Public Protector to investigate if murdered Cape mom was turned away when seeking restraining order

  • A probe has been launched into claims that Altecia Kortje could not apply for a restraining order a week before she died.
  • According to various community members, Kortje was told to come back in September at a magistrate's court due to Covid-19 regulations.
  • The justice department views this in a "very serious light" and has asked the Public Protector to probe it.

A formal investigation has been launched into allegations that a terrified Cape Town woman tried to apply for legal protection at a Magistrate's Court - but was turned away due to Covid-19 regulations a week before she was murdered.

This follows a News24 report on Monday where at least three women, who were protesting the murders of Altecia Kortje and her daughter Raynecia, made the claim.

Now, the national Justice and Correctional Services Ministry has formally requested the Public Protector to investigate.

The bodies of Altecia, 27, and her daughter Raynecia, 7, were found in a house in Belhar, Cape Town, on Friday. The slain mother was on Thursday personally named by President Cyril Ramaphosa - among a list of 21 women murdered in the past few weeks - as he spoke with outrage against gender-based violence.

READ | Murdered mom wanted to get restraining order before her death, say family, activists

At the court on Monday, Ryan Kyle Smith, 28, was accused of "unlawfully and intentionally" killing both Kortje and her daughter, "by stabbing her with a knife", at 66 Commerce Street, Belhar, Cape Town.

He was charged with murder, and is due to appear in court again on 22 June, possibly to apply for bail. The state has indicated it will oppose his application for bail.

On Monday, outside the court, three women told News24 not only of their pain, but also their exasperation that Kortje had allegedly tried to approach the state for protection, when she realised her life was in grave danger.

The three women - a family member, a women's rights advocate and a community activist - all made the same claim: that Kortje had feared for her life last week and had sought protection from police and the courts, in the form of a protection order from the Bellville Magistrate's Court. 

Outside the court, Celesthea Pierang, representing the organisation "One Billion Rising" in South Africa, told News24: "Today we are here in support of the victim's family and friends. The horrific manner that they died ... we are outraged. We do not understand why government again failed this community, and failed this family. The mother, on last week Monday, went to court to get a restraining order - she was told to come back in September, due to the Covid-19 and the regulations."

This allegation was repeated by a family member of Kortje - a cousin by marriage, Mary-Ann Gouws, and another community women's rights activist.

Upon interviewing the women, News24 requested comment and clarification from both the SA Police Service, and the Justice Department.

On Thursday, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services responded that it had "noted reports in the media that Altecia Kortje - who was murdered with her seven-year old daughter, Raynecia, in Belhar in the Western Cape on the 12th of June - had approached the Bellville Magistrate's Court to obtain a protection order against her accused a week prior to her murder, but was allegedly turned away at the court.

"We view these claims in a very serious light – all the more so, given the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) in our country – and have therefore referred the matter to the Office of the Public Protector for an investigation.

"We are of the view that an investigation by the Office of the Public Protector is necessary to establish whether Ms Kortje approached the court for assistance and, if so, why she was not assisted and whether there has been any act or omission by a person in the employ of government or performing a public function, which had resulted in any unlawful or improper prejudice to Ms Kortje and her daughter," the department said.

"If Altecia was indeed turned away, there will be grave consequences, as Altecia should have been assisted. No one who seeks help should ever be turned away. We therefore need the Public Protector to investigate as to what happened at court on that morning," said Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services John Jeffery.

Spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said the ministry had informed the Kortje family of the referral of the matter.

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