#RememberKhwezi! Re-establish the Sexual Offences Courts … now!

“I’m one in 3,” one placard read, referring to a claim that one in three women in South Africa will be raped in her lifetime. “10 years later”, “Khanga” and “Remember Khwezi”. Rape trials don’t ever go away for those who are the complainants. They don’t go away for those who are the family and loved ones of the survivor, and for many in the criminal justice system, they also suffer vicarious trauma. Trials are hard. They take their toll. The silver bullet solution in rape cases is re establishing the so-called Sexual Offences Courts. Sexual Offences Courts are designed to deliver survivor-centred justice with specialised services, specialised infrastructure and specialised personnel.

The idea is simple enough. Take every single link in the criminal justice system affecting rape survivors and make sure it holds the survivor in the system. From the very first report, through meeting the detective, to the first interview with the prosecutor. Make sure everyone is trained in all the special laws and processes you need to implement to get the rape kit, and survivor, the accused and the other evidence and witnesses in court. Make sure the magistrate and prosecutor know not just about the rules, but how trauma affects witnesses. Children testify through CCTV cameras and an intermediary, and don’t have to look at the accused, or deal with inappropriate questions from the defence attorney. Keep the survivor functioning and in their job, taking care of their kids, making sure counseling is available when and where they need it. Prevention of STIs, and pregnancy.

The Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters (MATTSO) released the Report on the Re-establishment of the Sexual Offences Courts by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offences Matters (MATTSO) in 2013,which recommended the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts.

This report led to important amendments to the Act, being the insertion of a section which authorises the Minister to designate certain courts to exclusively hear sexual offences matters. This set of amendments has yet to be brought into operation. A set of regulations has been drafted in accordance with the amendment of the Act. These regulations have been distributed for input in 2015, but no final version has been promulgated yet. 43 Sexual Offences Courts have been established ahead of the legislation coming into operation, according to the Department of Justice.

Many people have no idea Sexual Offences Courts exist, and certainly no idea how the rules are different in that court. So they don’t monitor how the courts are functioning. They do need to monitor them, as in any complex system requires monitoring by people who know what’s going on. But this is a process that involves survivors of violence who are often reluctant participants in the process. They don’t want to be reminded of the events that have led them there, and they don’t want to relive them. They don’t want to answer questions about where they were, and why, and how sober they were, and whether they were ‘friendly’ with the accused. Monitoring whether the court is being run properly is well beyond what can be asked of them.

It’s also, startlingly enough, beyond organisations that are specialists in the area, and that’s because we don’t actually know what the absolute requirements are for such a Court. The principles are clear – specialised services, specialised infrastructure and specialised personnel. However, getting all three working together requires inter sectoral co operation between the Department of Justice, the National Prosecution Authority, and the magistrates.

Without the framing law in place, its harder than herding cats. We have Tutuzela Care Centres, which are a one-stop shop for reporting sexual offences. Doctors, police, and counselors are all there as first responders. We have courts that have the right infrastructure, and we have courts that have specially trained prosecutors. There are also magistrates who work in specialized courts, although they tend not to have a list of cases, which are only sexual offences. What we don’t have is a clear picture of where this is all happening at the same time. So it’s possible to have a court with a specialised prosecutor, but not the right infrastructure. Or a Tutuzela Care Centre with no sexual offences court.

It may be for those who monitor the courts to come up with some rule of thumb, which allows civil society to declare which courts are in fact sexual offences courts. Like free and fair elections, the ones who are outside the system are well placed to observe the successes and failings of the system. Civil society will be launching a campaign this week to hold the state to account on their promises. But ultimately, a high degree of awareness of the rules, and a high degree of compliance is always part of a system working well, and we need to establish those rules before we can say the sexual offences courts are the criminal equivalent of free and fair.

Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference for Khwezi. But it might well have. There is enough evidence of better conviction rates in those courts, and lower secondary and vicarious trauma to make it worth continuing to work, link by link, to make that chain of conviction work. #rememberkhwezi

(A slightly different version of this article first appeared at The Daily Maverick. Thanks to Alison Tilley for sharing this here.)

(Photo Credit: Greg Nicolson / The Daily Maverick) (Image Credit: Twitter / Lady $kollie)

Delusions, madness, and statistics


I give you the fifth edition of the Development Indicators that were approved by the South African Cabinet in March 2012, published by the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, published on the Presidency’s website.

According to which South Africa’s conviction rate for rape was 71.7% in 2011.

