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Judiciary: PP releases damning report on GBV failings

The Office of the Public Protector has released a damning report on the support given to victims of gender-based violence (GBV) by the Departments of Justice and Social Development, and by SAPS. The Public Protector investigated 38 Magistrate’s Courts across the country. A GroundUp report notes the investigation was sparked by allegations that Altecia Kortje was turned away at the Bellville Magistrate’s Court in June 2020 when she tried to apply for a protection order. She and her daughter were later found murdered. On 18 June 2020 Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffreys asked the Public Protector, Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka to investigate the administrative challenges faced by GBV victims in the criminal justice system. Gcaleka presented her findings at the Bellville Magistrate's Court this week.


The investigation found that the Department of Justice had not put adequate measures in place to protect GBV victims. Some of the 38 court buildings were old and dilapidated. At others, there was inadequate office equipment, malfunctioning telephone lines, switchboards and air conditioners, and persistent network problems. The courts did not have a functional Integrated Case Management System (ICMS). ‘The ICMS is mostly inaccessible or very slow due to network challenges, for example at Magistrate's Courts in Umlazi, Umbumbulu, Mamelodi, Mzumbe and Ndwendwe,’ the report read. The GroundUp report notes there were no private or sufficient consultation rooms for victims. Most courts did not have proper filing systems and spaces. ‘This was evidenced by files scattered on the floor at Mamelodi, Pretoria, Palm Ridge, Vereeniging, Johannesburg, Bellville and files kept in police cells at Ga-Rankuwa,’ Gcaleka said. She said the Department of Justice must, within seven months, provide her with a detailed project plan for the renovation of the courts, with turnaround times, targets and deliverables indicating how buildings and ICT will be upgraded.


Turning to SAPS, Gcaleka said the police did not have adequate measures in place to respond to incidents of GBV. Some police stations, especially in rural areas, did not have victim-friendly rooms and GBV victims were subjected to crowded SAPS stations. According to SAPS, 1 019 police stations have victim-friendly rooms and 141 police stations do not. The investigation found that some SAPS officials were reluctant to register cases, report GroundUp. They failed to inform the victims of their right to institute criminal action. ‘The information before me indicates that in some instances, there are delays by SAPS to respond to scenes of domestic violence and/or provide assistance to victims, with the SAPS citing that they do not have enough vehicles at their respective stations to respond,’ Gcaleka said. She said that within six months, SAPS must conduct training for its members ‘focusing on gender sensitivity, the seriousness of GBV and its impact on victims and the society at large and the practical application of the Domestic Violence Act.’ The investigation also found the Department of Social Development (DSD) does not have enough shelters to cater for the victims of GBV. The Gender-Based Violence Command Centre and Everyday Heroes Programme – key prevention and support programmes implemented by the DSD – do not have sufficient staff and there is a lack of collaboration between the DSD and SAPS in providing support services to GBV victims such as trauma counselling, referral to shelters and health services. Gcaleka said that within six months, the DSD must submit a detailed project plan to determine the staff needs of the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre and develop a plan with clear timelines. Jeffreys said the department welcomed the report’s findings and remedial measures.


There was also news this week that Gcaleka has launched an investigation into the handling and processing of child maintenance applications. An EWN report notes that Gcaleka said that they had received numerous complaints of delays by maintenance officers to obtain and serve summons, finalise investigations, and a lack of a proper report-keeping system, among other issues. The Public Protector said it was the state's responsibility to promote and protect the well-being of every child, as provided for in the Constitution. She added that both parents, whether in a relationship or not, must make the necessary financial contributions to the care and upbringing of their children. Gcaleka said that she hoped to complete the final report by the end of this financial year. ‘The Public Protector has deemed it crucial to conduct a systemic investigation in order to find solutions to resolving the systemic issues which have an impact on the security, protection and wellbeing of the most vulnerable, defenceless groups of our society,’ she said.

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