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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, tThe Hon JJ Jeffery, MP, at the Annual Family Law Conference, hosted by the Law Faculty of the University of the Western Cape and Miller du Toit Cloete Incorporated, held at The President Hotel, Sea Point, 14 March 2024

Programme Director,
Members of the judiciary from South Africa and those visiting from other countries,
Members of academia from various South African and international universities,
Legal practitioners from around the world,
Representatives from civil society,
Health care professionals,
Representatives from various government departments and institutions,
Distinguished guests and friends,

Last week we were in Cradock in the Eastern Cape to launch our country’s 64th operational Thuthuzela Care Centre.

Our Thuthuzelas – or TCCs as we call them – are facilities attached to hospitals where victims of sexual offences can go for treatment and to access support services and where evidence can be taken.

At the launch in Cradock, I shared with everyone how I recall our country’s first Thuthuzelas being launched in 1999 – the same year I first came to the National Assembly as a Member of Parliament.

Over the past 25 years we’ve seen how South Africa has made significant strides on fighting the scourge which is GBVF.

We have increased the number of TCCs to 64 and we’ve put in place a wide range of other interventions to fight GBVF in all its forms. We have also rolled out policies and measures to limit the secondary trauma that survivors of GBVF are exposed to in the criminal justice system and to ensure that they receive the support services they need.

Some of these interventions include, amongst others, SAPS’ Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units, dedicated GBV desks which are available at police stations across the country and police officers who have been trained in victim empowerment, domestic violence and sexual offences related programs.

We have Sexual Offences Courts, which offer a range of services (court support, court preparation, emotional containment, trauma debriefing, counselling, private testifying service, intermediary services and information services.)

We also have a National Task Team on SOGIESC Matters and a National Intersectoral Committee to prevent and combat Trafficking in Persons.

First and foremost, if a country wants to prevent and combat GBVF, it needs a strong and responsive legislative framework. Legislation is vital in the fight against GBVF. But legislation on its own cannot solve the problem – proper implementation of the legislation is equally important.

Many of you will know that following the Total Shutdown movement in August 2018, the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Plan (the NSP) was produced to respond to the GBVF crisis, following the historic 2018 Presidential Summit.

The National Strategic Plan provides a multi-sectoral, coherent strategic policy to strengthen a coordinated national response to the crisis of GBVF by our government and the country as a whole.   In short, the NSP is South Africa’s roadmap to ending GBVF.

As part of these efforts, we passed new legislation aimed at strengthening efforts to end GBVF, with a victim-centred focus on combating this scourge.  President Ramaphosa assented to three important pieces of legislation, being the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Act.

These laws were aimed at tightening up and making existing laws more effective in the fight against GBVF.  We also needed to ensure that these laws are practical and enforceable. It was also necessary to ensure that the law adequately covers all aspects of GBVF and speaks to changing societal realities and needs.

In the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act we decided to expand the scope of the National Register for Sex Offenders to include the particulars of all sex offenders and not only sex offenders against children and persons who are mentally disabled.  
The Act also expands the list of persons who are to be protected to include other vulnerable persons, namely, certain young women, persons with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities and persons over 60 years of age who, for example, receive community-based care and support services.

The Act also increases the periods for which a sex offender’s particulars must remain on the NRSO before they can be removed from the Register and introduces a new offence of sexual intimidation. The Department will also be introducing an online NRSO application solution to ensure make these services more accessible.

The second important law is the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act which amends the Magistrates’ Courts Act to extend the appointment of intermediaries for witnesses in additional categories as well as providing for the giving of evidence through intermediaries in proceedings other than criminal proceedings.

Whenever we interact with civil society and with communities, there are always three important issues which arise when it comes to GBVF and on which persons have strong views - these are bail, parole and sentencing.

It was therefore important for us to amend the Criminal Procedure Act to further regulate the granting and cancellation of bail, to allow for the giving of evidence by means of closed-circuit television or similar electronic media and the right of a complainant in a domestic-related offence to participate in parole proceedings, and to further amend the Criminal Law Amendment Act to regulate sentences in respect of offences that have been committed against vulnerable persons.

Thirdly, the Domestic Violence Amendment Act Amends the Domestic Violence Act to address practical challenges, gaps and anomalies which have manifested since the Act came into operation in 1999.

Importantly, we wanted to highlight the fact that violence is not always physical, it can take other forms. That’s why the amended legislation includes new definitions, such as “controlling behaviour” and “coercive behaviour”, and expands existing definitions, such as “domestic violence”, to also include spiritual abuse, elder abuse and/or exposing/subjecting children to certain of listed behaviours. 

It also introduces online applications for protection orders and imposes obligations on functionaries in the Departments of Health and Social Development to provide certain services to victims of domestic violence.

