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South Africa: Fighting for SA's Women and Children

Pretoria — He cooked for the who's who of the entertainment industry and mingled with the rich and famous, charming them with his wit and humour. But there was another side to him. He stalked Johannesburg's innocent children.

His reign of terror was between May 1997 and May 2001. And it ended as quickly as it had begun. He was spotted by a police officer attempting to lure his last victim from the streets of Hillbrow.

He was charged with 132 cases of rape, attempted rape, indecent assault, kidnapping, robbery and common assault.

After a lengthy trial, which saw a number of girls between the ages of seven and 14 testify against him, Fanwell Khumalo was sentenced to 42 life terms and more than 270 years in jail. He would later be dubbed South Africa's worst child rapist.

One of the people who ensured Khumalo's lengthy sentence was Captain Bafana Peter Linda of the then Child Protection Unit. Today, he is a Brigadier and is Section Head (Operations) of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Investigation unit.

"I had the hard job of piecing the evidence together and connecting him to more unsolved cases after his arrest," recalls Brigadier Linda.

"The case took almost three years in court. He was accused of raping more than 100 girls between the ages of seven and 14 and was charged with 132 charges of rape, kidnapping, indecent assault, robbery, assault and attempted rape, but was convicted on 102 charges in February 2004. Fanwell Khumalo was sentenced to 42 life terms and 272 years in jail.

"As a detective this was a bonus for my hard work and it was mission accomplished. I was over the moon, very excited but with mixed feelings, knowing that victims' lives will never, ever be the same again. I wished it had never happened. We all know they did nothing to deserve this."

While he is no longer out in the field, Brigadier Linda is still passionate about protecting the country's women and children. And with South Africans commemorating 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children from November 25 to December 10, SAnews sat down with Brigadier Linda to talk about the work of the FCS and why he's passionate about protecting the most vulnerable.

"It's more than a career. It's a calling and when you have passion for something, the focus is there to make a difference. Unfortunately I don't investigate anymore, but my spirit is a detective," he explains.

Brigadier Linda is now responsible for monitoring, evaluation and compliance of the units in the nine provinces.

"This is my passion. This is the area where I wanted to make a difference, to leave a legacy. The vision I have for the FCS is for it to become a model of the police, especially in terms of specialised investigation and to have the FCS as the cream of the crop and to push the bar to the highest level.

"This vision keeps me grounded. This is where I have the expertise and this is the area I'm researching in terms of improvement because you cannot be stagnant. Society also changes," he says.

The FCS was re-established in June 2010 to investigate, prevent and combat crimes against women and children and all types of sexual offences.

This decision, said Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, was informed by the challenges that women, children and the elderly in the country continue to face in this democratic dispensation.

During the release of the 2011/12 SAPS National Crime Statistics in September, Minister Mthethwa, said that the one area that still remained stubbornly high was around sexual offences.

"As government we still remain concerned about the conviction rate of criminals who commit such crimes," he said.

For the 2011/12 financial year, the sexual offences ratio decreased by 3,7%.

"We need to emphasise that as government we are however, still concerned about the scourge of rape in our country. Rape decreased by 1,9% but it is unacceptably high. More resources and better training of police mechanisms are now being put in place," said Mthethwa.

He added: "Over the last two years since its re-launching this units has trained specialised officers to deal with these heinous crimes. In the new police stations that we build and those that are refurbished, we must ensure that there are special dedicated areas for the victims of such crimes.

"A working relationship with the Judiciary has been established to have such cases prioritised. The correctness of the decision we took in the past few years is indicated in the major victories that this unit has managed to score over the last two years."

Amongst the victories, the FCS units can claim the following:

* In the cases where it involves children under the age of 18, the unit has secured convictions that resulted in total of 10 345 years for those criminals. In the same age group, it has managed to secure 175 life sentences for these crimes.

* In cases where it involves victims that are 18 years and older, the units have secured convictions that resulted in total of 10 854 years of imprisonment. In the same age category it has managed to secure 131 life sentences.

"The important struggle we must continue to wage is to end violence against women, a critical part of the historic effort to change the power relations in our society," added the Minister.

"The minister is correct when he says the numbers are still high. One rape is one too many for us," adds the Brigadier.

"These are crimes that occur behind closed doors, crimes that occur in dark alleys and it's a crime that is about power and control. That's why it is important to have such a unit. A unit that will understand the trauma associated with these crimes.

"We needed a specialised unit with trained people and not just trained but [people who would] also be sensitized. They must be sensitive enough in terms of not just questioning the victims but interviewing them, because when you interview a person, you listen to them and you show you care and you are prepared to help.

"Not everyone can deal with these matters. It takes special individuals to deal with these cases because it's a highly charged area. You need a person that will have passion to work in this environment. For us it's more than a career, it's a calling," he explains.

There are currently 176 units spread throughout the country with 2155 members.

"Our members are well trained. They go through a four weeks course where they are addressed by internal and external speakers including psychologists, magistrates, social workers and senior public prosecutors etc. From next year, we are going to extend the course to five weeks."

"We will also welcome the re-establishment of the sexual offences courts and also specialised prosecutors because that will beef up the team and that will make a difference when it comes to the conviction rate," he says.

According to Brigadier Linda, plus minus 229 life sentences have been secured since April this year.

"Our message to perpetrators is, it is not a matter of if you will get caught, but a matter of when," he warns.

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