When South Africa’s crime statistics were released late last month, one aspect of the figures that caused most scepticism was the idea that the rate of sexual offences has dropped. Not even the government believes that’s possible. On Monday, the Justice Department reported back on some of the challenges faced by those seeking to report or prosecute sexual offences, highlighting the fact that the criminal justice system still fails many victims. Maybe a good place for authorities to start would be by making it clear that they support women like Jennifer Ferguson, whose treatment has the potential to send an important public message. By REBECCA DAVIS.
“One would hope charges would be laid against Mr Jordaan so the law can take its course.” This was the response by Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffrey when asked for comment by Daily Maverick on the Danny Jordaan rape allegations on Monday.
Jeffrey is the first senior government figure to make any public comment on the accusations levelled by singer Jennifer Ferguson against former ANC MP and former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Danny Jordaan. Jeffrey was also put on the spot at a press conference dealing with sexual offences, where he could hardly say that the matter was not relevant.
The national ANC Women’s League has not said a word on the matter, although IOL reported on Monday that KwaZulu-Natal ANCWL spokesperson Nonhlanhla Msomi had stated that if the matter goes to court, “we as the Women’s League can assure [Ferguson] of our support”.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, meanwhile, was quoted as saying that the ruling party has not had any engagement with Jordaan over the allegations.
“We will wait for him and his attorney to address the matter privately before we ask him for an explanation,” Kodwa said. “It is a private matter that needs his devoted attention. But, at an opportune time, we will hear from him.”
The silence from government on rape accusations against as prominent a figure as Jordaan is at odds with the official rhetoric.
“We need to support the initiatives of women coming out if they’ve been violated, but equally build the courage for them to come forward and be protected,” Police Minister Fikile Mbalula stated on the release of crime statistics in October.
Any woman looking at Jennifer Ferguson’s experience thus far for inspiration in coming forward would see only a wall of silence from authorities, paired with an alleged attempt by Jordaan’s lawyers to dig up compromising information on Ferguson’s past to discredit her.
This is in stark contrast to the response elsewhere to figures accused of sexual assault arising from the #MeToo social media campaign.
Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was fired from his own company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Actor Kevin Spacey has been booted out by Netflix, and seen the premature end of his TV show House of Cards. UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was forced to resign over accusations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, while another two UK MPs from the Conservative and Labour Parties have been suspended pending inquiries.
Critically, all these actions took place without criminal charges being laid against the individuals in question – although such charges may still be laid – in countries where the regard for legal process and rule of law is generally considered to be in reasonable shape. As in Jordaan’s case, they have also involved allegations stretching two decades back or more.
This is because it is understood that, in a world where sexual offences are universally under-reported, it sends a powerful message to both victims and perpetrators for such allegations to be taken seriously. Sanctions in the form of workplace suspensions or investigations cannot replace legal consequences for potential wrongdoing, but at least they indicate an institutional unwillingness to tolerate sexual misconduct.
During Monday’s press conference on the Sexual Offences Act, Deputy Minister Jeffrey’s report-back on a national forum held to assess the efficiency of the act in bringing criminals to justice made it clear that the legal route for South African victims is still fraught with pitfalls.
The forum – attended by representatives from civil society, police, government, the health sector and more – heard that South Africa experiences “a lack of specific legal knowledge relating to sexual offences laws and procedures”; a lack of “basic skills in statement-taking and trial advocacy”, and “the absence of professional skills and sensitive attitudes towards victims on the part of some government officials tasked with managing sexual offences”.
Only between 8% and 9% of sexual offences reported to police in South Africa actually result in a conviction. Jeffrey pointed out that this “attrition rate” is not unique to South Africa, however, with a similar situation seen in the Netherlands.
Jefrrey also said that the under-reporting of sexual offences remained an ongoing concern.
“The recently released crime stats indicate that there were 49,660 reported sexual offences in South Africa in 2016/17,” Jordaan said. “The reported figure belies the true extent of sexual offences, with the real number estimated to be much higher. Suffice to say that the prevalence of sexual offences in South Africa remains unacceptably high.”
With conviction rates for sexual assault so low, it is not hard to see why many victims may consider it useless to report the crime. Add to that the potential trauma when dealing with insensitive and unskilled government employees, and the whole picture looks extremely uninviting.
If, in addition, powerful people and institutions outside the police and law close ranks to protect high-profile figures accused of a sexual offence – as appears to be the case with Danny Jordaan – it is downright miraculous that anyone comes forward to report rape at all.
In the instance of Jordaan, government has the opportunity to walk its talk. At the very least, a good start might be an ANC statement indicating that the party takes the allegations seriously – and supports the rights of alleged victims as well as alleged perpetrators. DM
Photo: A file picture dated 08 April 2010 shows Danny Jordaan, then the CEO of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa (SALOC), during a press conference in Johannesburg. Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA
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