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Public Protector releases damning report on authorities’ handling of gender-based violence complaints

Public Protector releases damning report on authorities’ handling of gender-based violence complaints
A gender-based violence protest outside Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa in 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Nardus Engelbrecht)

The departments of justice and social development and the police are not providing enough support to victims of gender-based violence, says the Public Protector in a report.

The Office of the Public Protector has released a damning report on the lack of support given to victims of gender-based violence (GBV) by the departments of justice and social development and the SAPS.

The Public Protector investigated 38 magistrates’ courts across SA.

The investigation was sparked by allegations that Altecia Kortje was turned away at the Bellville Magistrates’ Court in June 2020 when she tried to apply for a protection order. She and her daughter were later murdered.

On 18 June 2020, Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery asked the Public Protector (then Busisiwe Mkhwebane) to investigate the administrative challenges faced by GBV victims in the criminal justice system.

On Tuesday, the current Public Protector, Kholeka Gcaleka, presented her findings at the Bellville Magistrates’ Court.

Department of Justice 

The investigation found that the Department of Justice had not put adequate measures in place to protect GBV victims.

Some of the 38 court buildings were old and dilapidated. At others, there was inadequate office equipment, malfunctioning telephone lines, switchboards and air conditioners, and persistent network problems.

The courts did not have a functional Integrated Case Management System (ICMS). “The ICMS is mostly inaccessible or very slow due to network challenges, for example at magistrates’ courts in Umlazi, Umbumbulu, Mamelodi, Mzumbe and Ndwedwe,” the report read.

There were no private or insufficient consultation rooms for victims.

Most courts did not have proper filing systems and spaces. “This was evidenced by files scattered on the floor at Mamelodi, Pretoria, Palm Ridge, Vereeniging, Johannesburg, Bellville and files kept in police cells at Ga-Rankuwa,” Gcaleka said.

She said the Department of Justice must, within seven months, provide her with a detailed project plan for the renovation of the courts, with turnaround times, targets and deliverables indicating how buildings and information and communications technology will be upgraded.

SAPS

Gcaleka said the SAPS did not have adequate measures in place to respond to incidents of GBV.

Some police stations, especially in rural areas, did not have victim-friendly rooms and GBV victims were subjected to crowded SAPS stations. According to the SAPS, 1,019 police stations have victim-friendly rooms and 141 police stations do not.

The investigation found that some SAPS officials were reluctant to register GBV cases.

They failed to inform the victims of their right to institute criminal action.

“The information before me indicates that in some instances, there are delays by the SAPS to respond to scenes of domestic violence and/or provide assistance to victims, with the SAPS citing that they do not have enough vehicles at their respective stations to respond,” Gcaleka said.

She said that within six months, the SAPS must conduct training for its members, “focusing on gender sensitivity, the seriousness of GBV and its impact on victims and the society at large and the practical application of the Domestic Violence Act”.

Department of Social Development

The investigation found that the Department of Social Development (DSD) did not have enough shelters to cater for GBV victims. The Gender-Based Violence Command Centre and Everyday Heroes Programme — key prevention and support programmes implemented by the DSD — do not have sufficient staff and there is a lack of collaboration between the DSD and SAPS in providing support services to GBV victims such as trauma counselling, referral to shelters and health services.

Gcaleka said that within six months, the DSD must submit a detailed project plan to determine the staff needs of the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre and develop a plan with clear timelines.

“To the Kortje family,” Gcaleka said, “we know that this report will not bring back your daughter, mother or sister. But the road she travelled to this very court was not in vain. It has assisted many victims of gender-based violence by highlighting their plight.” 

Jeffery said the department welcomed the report’s findings and remedial measures. DM

First published by GroundUp.


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