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So yesterday morning (Friday 21 August) after a really great breakfast at Aber Jetz Guesthouse, I had a chat with the owner, Regina Herbst, which proved to be really beneficial to me because her husband is the Station Commander of the Pongola police station (unfortunately he is away in Durban on police business). I also learnt that Regina was, up until a year ago when she started the guesthouse, also a police officer, and so she has many very useful contacts in the police and court system. So while I was filling my stomach with breakfast she was busy making phone calls setting up appointments for me.
So after packing and bidding Regina farewell I headed out for my first appointment, which was with a really interesting man by the name of Captain Andre Paizer. We had a lengthy discussion about the child rape situation in the Pongola district as well as the child rape situation in South Africa. He agreed and confirmed that the situation in the Pongola area is really bad and that the ridiculously low conviction rate is due to inexperienced policemen being involved in the investigation of crimes such as child rape which requires specialist investigation techniques. He also confirmed that there are a huge number of policemen who are not even aware of the new Sexual Offences Act, act 32 of 2007 which had already been confirmed to me by Captain Nyeni of the ‘FCS’ unit in Empangeni and had been confirmed when I had on numerous occasions asked policemen about their views on the new legislation and had received blank looks.
The other factor related to the low conviction rate which I discussed with Captain Paizer, was the fact that we have a very large number of inexperienced and insufficiently qualified prosecutors. We have a situation in which, when a perpetrator is arrested for child rape, he is appointed a lawyer (that is if he can’t afford one, which is in the majority of cases) who is paid for by the State. In instances where the case is heard by a High Court the defence council is required to be an Advocate (I have been told that these costs could amount to anything between 12 and 15 thousand rand per day). In all instances the requirement/qualification needed to be appointed as a prosecutor is an LLB degree, and then when heading up the ladder to a District court, Regional Court or High Court, the individual’s prosecuting experience is taken into account. This information was confirmed by the District Court Control Prosecutor in Pongola.
Following my interviews with various individuals in the justice system, both in my first project ‘African Odyssey’ and this one, I have been told that the biggest problem related to the low conviction rate, apart from inexperienced police investigation, is the fact that the ‘duel’ between the prosecution and the defence council (usually paid for by the State) is a mismatch. It was also pointed out to me that, in fact, if a prosecutor resigned his or her position as a prosecutor, they did not have the necessary qualification to defend the perpetrator, yet the State employs them to prosecute the offender.
According to Captain Paizer, they have been experiencing a very large increase in the raping of children by children. These include situations where the offender is aged between 8 and 12 years of age. The reason for this he believes is because the child offenders are treated with kid gloves. In every case the child offender is released back into his parent’s custody and continues living as if nothing is wrong. The reason for this is because there are no facilities in which child offenders can be detained. We agreed that this situation is totally ridiculous because the parent couldn’t raise him in a responsible manner in the first place which resulted in him raping a child and destroying her or his life.
Too often we hear psychologists/counsellors giving evidence on behalf of a child perpetrator in a plea for leniency saying that it is very “likely” that the child-rapist was himself sexualy abused at some stage. We agreed that in such instances the psychologist should use her/his experience and extract the details of the alleged molestation; if it did in fact happen, and if it is to be used as a plea for leniency, the child offender must be required to name/identify the person who had molested/abused him and that individual must be brought to book. In such circumstances I am sure the parent of the child who had been raped would also support a plea of leniency. But unfortunately we continue to see child offenders being treated with kit gloves and the problem is that their peers and friends see that they are getting away with it and so do the same.
While in Empangeni I was told about a case which involved 4 boys, all aged between 8 and 10 years of age who had repeatedly raped an 8 year old little girl. The four boys were arrested, immediately released into their parent’s custody and on conviction received suspended sentences and were ordered to undergo counselling. Please, I ask you, is this seriously supposed to be a deterrent punishment for wrecking the life of an innocent little girl as well as the lives of her parents.
There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of the many people I discussed the case with in Empangeni, that these so called ‘little boys’ knew exactly what they were doing and knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that they knew that what they were doing was wrong. Unfortunately these actions by children are going unpunished and they are not being held accountable and responsible for their actions, just as the adult perpetrators are getting away with it and this is confirmed in the ridiculously low conviction rate of 4%.
Taking into account the huge increase in the number of child rape cases taking place in our country on a daily basis in which the offender is a child himself, it is obvious that the State must provide facilities for the detention of child offenders and these offenders must learn that they will be held accountable and responsible for their actions.
I think I have wracked your brains enough today with child rape information but will continue next time, you can depend on it.
Before I headed out of Pongola destined for Piet Retief, I stopped off at the First National Bank to say goodbye to Anelie and her very kind and generous colleagues. I had not been told her surname and when I asked her what it was I was amazed to discover that she is the wife of Captain Andre Paizer. So to the Paizer family, thank you for arranging my fantastic accommodation at Aber Jentz, for you kindness and friendship, and for assisting me with information regarding child rape in the area.
As I was climbing into Buddy to head out of Pongola, an Indian gentleman, approached me and introduced himself as Leo of Clover, and after a brief chat about the project asked if he could assist me with accommodation during my visit to Pongola. I explained that I was in fact on my way out and he genuinely appeared disappointed. So to all the great people of Pongola, Buddy and I would like to thank you for your kindness, friendship and outstanding hospitality.
The road from Pongola to Piet Retief is an absolute nightmare. There are, I think, 11 or twelve sections in the 113 kilometre stretch where you are stopped at traffic lights controlling the flow of traffic at road construction sites. The wait for oncoming traffic can be as long as twenty to thirty minutes. The sections where there is two-way traffic are in a really terrible condition with huge pot holes. To make matters worse, taxi drivers insist on driving past all the stopped vehicles at the traffic light sections and jumping the queue. This results in tempers flying and I witnessed a couple of incidents where I thought a civil war was about to break out. On top of this, as if all of this is not bad enough, the truck drivers, of which there are hundreds, drive like they are on a mission to hell.
I was given advice before leaving Pongola, to watch out for the Mahamba turn off which is about sixty kilometres after Pongola and that by taking this route to Piet Retief I would miss out about six construction areas. I took this route but for about 18 kilometres before turning left onto the Mahamba/Piet Retief road, experienced a road that was so deteriorated that I spent every second concentrating on keeping Buddy from plunging into pot holes which would have swallowed us up. But we arrived in Piet Retief in one piece where I am spending the weekend with my cousin, Daryl and her husband Martin and son Kyle Van Deventer.
Both Martin and Kyle are avid fishermen and so this morning we went off to do some fishing on the Pongola River. Although we didn’t catch anything we had a fantastic time and I got to see a place that can only be described as ‘paradise’. Hopefully, after doing a few running repairs to Buddy’s ailing alternator belt/bracket which broke again on my way to Piet Retief, we will return to ‘paradise’ (The Pongola River) to do some more fishing and to catch that ‘big elusive one’, and hopefully this time I will remember to take my camera with and show you some photo’s of this spectacular place…
I received the bad news that my mom has been diagnosed with Pneumonia and is not doing well, (she was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease almost three years ago). So I will be praying for her speedy recovery and will be giving serious consideration to going to Durban (Pinetown) to visit her sometime during the next few days.
Don’t forget, you can contact me via my e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or via the blog on the front page of my web-site. All you need to do is click on ‘register’ – it’s on the left side of the front page – you will be sent a password, and then you click on ‘log in’ and you can write to me. I then authorise the access to the ‘blog’ and everyone can read your comments. So get writing, I look forward to hearing from you and your comments.
So until later, keep well
Buddy – The Beach Buggy and Me – Steve Heath