Lockdown: Child abuse advocacy group halts its court monitoring and media engagements

The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
Elna Schütz, GroundUp

Advocacy group Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) has halted its court monitoring and media engagement owing to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Founding manager Miranda Jordan promised that they will continue supporting families of victims by reaching out to prosecutors and investigating officers who have information regarding new dates after postponements.

"We respect and are observing the measures put into place to ensure the nation is not disastrously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic," said Jordan.

She said the essential part of their work included court attendance and monitoring of cases.

"Through this, we are able to offer support to victims and their families, as well as to introduce the stories, that through trend identification from out statistics, are not individualised but reflect the realities in our communities, through the media.

"The aim of our advocacy efforts is to strengthen the child protection system. As an activist group, we take on a range of factors that impact children and work to keep the focus on the needs of the beneficiaries. 

"Our advocacy is informed by findings at our clinics in the form of trend identification as well as findings that emerge from ongoing cases involving crimes against children," Jordan said.

Courts closed to the public

 In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared South Africa's courts will only be open for bail applications and postponements. 

These proceedings will not be open to the public. 

Jordan said WMACA is consequently excluded and cannot represent "the interest of society" in courts on any matters.

Among cases that WMACA are following include Jean van Loggerenberg, who appeared in the Kempton Park Magistrate's Court on charges of possession of child pornography. 

The accused was serving a five-year suspended sentence for a similar offence.

Another case is that of a Bryanston High School sports coach who faces charges of sexual assault. 

WMACA has been supporting the mother of one of the alleged victims since the matter first came to the criminal court. 

In February 2020, the matter was postponed to 6 April, again for decision following further representations submitted by the defence – the same reason given in November 2019. 

"The defence made representations to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in July 2019, after the Senior Public Prosecutor (SPP) and two other members at the Alexandra Magistrate's Court found that there was enough information to proceed with the case. The matter was postponed to September 2019.

"It is unfortunate that there have been these postponements which favour the interests of the accused at the expense of the victim. Because of the lockdown, we anticipate yet another postponement.

"However, should the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) be prepared for this case to carry on and on 6 April, a decision from the SPP will be announced and a date after the lockdown set for this matter to finally reach trial stage," Jordan said.

Nellie Senwametsi

WMACA is also awaiting progress in the Carletonville crèche abuse matter against Nellie Senwametsi which is yet to reach the trial stage.

Jordan said, during this lockdown, they are reviewing ways in which the organisation can remain a source of information about court happenings, while assisting victims whose cases are supposed to be on the roll during the period 26 March to 16 April.

"As an organisation, our advocacy efforts through court monitoring and media engagement are halted at the moment. We are continuing to support families of victims in terms of reaching out to the prosecutors and investigating officers who have further information regarding new dates after postponements.

"We respect and are observing the measures put into place to ensure the nation is not disastrously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic," said Jordan.

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