SAPS is failing survivors of domestic violence – report

A protest by women in August 2018 called for the South African government to sustain a media campaign against gender-based violence. ArhivPhoto by Mzi Velapi

A report from the Western Cape Department of Community Safety paints a bleak picture of how the police in the province are dealing with domestic violence.

The Social Justice Coalition has reiterated its call – and that of the Khayelitsha Commission – for the equitable reallocation of police resources from rich areas to poor and working class areas. This comes on the back of a survey report released by the Western Cape Department of Community Safety which revealed that the South African Police Services in the province do not fulfill their obligations in terms of the law. The survey monitored the performance of 150 police stations in the province over a six-month period, between July and December 2017, and found that the police were not compliant with the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) and that more volunteers are required for victim support rooms.

According to the report, domestic violence over the six months involved physical abuse (46%) and emotional, verbal and psychological abuse (29%). “Of the total 34,209 incidents reported in 2018/19, the majority were reported in Mitchells Plain (3,155 cases), Delft (2,071 cases), Harare (1,716) and Knysna (1,620),” the report states.

Community Safety MEC, Albert Fritz, said that his department is mandated to monitor and evaluate SAPS’s compliance and will be working closely with the newly appointed provincial police commissioner, Yolisa Matakata, to address the findings of the report.

The report further exposes the lack of capacity and functioning of victim support rooms at the the top twenty stations across the province. These rooms provide victims with psycho-social support during periods of trauma. Fritz lamented the shortage of trained volunteers at different police stations across the province.

“It is unacceptable that Khayelitsha and Atlantis police stations only have one trained volunteer despite having had 1,105 and 1,272 incidents respectively reported in 2018/19. Delft and Lingelethu West stations only have four trained volunteers despite these stations having the second and third highest number of incidents. Beaufort West station has no volunteers,” said the MEC.

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The report found that 67% of members of the Visible Policing Unit and 74% of detectives at the top twenty stations have not undergone the five-day DVA training course.

Types and number of domestic violence acts reported in 2018/2019. Infographic supplied.

The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) said that it is deeply angered and unsettled by the report. “We are frustrated that five years after the release of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry’s report, the South African Police Services, both at the national, provincial and precinct levels, continues to make justice and safety inaccessible for black women,” said SJC’s researcher, Khadija Bawa.

One of the recommendations of the Khayelitsha Commission, according to Bawa, was for Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units (FCS) to be deployed in each of the three precincts serving Khayelitsha. “Five years later, it is still only the Site B precinct that has one,” Bawa said.

The lack of training of the police officers was also lamented by the Western Cape spokesperson and the National Steering Committee member for the #TotalShutDown Movement, Zintle Olayi.

“It simply reinforces what we’ve been saying for the past two years now and even longer. The issues of womxn are not taken seriously by government. State departments such as police stations do not understand the fundamental urgency to address gender-based violence because they are not directly affected by it. Men who benefit from the system of patriarchy continue to head and to lead these institutions and until that changes nothing will change for womxn and children,” Olayi said.

Olayi told Elitsha that the lack of training of the police on the DVA leads to fewer survivors reporting cases because they do not trust that the police will investigate their cases properly.

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The Social Justice Coalition said that factors like inadequate lighting in the township and informal settlements must also be addressed for the police in Khayelitsha to fight crime effectively.

“All precincts in Khayelitsha are extremely understaffed given the high levels of contact crime – which includes murder, sexual offences and assault – that are reported. Police officers are expected to perform in environments without adequate lighting and resources. Add these to the lack of training around domestic violence and the requirements of the Domestic Violence Act and a very dire picture of how and when victims of gendered violence have access to protection and justice emerges,” said Bawa.

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