The Committee heard a briefing from the SAPS and the Eastern Cape Department of Education on the death of initiates during rites of passage related to circumcision, and Ukuthwala -- the abduction and rape of children and non-consenting adult females.
Circumcision was most prevalent in Gauteng, Limpopo, Free State, North West Province and the Eastern Cape. The SAPS worked with traditional leaders, the Department of Local Government and the Premier’s office in Limpopo and the Department of Justice in the North West Province. Where circumcision was involved, the police had difficulty in enforcing the law without cooperation from the medical profession.
In the case of Ukuthwala, the police’s actions were centred mostly on creating public awareness about rights, such as human dignity. Pamphlets had been distributed to highlight domestic violence, sexual offences, the Children’s Act and victim empowerment. The peak of the awareness campaigns had been during the Child Protection Week, Women’s Month and the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Ukuthwala was mostly prevalent in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
Members concerns included the need for the SAPS to work closely with medical practitioners. They asked why the police appeared hesitant to arrest those who were responsible. Was it because the police did not know which penal code to use when charging the culprits? Why were very few arrests made? The statistics clearly showed that the police were reluctant, or did not know what to do in such circumstances. The SAPS delegation was urged to state clearly the kind of assistance they would require from legislators. Members commented that those responsible for initiates’ deaths were not properly qualified for the job. They also wanted to know why so many learners died due to illness.
South African Police Services (SAPS) briefing on crimes related to circumcision
Major General Evon Botsheleng, Commander, National Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences: SAPS, said that the briefing would focus on policing actions and programmes related to the issues of circumcision and Ukuthwala. She briefly outlined the mandate and programmes undertaken by the SAPS to deal with deaths related to circumcisions. Circumcision was most prevalent in Gauteng, Limpopo, Free State, North West Province and the Eastern Cape. The SAPS worked with traditional leaders, the Department of Local Government and the Premier’s office in Limpopo and the Department of Justice in the North West Province. The police’s functions were to combat and investigate incidents, and to support preventive actions regarding crimes such as murder, attempted murder, and assault. Where circumcision was involved, the police had difficulty in enforcing the law without cooperation from the medical profession.
SAPS briefing on crimes related to Ukuthwala
Major General Botsheleng explained that Ukuthwala was the abduction and rape of children and non-consenting adult females. The police’s actions were centred mostly on creating public awareness about rights, such as human dignity. Pamphlets had been distributed to highlight domestic violence, sexual offences, the Children’s Act and victim empowerment. The peak of the awareness campaigns had been during the Child Protection Week, Women’s Month and the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Ukuthwala was mostly prevalent in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. The phenomenon of “forced marriage” could be identified only through docket analysis, but was not recorded on existing crime codes.
Mr D Worth (DA, Free State) mentioned that previously the SAPS had reported 146 deaths and 42 arrests, with only two convictions.
The Chairperson asked why the police appeared hesitant to arrest those who were responsible. Was it because the police did not know which penal code to use when charging the culprits? Why were very few arrests made? The statistics clearly showed that the police were reluctant, or did not know what to do in such circumstances. He urged the SAPS delegation to state clearly the kind of assistance they would require from legislators.
Major General Botsheleng replied that according to information on the system, there was only one magistrate dealing with inquests into the death of initiates. The huge numbers of deaths were causing backlogs. When cases were sent to the courts, it usually took more than a year to prosecute them.
Mr Worth asked the differences between inquests, and inquest dockets being opened. Did it mean that after an inquest, a docket would be opened? Did the word “inquest” mean that they were investigating the cause of death?
Major General Botsheleng replied that “inquest” and “inquest docket” meant the same thing, but the system did not specify how far an investigation had progressed.
The Chairperson asked for clarity on the budget allocated for investigations.
Major General Botsheleng replied that the budget was allocated to a particular division or unit to conduct investigations into all the cases in that division, not according to each case.
