SAPS Victim Empowerment Programme: Ombuds investigation of Philisa Abafazi Bethu complaint

Community Safety, Cultural Affairs and Sport (WCPP)

08 September 2020
Chairperson: Mr R Allen (DA)
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Meeting Summary

Video: SAPS Victim Empowerment Program: Ombuds investigation of Philisa Abafazi Bethu complaint

Philisa Abafazi Bethu had laid a complaint with the Western Cape Police Ombudsman about the circumstances and conditions of police stations in the Western Cape together with South African Police Service (SAPS) members handle vulnerable victims of abuse and crime when reporting crime.

The Western Cape Police Ombudsman conducted an investigation and interviewed the relevant stakeholders and allowed members of the public to provide inputs. Its finding was that the structures of various Western Cape police stations and the SAPS members were not adequately equipped to deal with vulnerable victims that report crime. This failure in having adequate victim empowerment programmes led to secondary victimisation at the hands of the police.

SAPS reviewed the finding of the Western Cape Police Ombudsman and conducted further investigations. To a large degree, SAPS agrees with the finding and showed their willingness to redress some of the issues to restore faith in SAPS in affected communities, particularly in cases of gender-based violence and other crimes against vulnerable groups.

Members asked about the efficiency and oversight of SAPS, how SAPS members would be trained to strength their professionalism towards victims as well as measures to improve police stations so that vulnerable victims can be supported with care. Members noted concerns about volunteers of victim empowerment programmes being lost due to non-compensation, amongst other things. This causes gaps as new volunteers need to be trained on a regular basis. Members said that the Ombudsman recommendations which SAPS said it will implement, should be monitored on a regular basis and the findings documented for future engagement, to hold SAPS accountable.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks
The Chairperson welcomed Western Cape Police Ombudsman (WCPO), Mr Johan Brand, and his team. Adv Yashina Pillay, Acting Head of the Department of Community Safety would be present 9:00 and 10:00. The Provincial Minister of Community Safety had tendered apologies. Acting Western Cape Provincial Commissioner, Maj Gen Mpumelelo Manci, will be joining the meeting. We have Ms Lucinda Evans, the director of Philisa Abafazi Bethu Women and Children Centre, as well as guests and members of the public.

The Chairperson noted the rules of engagement for the virtual committee meeting: all members and guests are to be muted; Use the raise your hand function if you would like to speak; all switch off video to improve quality of communication; when speaking, switch your audio and video on and switch them off once done.

The Committee will receive a briefing on the WCPO report about a complaint lodged by Ms Evans, who is championing women and children's rights nationally. Ms Evans will provide input on the report later.

The Report and a power point presentation has been circulated to all members. Mr Brand will be presenting and then SAPS will respond to the recommendations made by the WCPO. Afterwards, Ms Evans will provide her inputs on the Report. Lastly, the Members will be given the chance to provide their inputs.

SAPS Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) investigation: WCPO briefing
Mr Johan Brand, WCPO, introduced his team: Ms N Rabie, the head of the office, who will be leaving on 30 September 2020 as she has been appointed in another capacity by the City of Cape Town; Ms D Vorster, head of communication and marketing, who will be the acting head of office from 1 October; Mr Zwelinkosi Matwa, senior investigator; Ms Geraldine Isaacs, head of administration. Ms A Louis and Ms S Dan were the leading investigators supported by Ms Jordan.

Ms Dan presented the findings of the SAPS Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP). The complaint was received from Ms Evans in her capacity as the director of the Philisa Abafazi Bethu. The complaint made allegations about the policing inefficiency of the VEP at Caledon and Swellendam specifically. Investigation of the complaints was done in terms of the applicable law and comments were requested from the public. The SAPS mandate was considered in light of the systemic problems with the services of SAPS members in relevant parts of the Western Cape. The main aim was to restore the dignity of the victims of crime within the SAPS mandate. The South African Victim Empowerment Manual and its aims were considered.

