As part of marking the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) held a march in Pretoria on Friday, 27 November.
The march highlighted how various actors within the criminal justice system – from the police, investigating officers, magistrates, prosecutors, magistrates ,judges and others – often fail gender-based violence (GBV) survivors so compromising the justice and security they deserve and putting their lives at risk.
POWA is a feminist organisation that promotes and protects the rights of women and girls. Its work includes supporting GBV survivors who experience secondary victimisation from the criminal justice system. It also provides ongoing care and support including sheltering of survivors and empowerment of survivors to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.
In line with COVID-19 regulations, around 500 participants took part in the march. They included POWA staff, GBV survivors, members of the public and the media as well as stakeholders from clinics, victim empowerment centres, women and children organisations and other institutions POWA works with.
During the march, Mary Makgaba, the CEO of POWA, handed over a memorandum on behalf of POWA to Minister of Police, Minister Bheki Cele at the Silverton Police Station and then handed a memorandum to the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Advocate Shamila Batohi at the National Prosecuting Authority. “I am honoured to handover these memorandums to you as part of POWA’s efforts to reduce and address the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF),” she said. “She further added that it really needs a collective effort and a holistic approach to deal with the scourge of GBVF and government alone cannot manage this second pandemic.”
The memorandum focuses on the following issues being addressed urgently: Lack of feedback on the progress of cases, delay on arrest/no arrest at all for perpetrators, once a case is opened, there is no follow up, secondary victimisation of survivors, police referring GBV cases to be dealt with by families at home as well as poor attitudes by some SAPS members.
In the memorandum, were the following demands from POWA, which included, but weren’t limited to, police offering support services for transportation of survivors to hospital and shelters, placement of well-trained staff to deal with GBV survivors at the SAPS and stopping mediation by the SAPS between perpetrators and survivors.
Speaking at the handover of the memorandum, Minister Cele said: “I offer myself to be part of this war, together with the organisation I lead. I want to have dedicated desks at police stations to deal with GBV cases.” Additionally, Minister Cele highlighted the importance of families not forcing GBV survivors to withdraw cases. “Families don’t support perpetrators, support survivors.”
He noted that it isn’t the duty of police to tell GBV survivors to negotiate with perpetrators and added that proper feedback on the progress of cases is of the upmost importance. Minister Cele also highlighted the need of working towards ensuring economic justice for women so they are less likely to go back to perpetrators and offered every support to POWA in its work to respond to our GBV crisis.
The memorandum to Advocate Shamila Batohi included, among others, demands such as calling on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to drastically reduce the life cycle of cases to minimise trauma experienced by survivors, to consistently provide court preparation for survivors of GBV and to never give parole or bail to perpetrators of GBVF.
While the South African Constitution states that perpetrators have the right to bail and parole, POWA feels that this should be reconsidered, taking into account the extremely high rate of GBVF in South Africa.
Speaking at the handover of the memorandum, Advocate Batohi highlighted the importance that the NPA places on addressing violence against women and children. “What is going on in South Africa?”, she said. “Every day, women and children are being abused in the most unspeakable ways. We take your demands seriously and we commit to doing whatever we can to ensure women and children receive the justice they deserve.”
In her speech, Advocate Batohi said in order to ensure GBVF crimes are not committed, it is important that the criminal justice system does more, but it’s also important to teach values to learn how to better treat people. “We need to ensure that patriarchal norms and cultural values that promote violence against women and children are attacked,” she said.
Handing over these memorandums is a step towards assisting POWA in its work to better support GBV survivors. POWA social workers and social auxiliary workers regularly assist survivors facing secondary victimisation from our police and courts. The cases of GBV survivors are often not treated with the urgency and due diligence they require. Police regularly take too long to investigate GBVF cases and arrest perpetrators.
Nomkhosi Xulu, a social worker at POWA’s Vosloorus office, says many survivors don’t get adequate assistance when reporting GBV cases at most police stations. “In some domestic violence cases, police tell the survivor that it is a family matter and that she should go home and sort it out with her partner,” explains Xulu. “In cases where a protection order has been issued, police officers often tell a survivor to submit the protection order to her abuser. However, this goes against South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act which states that it’s the responsibility of police officers to hand over protection orders and summons for court appearance to perpetrators. In cases of grievous bodily harm or rape, police should arrest perpetrators but often don’t.”
Xulu adds that in some cases police officers don’t take working on GBV cases seriously. The reason could be that they could possibly be GBV perpetrators themselves. “A solution could be that police officers be continuously vetted and trained on GBV related-matters and if found with a record of perpetuating GBV, they shouldn’t be allowed to assist survivors,” says Xulu. “How can one lead the fight against GBV if you’re a perpetrator of it yourself?” There also needs to be greater punishment for law enforcement officials who violate regulations for their own personal benefits, for example, by accepting bribes from perpetrators.”
POWA’s march on 27 November was about calling for our criminal justice system to work with greater commitment, compassion and professionalism when dealing with cases of GBVF as part of addressing this scourge in our country.