The Chairperson said that during a previous briefing, the Committee had been presented with graphic pictures of initiates from the Eastern Cape who had been beaten until they had developed open wounds and gashes. He asked whether it was necessary to leave initiates lying on a bed until they were at the stage of dying. The situation should in been a cause of concern. What type of action did the police take in that situation?
Major General Botsheleng explained that in the provinces where sector police had formal relationships with the initiation schools, they were able to close them down. Sector police were able to make sure that initiation schools were registered, in order to formalise the relationship. Those who beat up initiates were unlikely to report cases, and the police had to rely for information on the Department of Traditional Affairs representatives.
The Chairperson asked whether the police had access to the initiates when they were in initiation schools, so that they could regularly monitor what was happening.
Major General Botsheleng replied that the police did not have access to initiates, but the Department of Health would have a better understanding of the proceedings.
The Chairperson asked what kind of legal framework or legislation would give the police power to intervene in such situations.
Brigadier Mbali Mncadi, Psychological Services: SAPS, replied that it was difficult to determine whether murder was involved when someone died at a initiation school. The police needed a good partnership with the Department of Health to help determine the cause of death.
Mr Worth suggested that the people who were responsible for the initiation schools should be trained in basic hygiene and first aid, to equip them with necessary skills. The Department of Health could play a significant role in that regard.
The Chairperson said that the SAPS, the Department of Health and the Department of Traditional Affairs should work together and monitor the initiation schools during the season. He could not understand why the media referred to people who were guiding the initiates, as surgeons. A surgeon was trained as a doctor for six years, and would then go on to do an internship and specialise afterwards.
Major General Botsheleng mentioned that the SAPS had a very good relationship with traditional leaders.
Eastern Cape Department of Education Briefing
Mr Ian Assam, Deputy Director General: Strategic Coordination, Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Education, outlined the Department’s vision, policy environment, mission and goals, and described the profile of the Department. The profile provided the annual statistics on suicides, illnesses, accidents, violence and pregnancies. To support the Departmental imperatives on safe circumcision, there were programmes to educate learners and educators from the most affected districts. Money had been set aside from the conditional grant for HIV/Aids. The Department had undertaken road shows to Libode and Mbizana, the two districts that had recorded the highest number of initiates’ deaths and amputations. Collaboration between the Department’s traditional circumcision forums and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) ensured that everyone operated from the same premises. In 2009, the provincial intervention strategy had been coordinated by the South African Human Rights Commission and the Gender Commission, including different departments. Awareness campaigns in the form of Imbizo’s had been held with community leaders, learners and parents. The emphasis had been on sensitising the traditional leaders on how the practice of Ukuthwala affected the learners.
Mr Worth asked why 895 learners had died from illnesses in 2012, and 2 216 in 2003. What were those illnesses? Had learners died because of complications when giving birth?
Mr Assam replied that he could not pinpoint the illnesses that were causing learners’ deaths. The slide had showed a decrease over the years, due to departmental interventions around HIV/Aids programmes and the benefit of feeding schemes at schools.
The Chairperson asked why so many learners had died during pregnancies - more than 5 000 in 2012.
Mr Assam said he did not know the actual causes, as he simply gathered recorded figures. Poverty, unemployment and boredom sometimes led to teenage learner pregnancy. Some learners were impregnated by teachers, but the Department had been dealing with those teachers. The pregnancies reflected societal problems, and where learners were exposed to an unsafe environment, they lost out on education.
Mr Worth repeated his question about the causes of deaths.
Mr Assam replied that the causes might be health related. The Eastern Cape was a largely rural province, with few doctors and clinics that were sometimes far from the villages. Lack of societal and parental support also played a part.
Department Of Justice Initiatives
Mr Mpho Mashaba, Parliamentary Liaison Officer for the Office of the Director-General, apologised on behalf of the Director General who could not attend the meeting. He said that the Deputy Minister of Justice would be working with the Law Reform Commission and the National Prosecuting Authority to increase the conviction rate of people who were responsible for deaths at the initiation schools.
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