On whose planet? In which universe? What drugs haves these guys been mainlining? Have they being playing a lot of contact sports recently, without helmets? Did someone steal the calculators, again? Can we please stop smoking the aspadistras?

Lilly Artz from the University of Cape Town says that in South Africa, rape has one of the lowest conviction rates of all serious crimes, with research indicating that only about ten per cent of reported rapes receive guilty verdicts (SALC 1999). The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development figures also show that of more than 54 000 cases of rape reported in 1998, fewer than seven per cent were prosecuted.

Of course, they just don’t prosecute unless chances of a conviction are pretty good. But the basis on which the Presidency is planning is that 71.7% of rapes resulted in conviction.  I see.

I have to go and lie down now, in a darkened room.


(Photo Credit: On Being / DFID / Flickr)

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa, and we went down to hear a friend of mine speak at a local event. It was faintly cheering: we got to sing Malibongwe, which is the one struggle song white people can actually sing. There was clapping, and a bit of praying, which went down well. We then settled in for a desperately dull morning, in which we all bemoaned the general state of women in South Africa, and the wave, torrent, oh all right, tsunami of violence that is unleashed on us every day.


Yes, we agreed, we are dying. In fact, more than we can count, because the statistics are so unhelpful, given the level of underreporting of rape. Yes, we agreed, it’s very bad. We must fight patriarchy. We nodded our heads. Yes, indeed we must.

And speaker after speaker belaboured this, as though we had just woken up, and decided to talk about this for the first time. Lordy, it was dull. Except for one moment, one interesting electrifying moment. A woman academic, and feminist, and part of the national Commission on Gender Equality said, in one of the tightest, most frustrated voices I have ever heard, ‘We should go and stop the traffic. We should go to the nearest national road, and protest, and stop the traffic.”

And the hall of women groaned and rumbled, and it seemed like for a moment, for a flicker of time, that they would rise up as one and march, limping and dancing, out into the streets and burn things, and break things, and generally get seriously out of hand. It seemed to me that this wave of the possible reached her across the stage and she caught herself, aware of her responsibilities, and said, ‘No, not that I am suggesting violence or anything. But we must do something.’

The hall settled back down. We went to lunch. But that thought spoken aloud is still ringing in my ears.


(Photo Credit: http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/)

So we were sitting around

So we were sitting around, chatting about stuff, and the conversation turned to crime, as it does, and my colleague mentioned a rape involving a number of policemen which had apparently taken place recently. She couldn’t recall how many policemen had been involved so I googled for more information, as one does, using “policeman rape za” as my search terms.

Well, I had to read quite a bit to get to the one my colleague meant, as the search threw up several news media links, hours or days old. There was one article on timeslive.co.za by journalist Philani Nombembe, which usefully summarized the most current cases – a 28-year-old constable based at Touwsriver police station was charged with rape 3 days ago. Last week a 41-year-old policeman appeared in the Paarl Magistrate’s Court charged with raping a 14-year-old girl on a number of occasions in April. The warrant officer is said to be a priest.In Gauteng, a 30-year-old constable was arrested in Vereeniging for allegedly kidnapping and raping a 13-year-old girl on July 2.A 46-year-old police captain appeared in the Worcester Magistrate’s Court charged with raping a woman in a police vehicle in June.Another policeman appeared yesterday in the Randburg Regional Court, in Johannesburg, to be charge for a string of crimes, including 14 of rape.In addition to the reports in the timeslive article, a former Melkbos police station commander was found guilty a month ago of raping a woman and sexually assaulting another while both were in custody.

Did I miss something? Was there some kind of order that was misconstrued? Has the police force lost its collective mind? Did some important politician say something about rape being ok? (OK, never mind that one.) Do their communications people not realize that after Marikana the SAPS have what might be termed ‘reputational issues’? Which can only be exacerbated by the apparent silence of the cops on this phenomenon?

The SAPS Twitter feed is silent on the issue for the last three days, and doesn’t mention these cases either in that time. An oversight? In terms of media releases, the Minister did commend the police for catching a rape suspect in KZN two days ago, who is described as someone ‘who has been committing various murder and rape crimes around the Tongaat area.’ I assume the suspect isn’t a cop, as nothing is mentioned about this plague of biblical proportions which has hit our police services. Can someone comment on these startling events? Or is my worst suspicion true – there’s no comment because it isn’t news, just business as usual?


(Photo Credit: Gallo Images / Thinkstock /Times)