Small Victories, Big Change

Yesterday marked one week since our “small” victory in a relatively small committee room on the fifth floor of one of the buildings of Parliament. I use quotes because actually it was no small victory and here is why:

The Parliament of South Africa has two main functions. The one is to make and pass laws (legislate) and the other is to oversee the actions of government departments (provide oversight). However, most of these functions are not performed in the National Assembly or the National Council of Provinces and broadcasted over national television with larger-than-life politicians waving their arms and making elaborate arguments. No, most of Parliament’s work happens when Parliamentary Oversight or Portfolio Committees, consisting of members of parliament, meet in much smaller committee rooms to discuss issues relating to the specific portfolio. This can include pieces of legislation, reports or actions taken by the relevant government department.

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It was in such a committee room that we found ourselves one week ago. We, together with the Women’s Legal Centre, received a very last minute invitation to speak to the committee on Justice and Correctional Services about the legislation providing for the establishment of sexual offences courts. This was after we handed in written comments to the committee about this legislation in March. The invitation provided us with the opportunity to explain to members on the committee and to the Deputy Minister of Justice why exclusive sexual offences courts are the only way to ensure higher conviction rates in sexual offences cases while providing the much need support to survivors of this type of crime.

During a long discussion, members raised concerns about an alleged lack of resources of establishing exclusive sexual offences courts. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ) confirmed the apparent unwillingness of magistrates to hear cases in exclusive sexual offences courts. We reminded the committee of the promise that the government has already made to roll out these courts and we responded to the concerns raised.

As a result of this heated argument, the Deputy Minister of Justice, Min. John Jeffrey, offered to arrange a meeting where we will be able to discuss this with the Regional Court Presidents, representing the magistrates that have to hear these cases, as well as the Department of Justice. This meeting will provide a great opportunity for the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign to continue to lobby and advocate for the rollout of sexual offences courts to make sure that all survivors of sexual offences have access to survivor-centred justice. We were very encouraged by the commitment of the majority of community members to addressing the high rates of rape in South Africa.

Bringing about change in the criminal justice system by ensuring that all survivors have access to a sexual offences court, is a big task and such change is often difficult to measure. However, big change occurs as a result of seemingly small victories in unimpressive rooms on Thursday afternoons. When you follow us on Facebook, you help amplify our small victories in order to achieve big change.

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently rediscovered her love for mystery novels.

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Official Launch of the Boschfontein Sexual Offences Court

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign (RSJC) welcomes the official launch of the Boschfontein Sexual Offences Court on 24 March 2017 by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The RSJC holds government accountable for the promised rollout of sexual offences courts across the country in order to ensure that survivors of sexual offences have access to such a specialised court. In the light hereof, we applaud government for honouring its commitment.

However, we note with concern that there are still, according to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s official website, only 49 sexual offences courts nationally. This means that the vast majority of communities still do not have access to a survivor-centred criminal justice system to address sexual offences. One such community is Khayelitsha, where we gathered during 16 Days of Activism 2016 to demand that a sexual offences court be established to serve this community. Unfortunately it is still unclear when this will happen.

The RSJC (Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign) calls on the South African Government to put the necessary legislation into effect so that the courts are re-established within a framework that is clear and transparent. We are also asking:

  • that government develop a fully costed plan to make sure these courts are delivered within a clear timeframe,
  • that government prioritise the areas with the highest rates of sexual assault and roll out Sexual Offences Courts there first
  • that government ensure the necessary budget for establishing these courts is allocated annually until all 298 courts are in place and functional
  • That all established courts meet the criteria for a sexual offences court and remain fully functional

To support our demand access to Sexual Offences Courts for all survivors, please go to http://bit.ly/2frRPYU. If you want to follow the activities of the RSJC and support us, please visit Facebook at RSJC.

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently started growing herbs.

SONA Schmona and Other Things in February

Nearing the end of February, we have a lot to reflect on, chew on and (eventually) spit out.  Both the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by our President, Jacob Zuma, as well as the Budget Speech by Pravin Gordhan, our Minister of Finance, left a bitter taste in my mouth.

During SONA, our country’s President aims to convey to everyone in South Africa what the state of this nation actually is. This event also marks the opening of Parliament for the year and, say what you want, it is exciting to see Parliament in full cry. For some general reasons to care about the SONA address, please have a look at the Activate! Change Driver’s Network page.  The issues that the President mentions and highlights during this address, will be the issues that get special attention from government in the coming year. As coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign, I was particularly interested to hear the President’s expressed views on gender based violence, services for survivors of sexual offences and, of course, the importance of the rollout of sexual offences courts. It is for this very reason that I noted the President’s very loud silence on all of the aforementioned.

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The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign protested outside the Athlone and Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Courts during 16 Days of Activism to demand that all rape survivors have access to  Sexual Offences Courts. (Pic: Alexa Sedgwick)

With great hope I looked forward to the Budget Speech presented by Minister Gordhan a couple of days ago. His speech is important for two reasons. Firstly, he tells the country where government will get its money from and secondly, he tells us what the government’s spending priorities will be for the coming year. In order to fund the rollout of sexual offences courts, government would have to allocate a significant budget to the relevant departments to make courts with specialised services, personnel and infrastructure a reality for all survivors of sexual offences. Again there was no mention at all of the importance of support to survivors or the rollout of specialised courts to deal with sexual offences. This tells me that the chances are very slim that there will be an increased budget allocated to the rollout of sexual offences courts or the provision of psycho-social support to survivors.

Although the Department of Justice has, in 2013 already, promised to roll out sexual offences courts, we must not get disheartened when we realise that these issues are still very low on government’s current list of priorities. This situation provides a great opportunity for the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign, together with our partners and communities, to continue to lobby and advocate for the rollout of sexual offences courts to make sure that all survivors of sexual offences have access to survivor-centred justice.

SONA and the Budget Speech have again shown us that government is so preoccupied with other pressing concerns that it is a massive endeavour to shift their attention to sexual offences. However, when you follow us on Facebook, you help us sweeten the bitter taste that these two speeches have left in all our mouths. If we lobby and advocate strategically over the course of this year, who knows what will happen in #SONA2018…?

 

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently started growing herbs.