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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Hon JH Jeffery, MP at the Opening of the Chatsworth Magistrates Court, Chatworth, KwaZulu-Natal, 19 April 2024

Opening of the Chatsworth Magistrates Court, Chatworth, KwaZulu-Natal, 19 April 2024

Programme Directors,
The Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure,
The Deputy Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture,
The Acting Deputy Judge President of the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court,
The Acting Regional Court President,
Ms Govender, Member of the KZN Legislature and the public representative of the Chatsworth Parliamentary Constituency Office,
Member of the Executive Committee of Ethekwini Metro, Cllr Madlala,
Officials from various government departments and from the JCPS cluster,
Members of the community,
Friends and guests,

It is my pleasure to be back here in Chatsworth and to be able to be part of these proceedings.

As you know, I’ve been to Chatsworth on many occasions in the past and our Department has walked a long road with the Chatsworth community.

We know that drugs and drug abuse has been a big concern of the community over the past few years.

In 2019 we participated in a drug awareness community session in partnership with the Anti-Drug Forum.  An important focus of our interactions on that day was how we could, from the side of Government, assist the community of Chatsworth in eradicating drug abuse and assisting in restoring Chatsworth to be a drug free zone.

I recall that, at the event, the National Prosecuting Authority and the judiciary also explained to the community how the bail process works.

Our Provincial Office held follow-up meeting with stakeholders in Chatsworth in March 2019 to discuss the issues with all stakeholders and our Department requested to form part of the Local Drug Action Committee. 

SAPS had indicated that they had specialised units to deal with the issues of drugs and the Department of Social Development also advised on the services available at the two Rehabilitation Facilities in KwaZulu-Natal.

I also recall attending a follow up event in December 2019 at the AFM Church in Chatsworth that was attended by approximately 250 people, inclusive of all stakeholders and members of the community.

This community dialogue session also addressed concerns around the proliferation of drugs and substance abuse in the area of Chatsworth as well as addressing ways to try and combat the scourge of gender-based violence.

I have had a look at the annual crime stats – the latest annual ones being for 2022/23. And we are pleased to see that, when one looks at the figures over a ten-year period, the number of drug related crimes in Chatsworth has dropped by a significant 33,7%.

I have also read about the recent undercover operation by the Hawks, together with Crime Intelligence and Durban Metro Police which has resulted in the arrest of six men for dealing drugs in Chatsworth.

These successes are, no doubt, due to all the work that is being done by the SAPS, by the other criminal justice stakeholders, by the Metro and by the community itself.

Our Department has also been involved in the community in other ways. In July 2020, the Provincial Office participated in the Chatsworth Edu Fair Exhibition where we raised awareness among learners on various pieces of legislation.

In 2021, as part of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, the Chatsworth court staff advised community members on how to apply for domestic violence protection orders and in 2022, staff partnered with Chatsworth’s Child Welfare to provide gifts for foster care children.

Last year the Chatsworth court officials, together with different NGOs, with Legal Aid SA and with the Department of Social Development hosted advice desks during the 16 Days of Activism, providing information to the public about various services they render.  Our Department’s Provincial Office conducted an awareness session on maintenance with the local community members, explaining to them the functioning of the maintenance courts and how to apply for maintenance.

Why am I mentioning these interactions? I am referring to them to because, as part of all these various interactions that we have had with the community, we always promised that we would provide new court facilities – and we have made good on that promise.

Today we can proudly stand here to open this new high-security court complex which boasts 7 new court rooms, being three District Courts, a Family Court, a Regional Court, an Equality Court and a Sexual Offences Court.

The Sexual Offences Court is important. With the unabated increase of sexual violence in the country, the court system has to be responsive and more accessible to survivors of sex crimes so as to increase reporting and the use of the courts, while reducing the withdrawal rate by complainants in these cases.

For those who may not necessarily be familiar with our Sexual Offences Courts, these are specialised courts which have to meet certain strict requirements in order to be a Sexual Offences Court.

It has a number of infrastructural measures and support services which make it easier and less traumatic for victims of sexual offences, such as separate waiting rooms and other measures which mean that the victim will not have to come face-to-face with the perpetrator.

We are also pleased to see that the number of reported sexual offences in Chatsworth is down by 20%.

A lot of what we do aims to make court processes easier for those who have to appear in court.

A new piece of legislation, called the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act, also recognizes the use of ad hoc intermediaries at criminal and non-criminal proceedings.  

Intermediary services were limited to child witnesses and persons with mental disabilities, but are now available to older persons, as well as witnesses, who suffer from a physical, psychological, mental or emotional condition and our Department is employing additional ad hoc intermediaries to appear at criminal and civil proceedings.

Programme Directors,

Today’s event bears testimony to the fruitful strides the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has made in the fulfilment of its commitment to broaden access to justice through infrastructure development in underserviced and previously marginalised areas.

The court was refurbished by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure as part of its core mandate to build and allocate strategic infrastructure for client Departments to provide essential services to the public.

These new facilities ensure better access to justice services for communities.  It means better service delivery and greater assistance to those who need it.

And it’s extremely important that members of the Chatsworth community are aware of the justice services and other services available to them at the court and by the various stakeholders. That is why we need to continuously raise community awareness.

The community needs to know where to go for their child maintenance matters, where to go if they want to register a case in the Equality Court and what the Equality Court does.

They need to know that if they have a dispute where they have a claim against another person and that claim is no more than R20 000 they can bring their dispute to the Small Claims Court here.  

In the 2023/24the Small Claims Court here registered 101 matters, so that’s 101 claimants who did not need to go and see and pay an attorney to help them, they were able to bring their case here, free of charge.

As April is the month in which we celebrate Freedom Month, we think back and we honour all those who have made enormous sacrifices for the freedom we enjoy today.

And we need to reflect on what part we are playing to ensure and guarantee the freedom, equality and human dignity of others.

Here one often thinks of the words of the late President Mandela who once said that, and I quote -
“As a young man I decided to study the law with a view to using what little talent I had in the service of justice and the cause of my people. Like many before me and those of my generation. I entered legal practice with a determination to employ my skills and training to at least alleviate the suffering of the oppressed.”

Let all of us, the lawyers and those who are not lawyers, use this court, use our time and our efforts to assist others and to alleviate the suffering of those we are able to help – whether it is a woman applying for a domestic violence protection order, or someone trying to claim child maintenance, or a person who comes to court to have their matter adjudicated.
Let all of us use our skills and our training to help better the lives of others and to assist the community.

I thank you.