Radebe to take a new look at sex offences
VICTIMS of sexual offences and those tasked with putting away the perpetrators are anticipating a report that is due to be released to Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe soon.
The report - judging from the little that is known of its contents - is likely to give an indication of whether the South African justice and criminal cluster will take progressive steps in arresting the rape scourge that haunts our nation's woman and children.
The report - said to have been expected by Radebe this week - will finally and unequivocally say whether the country should bring back specialised sexual offences courts.
Victims and law enforcement agents have been questioning the wisdom of doing away with effective family violence and sex crimes units that have been lauded for their sterling success rates.
In an interview with Business Day in July last year, special director of public prosecutions for sexual offences, Thoko Majokweni lamented the closure of specialised sexual offences courts.
Majokweni indicated that between 2000 and 2005, South Africa recorded about 52,000 reported sexual offences a year.
Alarmingly, less than 10,000 cases a year were judged and finalised by a court.
Majokweni blamed the decreasing conviction rate on the demise of the specialised courts.
According to Majokweni, as quoted in the report, the conviction rate of sexual offences initially stood at 45% but this figure increased to between "85 to 90%" with the introduction of Thuthuzela Care Centres - described as one-stop centres for victims of sexual violence.
But Majokweni further indicated that with the closure of these courts, the conviction rate fell back significantly to 64%.
The problem was that the specialised sexual offences courts were not backed by legislation.
This meant that they could be done away with at ease.
With the problem having been diagnosed, the task then, for Radebe, is to ensure that sexual offences courts enjoy the backing of the nation's constitution.
This is if Radebe will bring back the courts.
However, it would seem that the much-awaited report could be the deciding factor in nudging him in that crucial direction.
Indications, so far, point to the imminent reintroduction of the specialised courts.
In recent months, at least four cabinet ministers have made repeated and impassioned pleas for the courts to be reinstated.
Led by Radebe in May, Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Women, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulu Xingwana all made calls for the immediate reinstatement of the courts.
Speaking in May at a Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union summit, Radebe announced that 62 sexual offences courts were, at that stage, operating on a pilot project basis.
However, it was the minister's declaration at the opening of the R220-million Palm Ridge Magistrates Court complex, early this month, that gave signs that the courts are on their way back.
Said Radebe at the ceremony: "After listening to the plea that I resuscitate the sexual offences courts, which in the past has shown higher conviction rates compared to the ordinary regional courts, I decided to establish a task team comprising of the (Justice, Crime prevention and security) cluster departments to advise on the desirability of reinventing these courts."
Though a final decision has yet to be taken, the reintroduction of the courts is almost a certainty as the government had started reinstating the SA Police Service's Family Violence, Child Protection and Sex Offences units.
The unit was shut down in 2006 but reintroduced in April this year.
Its reintroduction could not have been more timely as South Africa is currently plagued by a spate of sexual attacks against women and children.
The most recent incident is that of a rape of a 94-year-old woman in KwaZulu-Natal by a beneficiary of the government's special remissions programme.
According to Radebe, the government had started reintroducing the SA Police Service's Family Violence, Child Protection and Sex Offences units and 62 Sexual Offences Courts - on a pilot project - "had proved to be very effective in dealing with sexual offences".