expected that this study will provide new pointers to data collection for the Femicide Watch.

Femicide Watch is now in Phase 2 of development which is focusing on channelling the available SAPS and DoJCD data extrapolated from the IJS hub to the recently developed Femicide Watch dashboard.

By the end of this financial year, all new reported cases of femicide resulting from gender-based violence will be routed to this repository to ensure that the country has trend data of these cases.

The National Register for Sex Offenders is also operational, although there are some capacity challenges in the division tasked with the issuing of the certificates.

As you know, the Sexual Offences Act provides that names of people convicted of sexual offences against children or persons with mental disabilities must be included in the register. 

The Act will need to be widened so as to include the details of all person convicted of sexual offences – however, making it public is more contentious as it could give rise to vigilantism.

Government employees who work with children and mentally disabled persons are being vetted against the National Register of Sex Offenders.

As at the end of last week, 3123 government officials have been vetted, including prosecutors and members of the SAPS. Last week alone, we issued 1004 certificates to government applicants working at service points that gives them access direct access to children and mentally disabled persons.

As required by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 all employers in businesses and organisations that work directly with children and mentally disabled persons are encouraged to apply to the National Registrar for Sex Offenders so as to avoid the criminal sanctions provided by the Act.

The Act further places an obligation on all licensing authorities in respect of license applications and applications for fostering, kinship, care-giving, temporary safe care-giving, adoption or curatorship to first obtain NRSO clearance certificates of the applicants before approval.

This initiative is part of the Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) to achieve specific targets, which include the vetting of the relevant DoJ&CD officials, about 1 500 prosecutors, and 2 942 SAPS FCS officials, including the new recruits in the FCS Units.

Some of the new measures and interventions that have been proposed from the side of our magistracy and from civil society include interventions such as easy access to a portal on a website with information regarding protection orders, the forms themselves, along with the ability to actually apply online for such protection orders and to receive them electronically.

Many of you will be familiar with the Dikgale matter – where a woman was allegedly attacked by her husband whilst he was out on bail, and that the NPA, in granting bail, had not been aware of a protection order being granted against him.

What this has shown is that we need better linkages between courts and the police in respect of protection orders and access to such orders and warrants. In this regard, an E-justice service system is being developed to ensure quicker and easier access for victims to services.

With the introduction of e-services, victims of domestic violence will be able to do online applications for protection orders. The plan is also to provide SMS notifications to survivors to keep them abreast of the developments in their cases.

Data Systems integration of domestic violence cases between SAPS and the courts, and between different lower courts, must be done urgently to avoid the abuse of the justice system through unnecessary counter-applications for protection orders.

The notification to witnesses when person is out on bail must be also improved - it is imperative that witnesses know when a person is out on bail and what the bail conditions are – in this regard, a SMS notification system has been proposed, which can also be used to keep complainants and witnesses informed of their cases.

Another concern raised by the magistracy was that at most courts there are no adequate waiting areas or seating for people wanting to apply for protection orders, they do not have any writing surface on which to complete the forms and there are not always signage or indication as to where they need to go to for protection orders. This is also being addressed through the Action Plan. Victims of domestic violence must enjoy similar support services currently enjoyed by victims of sexual offences at the sexual offences courts.

Programme Director,

This past Monday marked the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign which runs from the 25th of November to the 10th of December.

Over this period Government as convened a series of dialogues on violence against women and children to focus on the problem, to discuss the causes and to find appropriate solutions. Through the dialogue sessions Government will also interact with community members who experience violence and abuse.

These dialogues provide an ideal opportunity to engage with both men and women. We must ensure that men are active partners in the prevention and combating of GBV and that we continue to have conversations with responsible fatherhood groups, men and boys, as well as working more closely with faith-based institutions and communities.

As part of the Emergency Response Action Plan, the Department has commenced with the Under the Tree Men’s Empowerment Programme which targets, amongst others, the harmful ramifications of patriarchal system, gender equality, socio-economic issues, male parenting, solo parenting, family rehabilitation and legal issues related to GBVF.

The Department has partnered with men’s civil society organisations to bring men and boys to the center of GBVF prevention.

The fight against GBV is not one that Government can win on its own – partnership is crucial as we simply cannot do it without civil society and civil society service providers.

As Minister Naledi Pandor wrote in yesterday’s Daily Maverick:

“For millions of women living in fear and insecurity, it is civil society that provides hope and relief.
Organisations of women lawyers provide aid in securing protection orders. Hundreds of women in a multiplicity of organisations offer community members help, support and transformed human security.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

I want to congratulate Ilitha Labantu on its dedication and commitment to better the lives of women and children over the past 30 years.

Ma Mandisa once said "I think God gave me a second chance so I could rescue other women like me.”

May Ilitha Labantu continue with the good work and may all of us – whether we are in government, in civil society, in academia, wherever we find ourselves – do whatever we can to prevent and combat all forms of gender-based violence.

I thank you.