During the investigation, interviews were conducted with stakeholders. Ms Evans was interviewed, and she emphasised gender violence and victim abuse at various police stations in the Western Cape. Col. Paulse was interviewed together with volunteers, nurses at Swellendam Hospital and victims. The outcome was that SAPS lacked compassion, confidentiality, and professional skills to support victims of violence and abuse. The victims were commonly subjected to secondary victimisation at the hands of SAPS.

Investigation was conducted of the Victims Friendly Rooms (VFR) in various police stations. Findings were drawn from the 2018 Provincial Policing Report. This report stated that SAPS frontline staff will need to be trained to support victims of crime and prevent secondary victimisation, and being abused at the hands of police. The purpose of VFR are to give victims of intimate violence the opportunity to make statements in a private and non-threatening environment. The data shows VFR compliance in police stations in Caledon and Swellendam. However, inspections show that Caledon was lacking the required burglar bars, amongst other things. WCPO visited this station and the scrutinising of registers did not happen as they were not available. The findings of WCPO and that of SAPS are provided. There are striking differences in the SAPS and WCPO investigation reports. Graphs and photos were provided in the presentation. WCPO found that VEP provincial training has been lacking.

Ms Jordan said that the South African service charter for victims of crime is an important instrument to support victims of crime and aims to illuminate secondary victimisation and clarify service standards for victims of crime. Seven rights are outlined in the charter provided to all police stations. WCPO interviewed the victims to establish if their rights were upheld. In general, there has been low compliance. Crimes are mainly committed against women and children. Investigations made  at SAPS Caledon and Swellendam reveal that incorrect information is recorded in the registers, no person was informed of their rights and only about 20% of interviews were actually conducted in the VFR. 

Ms Louis said that during the course of this investigation international standards were considered with reference to England and Wales, showing the existence of an independent charity service named Victim Support in those countries. Services are provided free of charge and are available 24/7 before and after trial.

The inefficiency of SAPS in the Western Cape is shown when considering Chapter 7 of the Victim Empowerment Programme Manual. The SAPS 2018 Provincial Policing Report identified poor investigation and lack of proper monitoring. It stated that structural requirements are mostly met but there remains lack of capacity, resources, and relationships with NGOs. SAPS listed its recommendations. The main challenge is VEP volunteers are not available at various police stations. This can be attributed to the fact that it is a voluntary not compulsory service nor are they compensated.  

The WCPO recommendations  include addressing the inefficiencies highlighted in the SAPS 2018 Report and those in the WCPO Report. These include the uneven application of the applicable law, lack of training for SAPS officials, a memorandum of understanding needed between SAPS and the Department of Social Department (DSD) and referring victims to service providers with the relevant skills and training.

The Chairperson said that the report reveals that VEP policing inefficiencies can lead to secondary victimisation, which has been shown to cause increased post-traumatic stress and a decrease in reporting future crime. Thus the Committee has a responsibility to ensure that the inefficiencies in SAPS Western Cape are addressed. SAPS has not been able to join the meeting due to connectivity problems so in the meantime, Ms Evans will make her input.

Philisa Abafazi Bethu remarks
Ms Lucinda Evans, Philisa Abafazi Bethu Director, said that her organisation is non-partisan. Their complaint is about victims of gender-based crimes. They visited police stations and although there are VFRs, such rooms are in a shocking state and are not utilised properly. Only one police station, Ashton, was found to have a cell for an LGBTI community person. Other police stations used the VFR for office space as they had little office space. SAPS attitude is not convincing about trying to resolve this as SAPS is still not present at this meeting at 9:45. This attitude shows its lack of commitment to the issues at hand. As civil society, we deal with this attitude from SAPS constantly. Why is it that the police station in Table View has a functional VFR. There is a paper trail; they comply with the victim charter and they are compliant about completing the register. However, the Kraaifontein police station is ill managed to the extent that victims do not even have police officers on duty to report their crimes.

How are we going to ensure that the tabled recommendations will be implemented? Who will be giving civil society feedback on their implementation? We have seen that there is no monitoring and evaluation. The VEP volunteers do not get training or compensated or the necessary psycho-social support which is most significant because you cannot work with trauma cases and not get debriefing. The active volunteers in the books are seven but you will find only one active volunteer in most stations.

