'Court had chance to send rapist to prison'

Mary Papayya

Gender activists have expressed concern after a convicted rapist was set free when the victim said she was no longer prepared to continue with the case.

They said that while the victim has the prerogative to withdraw a case, the court could have used its discretion to press ahead with the matter based on the evidence.

The man, 22, from Mtubatuba, northern KwaZulu-Natal, was convicted of rape on May 28 and was to be sentenced next week.

Police were this week informed by the public prosecutor that the victim wanted to withdraw the charge and that there was nothing they could do. Within hours the man walked free.

Investigators suspect that the victim was compensated.

The move has angered local detectives nearly a year after the case was brought to court. Captain Jabulani Mdletshe said a lot of time and energy went into the case.

"A DNA test was done and the result received from the forensic laboratory in Pretoria proved that the chances were 99,9percent that he sexually abused the victim."

Liesel Gerntholtz, of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said the state was not bound to withdraw the charges.

"The court could have proceeded based on the evidence, forensic or other, before it.

"It is common in the early stages of a rape case, given the poverty levels we experience, for women to withdraw the charges in settlement for compensation.

"But in this case the man was convicted of rape and it was not a case of her word against his."

Cookie Edwards, provincial coordinator of the Network on Violence Against Women, said the worrying factor was that the individual could rape again.

"It is sad when it comes to this; especially after the hard work police put into it, only to have a 'rapist' set free.

"Women and girls must not give up cases because the perpetrator will do it to someone else."