According to the extended definition, a person in a close relationship who shares or shared the same residence with the victim has a domestic relationship with such victim. A close relationship is determined by the degree of trust between the victim and abuser, the level of dependence, the length of time of the relationship, etc. The parties need not be related.

We also wanted to ensure that people are compelled to act against domestic violence. For this reason, the law provides that any adult person has a legal obligation to report to a social worker or police officer their knowledge, belief or suspicion of an act of domestic violence perpetrated against a child, person with disability, or an older person.  

A failure to do so amounts to a punishable offence.

Furthermore, when it comes to protection orders, a functionary or any person who has a material interest in the wellbeing of the victim may apply for a protection order on behalf of the victim with a written consent of such victim, except where the victim is a child or the court is of the opinion that such victim is unable to provide the required consent.

In terms of the Act, as amended, a functionary is a medical practitioner, a health care personnel or an official in the employ of a public health establishment, a social worker, an educator, a caregiver and any person designated by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services as a functionary.

Any person who, in good faith, reports knowledge, reasonable belief or suspicion about an act of domestic violence against a child, a disabled person or an older person, is not liable to any civil, criminal or disciplinary action, unless such disclosure was made contrary to any law.

The identity of a functionary or person reporting the suspected abuse can be kept confidential, unless the interests of justice demand otherwise.

A Protection Order can be applied for by any person who is a victim of an act of domestic violence in a domestic relationship; or any child, i.e. any person under the age of 18 years, who is in the care of the direct victim. This child may be referred to as an indirect victim of an act of domestic violence.

Any child, who is a direct victim of an act of domestic violence may also apply for protection order with or without assistance of parent, guardian or any other person. Intermediary services may be provided to such child.

A functionary or any person who has a material interest in the wellbeing of the victim may apply for a protection on behalf of the victim with the written consent of the victim. This includes a relative, friend, employer, colleague, neighbour, and so forth.

With regards to sentencing, the new laws have brought about changes to sentencing in cases of domestic violence and femicide. This means that courts will now impose tougher sentences in cases involving the murder of children, as well as femicide, domestic murder and attempted murder.

Rape or compelled rape cases perpetrated in domestic relationships will attract life imprisonment, as well as the rape or compelled rape of a child under the age of 18 years. Gang and serial rape will attract a sentence of life imprisonment.

Tougher sentences will be imposed in cases of attempted murder and assault with the intention to cause grievous bodily harm against a victim in a domestic relationship with the accused. An abuser who is convicted of violation of protection order for a second or subsequent conviction, will be sentenced to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years.

We are confident that the legislative amendments will go a long way in the prevention and combating of GBVF in our country.

But, as I’ve mentioned, the law on its own is not enough. We need to strengthen our partnerships with civil society, with academia, with the business sector.

Here we think of the private sector who are assisting us in sponsoring Thuthuzela Care Centres.

We think of the great successes we are seeing in our 100 Days Challenges. The 100 Days Challenges that the End GBVF Collective organised in 2022, supported by the Ford Foundation, demonstrated that there were unprecedented levels of innovation and collaboration among organisations that participated.

The 100 Days Challenges are structured journeys led by our courts and municipalities designed to achieve dramatic results and justice system improvements towards responding to gender-based violence and femicide.

For example, in 2022, in eleven courts across South Africa the backlog of domestic violence protection orders was reduced by 98% - and this was done in 100 days.

But we do still have challenges. For example, we do have issues with non-functioning Court Recording Technology (CRTs) and Sexual Offences Systems (SOS) which cause delays in our courts. Addressing these problems remain high our on our agenda.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle we face as a nation is that of societal attitudes, patriarchy and toxic masculinity. These can only be addressed by us working together and bringing about the necessary change in our homes, in our schools and in our communities.

Finally, we need to ensure that there we, as government, have an open door and that we listen to suggestions made by legal practitioners, by our judiciary, by academia.

One such a matter is that of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in family law matters. Many of you may know that our Department recently issued a circular on the matter and that I recently met with a group of interested parties and stakeholders to discuss some of the challenges and concerns around the use of ADR, particularly in domestic violence matters.

Where there are aspects around family law which can be improved or changed, it is vital that we have discussions and debates around these.

And that is why conferences, such as this one, is so important.

I want to wish you all the best for the rest of the Conference and for very productive and fruitful discussions and deliberations.

In the Preamble to our Constitution it speaks of improving the quality of life and freeing the potential of each person. We cannot do that if there are women who are living in fear, in their own homes, children who are neglected or abused, parents who have to face court battle after court battle for maintenance.

These are the very people who look to the law for protection and all of us, here today, have the ability to help the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Let us do so.

I thank you.