Therefore, we are bringing this matter to the Committee as the rights of victims of gender-based violence are violated on a daily basis. Ours request is that this Committee look at the Western Cape police station staff capacity, particularly to ensure that the VEP is running efficiently. The provincial commissioner with her team must take responsibility. The lives of women, children, the LGBTI community and disabled people are deeply dependent on SAPS and this Committee. When will the Department of Social Development and SAPS sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop and train VEP volunteers and provide them with the necessary psychosocial support? She asked the Department of Community Safety if there is not a funding model to give stipends to VEP volunteers. These queries are important in a country with high levels of GBV. The biggest concern to address is the training of SAPS members to conduct interviews and assist vulnerable GBV victims with care.

She thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present on the gaps in the VEP. She concluded by asking these questions: How is the monitoring going to take place? Who is going to ensure that SAPS fulfils its mandate? And what are the timelines for all of this? Thank you.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Evans and said that the Committee has noted her questions. The Committee will take several resolutions about monitoring this at meeting end and will forward the resolutions to you. He firmly agreed that SAPS is an important point of assistance for all vulnerable victims of gender-based crime.

SAPS response to WCPO Report recommendations
Acting Western Cape Provincial Commissioner, Maj Gen Mpumelelo Manci, highlighted SAPS' willingness to partake in the discussion. He confirmed that they have studied the Report with the seriousness it deserves. The recommendations state that SAPS needs to address the deficiencies identified. In our response action plan, there was a challenge with volunteers. We agree that it happens that volunteers will be recruited and then suddenly get depleted. Several police stations in the Western Cape are experiencing this problem. Each of the 32 police stations affected have been given a task to recruit a minimum of 20 volunteers to address the lack of volunteers. We therefore concur with the findings of the WCPO and those by SAPS about the lack of volunteers. Therefore, instructions have been given to the affected police stations and they have started recruiting volunteers. Once the recruitment is completed, we will submit a written request to the Department of Social Development to facilitate the training.

He continued that the outstanding number volunteers that needed training before COVID-19 was 321 volunteers. They have applied to Department of Social Development to facilitate the training of these volunteers. About the appointed coordinators that go on leave, we have instructed the station commanders to appoint acting coordinators to fill the gap when a person goes on leave to ensure sustained service delivery. There will be consequence management if the relevant SAPS members do not conduct themselves as requested. They have noted the non-compliance with instructions in Caledon and Swellendam and have tasked the relevant officers in these police stations to investigate and we will give feedback in due course.

Non-compliance with the applicable law about the equipment that should be in the VFR has been noted. Station commanders will conduct an inventory of the equipment and provide a detailed report on outstanding or missing items in the VFRs so that we can restore these spaces. To ensure continued availability of first aid kits and other items, we have given instructions to apply timeously to replenish the necessary supplies in the VFRs.

On SAPS member training, the national office has granted us 90 SAPS members to be trained on victim empowerment; 180 members trained on the Domestic Violence Act; 40 members trained to be first responder in sexual offence cases; 90 members trained on human rights, and 180 members trained on vulnerable persons. The training will be offered by our provincial HRD and we shall ensure that our members are adequately trained. This response action plan will be monitored and feedback will be given in due course.

Where SAPS members do not treat victims with the care they deserve, consequence management will take place and the wrongs identified will be redressed. The concerns raised about Plettenberg will be assessed and a response given on or before the deadline of 20 September 2020.

On secondary victimisation by SAPS as noted in the Report, for the applicable clusters we have tasked relevant SAPS members to investigate this and provide appropriate feedback. He indicated that he was involved directly on the panel into the reported secondary victimisation incident at Langa police station and this sort of behaviour from our SAPS members is completely unacceptable. About the anonymous rape survivor from Khayelitsha in the Report, the relevant SAPS members are investigating the matter.  

