Women and children last

2009-01-28 00:00

During the 2007/2008 financial year crimes against women and children, exclusive of murder and rape, represented more than 200 000 cases lodged with the South African Police Service (Saps). These crimes go massively under-reported and, to a large degree, take place within the domestic context. The Saps needs to address the problem of under-reporting and its capacity to efficiently process these cases as the social problems that contribute to domestic violence and abuse will not disappear overnight.

In October 2007, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) released a report to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security in which it was revealed that 60% of police stations are not compliant with the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) and the act on Domestic Violence National Instruction (DVNI) — the very legislation that is supposed to keep people safe in their homes.

The ICD surveyed 116 police stations across all nine provinces and found that in KwaZulu-Natal and North West Province, 100% of them did not comply with the relevant legislation. The overriding cause of the problem is that an insufficient number of SAPS members are trained on the DVA, indicating that we have a police force that is simply not trained to deal with the realities of domestic violence in South Africa today.

Despite reports from the SAPS national head office to the contrary, the lack of urgency higher up in the ranks is evident for neither are the processing of domestic violence cases and the implementation of the DVA being properly managed, nor are the necessary personnel in place. Without these critical components, costly public awareness programmes such as the 16 Days of Activism on Violence against Women and Children will achieve little.

Under the discredited national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, the SAPS, in its presentations to Parliament, attempted to depict police station compliance as very good, but this was disputed by the ICD’s figures. When an explanation was requested by Democratic Alliance Safety and Security spokesperson Dianne Kohler Barnard, MP, during a particular meeting, the SAPS were unable to properly account for this and Selebi cut the presentation short.

Later replies to parliamentary questions showed a clear mismatch between the number of police officers who have been charged with non-compliance with the DVA and the results of the ICD’s police station visits. This made it clear that the SAPS would not act on the damning evidence.

Only 38 police officers had been charged with non-compliance, of which only one member was dismissed, while another dismissal was suspended for six months. In contrast, the ICD reported 167 individual cases of SAPS non-compliance for the 18-month period from January 2006 to July 2007, the bulk of which were due to members failing to carry out an arrest. In turn, the latest ICD report on DVA compliance released in June 2008 showed the level of non-compliance to have increased from 60% to 65% of all police stations surveyed.

The DVA is now a decade old. South Africans can therefore rightly ask: how long will it take for the government to implement this legislation to keep women and children safe from abuse and violence in their homes? Civil society may step in where the government is failing, to support victims by informing them of their legal rights and assistive resources that are available in their area. Victims may benefit from the emotional support, referral assistance and counselling and assistance with the completion of documents and legal processes. But this will not counter the lack of accountability and service delivery that we see from the government today, especially in the fight against crime.

The SAPS needs to give a clear indication to victims of domestic violence that their plight is taken seriously and that everything possible will be done to assist them, including proper training of its officers and the full implementation of the necessary legislation.

Alternative policies are clearly also needed. The first is that the government must re-establish the specialised crime unit that is supposed to deal with domestic violence and abuse. Using focused and relevant decentralised crime com- bating units is the only way to deal with specific problems such as domestic violence and abuse. These units have worked before and they can work again.

The wider the ICD has been able to cast the net of inspection over the past few years, the greater the levels of non-compliance have been shown to be. But the ICD is hamstrung by a lack of capacity in funding to ensure greater coverage of its inspections and to ensure better compliance by the SAPS. The under-resourced ICD must therefore be made more authoritative, independent and efficient, with additional funds and capacity.

Finally, we need the government to establish a fund to support the victims of crime so that those whose lives have been torn asunder by crimes such as domestic violence can gain access to resources with which to build a brighter future.

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