Opinionista Khadija Bawa 26 August 2019

The police and courts have failed the women of Khayelitsha

Five years after the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry’s report was released, those with power still refuse to listen and act on its recommendations. This has dire implications for survivors of gender-based violence in the area.

The month of August is always filled with promises and campaigns by all branches of government to honour and serve women living in South Africa. But when it comes to implementing policy and recommendations that seek to protect and provide justice for women, the political will is never there.

This August, it is important to highlight that for women and survivors of gender-based violence living in South Africa, justice, whether from the police or the courts, is yet to come. In Khayelitsha, women have engaged with communities and state actors to ensure an informed and accountable justice system. But five years after the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry’s report was released, those with power still refuse to listen and act.

Criminologist Dr Andrew Faull recently cited South African Police Service (SAPS) statistics stating that in 2017/18 only 22% of murders were related to gang activities. When combined, categories such as “arguments”, “domestic violence” and “relation/revenge”, make up 23% of murders.

One of the core themes from the commission was that women in Khayelitsha were unsafe (as is the case all across South Africa) because they have consistently been let down by the SAPS and the courts.

In oral testimony to the commission, Professor Lillian Artz, at the time from the Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit at UCT, testified that obtaining accurate prevalence rates of domestic violence was a challenge. One of the reasons for this was the massive under-reporting of cases of domestic violence. Additionally, the police tend to refer domestic violence cases directly to a magistrate’s court without recording them as domestic violence cases. The inconsistent recording of domestic violence complaints by the police, the commission found, happened at all three of the police stations in Khayelitsha.

The commission recommended that all SAPS members at the three police stations engaged in visible policing or detective work should attend a domestic violence training course, incorporating training on the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), the National Instruction, investigation skills for offences involving domestic violence, the services of protection orders and the treatment of especially vulnerable complainants.

A report by the Western Cape Department of Community Safety in March 2018 revealed that these training courses had not been provided or attended. The report noted that 85% of SAPS officers in Lingelethu West, 78% in Harare and 51% in Khayelitsha (Site B) had not attended the five-day DVA training course.

The Khayelitsha Police Cluster comprises eight police precincts (Gordons Bay, Lwandle, Somerset West, Macassar, Strand and the three police stations in Khayelitsha). The cluster has been without a cluster commander since the departure of Major-General Johan Brandt in August 2018.

The SAPS has not only failed women in Khayelitsha in their unwillingness to learn and implement the Domestic Violence Act. The SAPS has also failed all women in South Africa by not creating more Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) units. Apart from dealing with domestic violence, FCS units are integral in the reporting and investigation of sexual offences and crimes against children.

FCS units have forensic social workers who focus on crimes against children (including sexual crimes), and cyber-crime personnel who focus on child pornography cases. Before the release of the report in 2014, there was only one FCS unit in the Khayelitsha cluster. The commission noted this failure and recommended that an FCS unit should be stationed at each of the three Khayelitsha precincts. This has not happened and one FCS unit at the Khayelitsha Site B police station still serves eight police precincts.

According to the SAPS 2017/2018 annual report, there are only six FCS units across the Western Cape. There are victim-friendly rooms in 150 police stations across the Western Cape, but often these rooms are simply a demarcated yet still open part of the precinct. Victim-friendly rooms are not staffed with personnel from the FCS units, and people who have just faced violence and trauma often have long waits for a member from FCS units to be called to the police station where they have reported the crime. The failure of the national government to act on this recommendation has left women in Khayelitsha without ready access to the important services that the FCS units provide.

Khayelitsha also has no designated Sexual Offences Court. Regional courts have been upgraded to hear sexual offences cases, but these courts are often overburdened and under-resourced.

For victims of sexual assault living in Khayelitsha, the closest court that specialises in sexual offences is a hybrid court in Mitchells Plain. This means that residents of Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha have to be accommodated by a court that only meets some of the requirements of a Sexual Offences Court.

While some who live in dangerous communities across Cape Town are rejoicing at the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), let us not forget that the war against women has repeatedly been ignored and not prioritised. Resourced, informed and responsive policing is essential to make private and public spaces safer for women. The women of Khayelitsha (one of South Africa’s largest townships) are not receiving adequate and effective services from the police and court systems.

At a crime summit in Paarl 1n July 2019, Police Minister Bheki Cele said he looked forward to finding creative solutions with communities to solve crime problem. Campaigns by non-profit organisations including the Rape Crisis Centre and the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry have found some of these solutions – why are Cele and the national Department of Police not implementing them? DM

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