He shall continue to monitor the matters raised, particularly the VFRs, and any identified shortcomings will be addressed. Our supply chain will be engaged to ensure that the necessary equipment is provided. He said SAPS welcomes all criticisms and takes them with the seriousness they deserve.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked him and asked when he envisaged the VFR audit and the SAPS member training happening. These will be submitting to SAPS to get further information.  

Mr F Christians (ACDP) said that as a Committee they have always known there are shortcomings about victim support and VFRs. He complimented the General Major for his attitude of wanting to improve. However, it is important for the Committee to get accurate timelines from SAPS and, as the measures are being implemented, that he get regular feedback. We must ensure that the Department of Social Development plays its role in training volunteers. One will always lose volunteers because they are not being compensated and as a result the training provided will be lost. It is not sustainable to get people in all the time and provide them with training as they keep leaving for various reasons. Such volunteers must be supported appropriately with debriefings. He agreed that victims should be dealt with more professionally. He was happy with the attitude of everyone involved that we can move forward on this.  

Mr P Marais (FF+) said that the South African government is a master at compiling reports but it fails at the implementation level. The problem is the quality of men recruited by SAPS. Have they gone through psychiatric evaluation so you know their views on women, children and vulnerable groups? He said that one cannot allow the police to conduct oversight of other police. We need an independent body that regularly does oversight of police stations. The Constitution protects the rights of vulnerable groups. SAPS members have lost integrity in society. No man should be allowed to interview a woman rape survivor – a woman must assume that responsibility. We should be conscious about who we allow to be members of SAPS.

The Chairperson stated to the Committee that based on the WCPO Report and its case studies, data and investigations, the complaint was found to be substantiated and it was recommended that SAPS in the Western Cape must take appropriate steps of action and to address the inefficiencies.  The Committee needs to formulate its recommendations and the way forward.

Mr M Kama (ANC) welcomed the presentations and thanked Ms Evans for the work done. He applauded Mr Brand for allowing capable women to lead the WCPO presentation as this is significant in changing the narrative that women are incapable in our society. On the data collection presented in the graphs, he agreed with the WCPO that the difference between its report and that of SAPS is shocking. He asked for SAPS response about the differences in the WCPO and SAPS reports. What measures are available to monitor SAPS conduct without having to involve WCPO in a daily operation of improving services to society. It is unfortunate that the Department of Social Development is not here to account for the training of volunteers. He did not blame the volunteers for leaving as they are not compensated. His last question is on the training, the Report says that zero members were trained in the 2019 financial year. This is worrying in light of gender-based crimes. He wanted to  appeal to the NGO that although society is losing faith in SAPS, SAPS leadership is seeking to resolve the challenges in SAPS.      

The Chairperson said that the Committee would have to call in the SAPS Provincial Commissioner. He looked forward to that meeting. He gave WCPO an opportunity to provide feedback.

Western Cape Province Ombudsman response
Mr Brand echoed the comment about the attitude of SAPS leadership and their willingness to resolve existing challenges. He replied about the skills training audit, saying that the first column is the training needs in the province, the second column is the training provided and the last column is the national one. Comments made by Ms Evans about the matters contained in the Community Safety Act are not included as this investigation focus on the VEP.  

SAPS response
Gen Maj Manci replied to the timeline query, saying that instructions in the action plan were issued to station commanders with immediate effect. We have given them until 20 September 2020 to provide feedback on the audit so that we can know what needs have to be addressed. Thereafter, the plans will be monitored monthly.

On whether SAPS members are subjected to a psychometric tests, he replied that the simple answer was yes, they are subjected to these. They receive training from college. It is standard that female victims should be handled by female SAPS members and that each victim of crime should be handled with care. These norms and standards are encoded in the SAPS code of conduct which is read to SAPS members on a regular basis. Deviations from such norms are investigated and the necessary redress steps are implemented.

He said that the work of the WCPO is valued and very significant to SAPS as it offers them an opportunity to improve the service delivery of SAPS. The police stations will be visited with a checklist to ensure that things are up to standard in each police station.  

