My full new itinerary including Namibia and Botswana to the end of the tour (19 May 2010).
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So with Monday being a public holiday this was a long weekend. Eventually the Sharks awarded their loyal rugby supporters with a win over the Highlanders in House of Pain and so we (as in the Sharks supporters) have a glimmer of hope that our team have their spark back and can do something to get them up into the top four at least, where of course ‘we’ know they should be.
The other news is that on Sunday morning, Buddy’s front left tyre was flat again, and after returning to Wynands workshop and once again checking it, he discovered that the rim is rusted and so the air is leaking from there. Unfortunately there is nothing he could do at the time but will have the rim cleaned while ‘Buddy and Me’ take a short break for a week or so. The spare wheel has a bad dent in the rim as well, this being due to the badly potholed roads we have been travelling through over the past couple of months, these being mainly in the Eastern Cape region of the old Transkei, and so he will have this repaired at the same time. So when I return to Cape Town and head up the West Coast into Namibia and Botswana, Buddy’s legs (wheels) will be all sorted out and ready to tackle the next leg of the project.
And so now onto factor 5 which involves our court/justice system.
Factor 5 & 5(a)
In factor 4, I mentioned the fact that I always pose the question “Why are we experiencing such a pathetically low conviction rate when it comes to the cases of child rape which are fortunate enough to get to court”, and the police officials I pose this question to invariably respond with, “It’s because the public prosecutors employed by the State are not as experienced or qualified as the defence council they appoint and pay for to defend the rapists”.
The senior prosecutors I have posed this question to always confirm that, although this statement is correct in that the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) does experience a high turn over of staff due to the extreme pressures prosecutors are forced to work under resulting in them accepting the lucrative offers made by the private sector which in turn results in prosecutors in a case being changed halfway through the case, which obviously has a detrimental affect on the outcome of the case, this is not necessarily the main reason for the low conviction rate.
According to all the prosecutors and magistrates I have had the pleasure of meeting and obtaining their opinions and comments from, they believe that the low conviction rate in at least 80% of cases can be attributed to the fact that the information obtained at the initial reporting of the child rape case is so bad that the far majority of the cases presented to our courts should never have made it to court in the first place. I have been shown literally hundreds of police dockets and when trying to decipher the statement taken by the police official at the time of the reporting of the rape, have shook my head in wonder at the fact that it was presented to the court for trial in the first place.
One statement that was made to me by a senior prosecutor was that “If the police official taking the initial statement new what he or she was doing and did it properly and obtained the necessary crucial evidence in the form of the child’s panties etc and ensured that the DNA in the form of swabs containing semen samples etc was obtained and registered properly, a first year law student could obtain a conviction in a child rape irrespective of the experience and qualifications of the defence council.
The other contributing factor to our low conviction rate, which I have called ‘factor (a)’, of course is the fact that the DNA results from our forensic laboratory, according to the police and court officials, takes on average anything from 10 months to three years to obtain and in some instances I have been told that after 4 years some cases are still awaiting results.
I was told by a senior police official that two hundred and fifty million Rand was spent on the acquisition of a fancy DNA testing machine a couple of years ago and which was supposed to drastically speed up the DNA and forensic testing abilities of the department of forensics, but unfortunately it appears that this has not transpired and the situation is getting worse by the day.
The result of this problem is that after a few appearances in court for remand purposes for the purpose of obtaining evidence in the form of DNA results, the courts grow tired of the delays and due to the ever increasing number of cases appearing on the court role, the case is struck from the court role. This then results in the accused being released from his bail conditions and disappears which in turn results in the fact that when, eventually, the DNA results are obtained the accused/suspect is nowhere to be found and the police invariably lose interest in the case. And so we have a pathetically low conviction rate.
The other reason for the rediculously low conviction rate of course is the fact that suspects are granted pathetically low bail and on being released immediately intimidate the witness (victim) and her/his family who because of the intimidation usually accept financial reward rather than have their house burned down or child murdered. Following the acceptance of the financial ‘settlement agreement’ the mother invariably disappears with her daughter (The rape victim) and lives with a family relative in another part of the country, which in turn results in the case being thrown out of court when or if it eventually gets to trial.
The next contributing factor to the pathetically low conviction rate which currently, from what I have been told, averages between 4 and 6 percent, is the fact that our courts are not ‘Child friendly’. Undoubtedly the Mpumalanga region has the best ‘Child friendly’ courts I have seen in the country, and this is due to the fantastic efforts of ‘GRIP’ (The Greater Rape Intervention Project) based in this region.
I have been contacted by court officials all over South Africa who have invited me to their courts to see their “Child friendly’ courts, and on visiting them have been amazed at the fact that they can even be called or referred to as “Child friendly” facilities. Invariably the table placed in the centre of the room is a large wooden one with the usual green, sometimes padded government stock chair but mostly a, usually yellow but sometimes green, melamine kitchen type chair, very official looking?
Then, because it is after all a court facility, there are the heavily barred windows, which in many instances are the small type which are positioned high up in the wall which gives the impression one is in a prison cell rather than a “Child friendly” court room facility. And of course there is the big black box which contains the micro phone and speaker facility connecting it to the court room. In the far majority of cases, the court officials believe that the mere fact that the child is not required to actually attend the hearing in the same room as the accused; this is therefore a “Child friendly” facility.
I have also been told by many senior prosecutors that they have witnessed cases being thrown out of court for reasons that the child witness “Speaks child language” and does not provide the evidence in the form “required by law”, as in reciting the rape act. I have however been told by many court officials that the magistrates in the Witbank, Sasolburg and Carletonville areas are particularly good in this respect and will not tolerate defence councils trying to have cases thrown out merely because the child is speaking “Child language”, so to those magistrates ‘Buddy and Me’ gives you a high five.
And so ends factor 5 of what ’Buddy and Me’ believes are the contributing factors needed to be seriously looked at and changed post haste if our government is serious about stopping the rape and sexual abuse of children in South Africa. We hope and prey that someone, somewhere in our government takes head of these recommendations and does something about the situation.
So until tomorrow when I will be posting my last blog, which will contain factor 6 of my recommended solution, and when ‘Buddy and Me’ return from our short break before heading up to Namibia and Botswana, we will say good night and above all, keep all children safe.
Caring regards from
‘Buddy and Me’ (Steve Heath)
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