Sexual Offences Court launched in Mpumalanga

May 1st, 2017

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, launched a Sexual Offence Court in Boschfontein, Mpumalanga in March. In his speech, Mr Jeffery said the objective of the Sexual Offence Courts are to reduce and ultimately eliminate the secondary traumatisation from the court system, and to improve the conviction rate in these cases.

Mr Jeffery added that other measures have included the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on violence against women, to investigate the root causes of violence against women and develop national plans to prevent and respond to violence against women in a coordinated manner. He said government, in conjunction with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), has been running the Ndabezitha Project, which seeks to train traditional leaders, prosecutors and court clerks on domestic violence matters in rural areas.

Mr Jeffery pointed out that in the quest to eradicate violence against women and children, government rolled out National Dialogues on Violence against Women and Children around the country. ‘Our country can be proud in the great strides we have made in achieving freedom, equality and dignity for all, but despite these achievements and initiatives many of our women and children still face sexual violence’ Mr Jeffery said.

Mr Jeffery noted that every woman that is raped is somebody’s mother, daughter, grandmother or sister. He said the courts do not hesitate to impose harsh sentences for these crimes. He added that the NPA conducted a sentence breakdown (per offence, per accused) for the year-to-date (as at Q3 of 2016/17) includes 219 sentences of life imprisonment, 127 sentences of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment and 568 sentences of 10 to 19 years’ imprisonment.

Mr Jeffery noted that the courts can only impose harsh sentences if people report crimes. He added that the prosecutors who prosecute these types of cases need good witnesses and circumstances must be so that victims are not afraid to testify in such cases. He said it must be made easier for victims to report sexual offence cases and easier for witness to give evidence.

Mr Jeffery said that figures from the Department of Justice shows that rape is the most predominant sexual offence charge reported at over 80%. For the period of April to December 2016, over 10 300 children were victims of sexual offences. He pointed out that often rape and sexual offences are not reported.

Mr Jeffery said the victims may choose not to report cases, for a number of reasons, and that is the reason communities need Sexual Offence Courts and the Thuthuzela Care Centres. He noted that in 2016/2017 five Sexual Offence Courts were established in Mpumalanga. He added that the Boschfontein/Tonga Sexual Offence Court serves as a key service point to the Nkomazi Municipality.

Mr Jeffery noted that the court is situated in a rural community. He said it represents the Department of Justice’s commitment to give priority to rural communities so as to address the disparities of the past. He pointed out that the outstanding roll for the Boschfontein/Tonga Hybrid/Sexual Offence Regional Court is currently at 139 cases of which 51 cases are sexual offence related.

Mr Jeffery announced that in this financial year, the Department of Justice finalised the production of the information DVD for the court in preparation of adult victims of sexual offences. He said the DVD will be shown at the adult waiting room to ensure that victims are empowered where there is a shortage of supply of court preparation officers. He said these are some initiatives to strengthen the criminal justice system and to assist survivors of rape and sexual offences.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (May) DR 10.