On VEP training of SAPS members, he replied that a total of about 1620 SAPS members have been trained in the last quarter in various police stations in the Western Cape. Further, there are training commitments in the near future. He stated that SAPS Human Resource Development (HRD) will be busy with the action plan for further training needs.

Discussion
Ms A Bans (ANC) thanked Philisa Abafazi Bethu for opening this topic of discussion as everyone knows that all spheres of government condemn GBV. She is happy that the WCPO allowed women to make the presentation. She asked how the training for victim empowerment support will be done. They would like to see a designated person in each police station to deal with GBV victims. She asked about the implications of WCPO conclusion that incorrect information had been put in the registers.    

Mr Marais said that we must assess if the rights of victims are upheld as much as the rights of criminals. Do we need an independent oversight unit that protects the rights of victims? We cannot have a police officer investigating the inefficiencies of other police officers. We do not want to overburden the Human Rights Commission and the courts to inspect the conduct of SAPS members against the Bill of Rights.

Mr G Bosman (DA) suggested that they arrange a joint Committee meeting with the Committee on Social Development and the Department of Community Safety and SAPS provincial leadership to help us understand the challenges around victim empowerment. He asked if the training is conducted from the SAPS or Social Development budget? What data is SAPS collecting about GBV and support and can we tell from this data where these crimes' hotspots are together with the training needs in these areas? Is SAPS using this information to address crime efficiently and allocate the necessary resources?  

The Chairperson remarked that it is one of the resolutions to call a joint meeting.

Responses
Gen Maj Mangci replied about the monitoring of training, he said that the training is offered by our training department and this will be monitored on a weekly basis to ensure that training sessions are provided. The training of volunteers is funded by the Department of Social Services, we recruit volunteers and then they are then trained. In terms of the data, we are using the crime statistics to determine hotspots for gender-based violence issues. Thank you.  

Mr Brand replied about the dedicated victim empowerment coordinators, saying WCPO has recommended that SAPS establish dedicated coordinators for this role on page 21 of the Report. On the incorrect information, he asked the lead investigator, Ms Dan to provide an explanation.

Ms Dan replied about the conclusions about incorrectly documented information. WCPO looked at the census survey from the 2018/19 financial year, specifically related to Caledon and Swellendam SAPS. Incorrect information had been recorded in the domestic violence register at Caledon SAPS. The pocketbooks of SAPS members contained incorrect information. Significantly, the contact details of victims were often omitted in the registers. Looking at Swellendam SAPS, she said that the only challenge experienced is that the disputes concerned were communicated primarily in Afrikaans. The effect of this is that members of the community who are not Afrikaans speakers are excluded and find it challenging to report their cases.

The Chairperson thanked them for their responses.

Mr Marais interjected and said he now knows that the police refuse to answer his questions, the SAP representatives answer only the easy questions.

The Chairperson said that he is sure that the Committee will get written responses for Mr Marais.

Ms Evans thanked the Chairperson and Major General Manci for the feedback on the WCPO report. One of the other recommendation from Philisa Abafazi Bethu is that once the police forums are running again, we should have a representative for the NGOs and civil society on such forums as we have a role to play in supporting SAPS to ensure that lives are protected.     

The Chairperson thanked Ms Evans, WCPO and SAPS for ensuring the safety of the community is upheld. The Committee will be taking resolutions and engage the applicable offices in due time. During the deliberations, several resolutions have already been noted. However, he suggested that Members flesh out the resolutions via email within the next 48 hours.

Mr Kama agreed with Mr Bosman's suggested resolutions. He is interested in the outcomes of the SAPS audit and they also need the SAPS response action plan to hold it accountable in future.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Kama and requested that he provided his input in writing.

Mr Marais said that he no longer a Member of this Committee, but he takes GBV very seriously. His questions have not been answered. He will table a motion and not a resolution because he is not a member. He hopes that Committee members will support that motion.

The Chairperson replied that Mr Marais is welcome to approach any Committee member to bring a resolution proposed by Mr Marais.

Mr Bosman said that he does not see why Mr Marais should not table a resolution directly to the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.

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