Mandy Wiener: How the criminal justice system failed Tazne

Angry residents protest outside the Goodwood Magistrate's Court on Friday where Tazne van Wyk's alleged murderer Moyhdine Pangarker appeared.
Angry residents protest outside the Goodwood Magistrate's Court on Friday where Tazne van Wyk's alleged murderer Moyhdine Pangarker appeared.
Aljoscha Kohlstock, News24

It's evident that authorities released him into society before he should have been and that once he was released, they lost track of his whereabouts. Sadly, this story is not unique, writes Mandy Wiener

Tazne van Wyk wanted to work at Shoprite because "there were so many chocolates there".

According to an interview her father did with Rapport newspaper, she also didn't want to go to school where there were gangsters.

She was eager to learn and was a born leader.

On Thursday last week, her partially decomposed body was found in a drainpipe in Worcester. She had been missing for two weeks. She was just eight-years-old.

Tazne van Wyk is the victim of a criminal justice system that has failed women and girls because it is porous.

Sexual offenders responsible for abusing, raping and murdering are being released on parole before completing their full jail terms.

In standard cases, prisoners can apply for parole after serving one half of their sentence.

This is not always the case.

An offender sentenced to life in prison must serve 25 years before parole can be considered and referred back to the original court for approval.

The court may make a ruling that two-thirds of a sentence may be served instead of four-fifths.

It also depends on when the prisoner was sentenced because an amendment to the Act was passed in 1997.

It's a complicated issue which is often misinterpreted.

The man who allegedly abducted and murdered Tazne had a criminal record as long as his arm.

According to reports, Moyhdine Pangarker, 54, abducted his own son from his mother's house in Ladismith in the Karoo in 2001 and beat him so badly that he died.

Pangarker was found guilty of culpable homicide and kidnapping.

He served eight years of a 10-year-sentence before being released on parole in 2016.

Instead of staying in Ladismith for the duration of his parole as instructed, he vanished to Elsies River in Cape Town.

It's evident that authorities released him into society before he should have been and that once he was released, they lost track of his whereabouts.

Sadly, this story is not unique.

There are numerous examples of sex offenders and violent criminals being released early on parole only for them to repeat offend.

The system is overburdened and stretched, correctional facilities are full and something has to give.

But at what cost?

Tazne's story has grabbed the attention of the media and the public and rightly so. On Monday morning both the Cape Times and the Cape Argus led with stories about the community’s rage and protests against what had happened.

The brothel in Parow where she was allegedly held was torched.

Protesters marched on the court in Goodwood.

It is this volatile climate that leads to vigilantism as the community takes the law into their own hands. The rule of law collapses. Who can blame them when the system repeatedly fails them?

In his State of the Nation address this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa made promises to broaden the categories of sex offenders and to pass laws tightening bail and sentencing conditions in cases that involve gender-based violence.

These promises, and others that have previously been made by government, need to be carried out in practice.

We need to blast a spotlight on parole boards and how they are functioning.

We need to interrogate whether victims and communities are being properly consulted and involved in the process.

We know from the victims of tennis star Bob Hewitt, who have means and access to the media, that this is not the case.

One can only imagine what happens in cases where victims do not have the luxury or benefit of good lawyers and media attention.

We also need to scrutinise what is being done within the prisons system to rehabilitate criminals and whether proper psychological evaluations are being done on offenders before they are released back into society.

Activists are calling for the law to be changed so that sex offenders are not even eligible for parole and that they serve their full sentences. This decision needs to be properly considered, within the context of the constitution of our democracy.

In addition, we also need to ensure that once released, the whereabouts of known sex offenders are closely monitored.

It is simply unacceptable that they be allowed to disappear into communities where they pose a very real threat to potential victims.

As a country, we have emerged from a debilitating, crippling period of governance which saw the criminal justice system being slowly eroded and eviscerated.

Coupled with an alarming level of violent crime, this means that the system from the SAPS to the NPA to Correctional Services, is simply not able to cope optimally as we expect it to.

We have to vastly improve the system and that can only be done by improving capacity and expertise.

It means recruiting and remunerating good, capable police officers. It means boosting capacity at the NPA as is now being attempted through the Aspirant Prosecutors Programme.

Correctional Services must also ensure that the right people are sitting on Parole Boards. Each prison across the country has its own board that decides on applications.

It usually includes the head of the prison or the deputy head, a community member and social workers.

The board absolutely must consider the victims when making its decision.

The law clearly states that "where a complainant or relative is entitled in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, to make representations or wishes to attend a meeting of a board, the national commissioner must inform the board in question accordingly and that board must inform the complainant or relative in writing when and to whom he or she may make representations and when and where a meeting will take place".

South Africans' confidence in the criminal justice system is disappointingly low.

There is great attention and expectation around whether those responsible for complex commercial crimes involving state capture will be prosecuted and convicted.

But before we even get there, we need to do the basics right.

We need to keep violent criminals off the streets where they cannot re-offend if they have not been rehabilitated.

Justice needs to be done but it also needs to be seen to be done.

And in the case of Tazne van Wyk and others who have been the victims of repeat offenders, justice has definitely not been done.

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