27 November 2012

South Africa: Public Protector Calls for the Protection of Vulnerable Groups

press release

Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela on Tuesday called on society to return to the values encapsulated in the country's constitution in order to protect women and children from male-orchestrated violence.

She was speaking at Lehurutshe Civic Centre in Zeerust, where her office commemorated the 16 Days Campaign for No Violence against Women and Children, which kicked-off on Sunday.

With official data showing that 167 cases of rape and 186 of domestic violence had been recorded in the tiny and predominantly rural area of Lehurutshe from January to date, the Public Protector told community members that there was something wrong with the societal value system.

"Rape is bad enough; it is even worse when it is directed at children as young as two years of age, who are not even sexually active, or when the victims are old grannies, whose attackers are old enough to be their grandchildren. We are indeed a sick society," she said.

"It is important that we work together to end gender violence. We need to work towards a point where it will no longer be necessary to commemorate these kinds of campaigns."

Arguing that statistics did not necessarily reflect the actual extent of the problem, the Public Protector decried the fact that most cases of gender-based violence went unreported.

She said victims were often afraid to report cases of abuse because of the stigma and shame that came along with bringing such matters to the attention of authorities. Others were discouraged from reporting because they had lost confidence in the justice value-chain.

The Public Protector made an example of a case her office dealt with recently, involving a woman who was gang-raped in her teens and had to bear 48 postponements of her court case, spanning nearly eight years.

Though the case was eventually heard, resulting in the conviction and imprisonment of the perpetrators, the victim had suffered trauma from the way the system failed her, she said, adding that her office later took up the case and secured a written apology and compensation for the woman.

The Public Protector called on community members to help end violence gender-based violence by not engaging in it and through reporting such cases. She urged locals to complain to her office if they didn't get joy from organs of state such as the police, but only after exhausting available avenues to have the matters resolved.

Meanwhile, community members made use of the Public Protector's visit to raise service delivery complaints, with the main grievance centering on access to water in various villages.

Health care services such as lack of facilities and medicine in local clinics also came to the fore. The issue of mineral rights was also raised, with community members alleging that they were not benefiting from chrome-mining activities in their locality.

Other complaints included poor access roads, unresolved land claims, the arrogance of front desk officials at service delivery points, the discrimination on the basis of race and religious beliefs and rural development in general.

In response, the Public Protector promised locals to engage with traditional authorities, the municipality and the provincial government to attend to the urgent matters that need not be investigated in order to bring relief to locals. These include the issue of water provision.

"With regard to the other matters, we will work with complainants to get more specific details, which we will assess with a view to conducting investigations," she said.

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