World Cup class courts for all

Date: June 22, 2010
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We have learned from this World Cup that when South Africa really puts its mind to it, justice can be served much faster and expeditiously than we have ever seen before. On the one hand, we should applaud the country for meeting FIFA’s standards, and allaying fears regarding South Africa’s ability to deal with our “crime situation” and successfully host this acclaimed tournament. On the other hand, how can such a “once in a lifetime” event produce a judicial system so much more superior to the one we face day to day, especially when we are seeing dwindling resources to address such pervasive problems as domestic and sexual violence?

Minister Jeff Radebe, of the Justice and Constitutional Development, has been in the media commenting on the successes of the “World Cup courts,” established for the duration of the FIFA World Cup 2010 to deal with criminal offences committed by or against non-resident supporters, a non-resident witnessing a crime or those committed at tourist attractions.

These courts are open for 15 hours a day, way exceeding normal operating times to conclude cases during the month long tournament. The 56 courts employ hundreds of magistrates, prosecutors, legal aid lawyers, court orderlies and translators, thus costing the taxpayers about R45 million.

We have heard of the expeditious conclusion of a case of robbery and theft of equipment belonging to foreign journalists in Magaliesburg. Within 2 weeks, two of the alleged robbers received 15-year sentences, one 4 years for having stolen property. This is a groundbreaking record for our criminal justice system indeed, and a clear demonstration of an immense commitment and responsiveness to crime fighting.

However, our criminal justice system needs to learn that its successes are not only measured in terms of their ability to resolve common crimes such as robberies or theft during worldwide events, but their ability to restore hope and faith in our humanity by rooting out the crimes that face us everyday – sexual violence (especially rape), domestic violence and murders.

South Africa is well known for the highest rape statistics in the world. Victims/survivors are mostly women and children. Researchers have found that there is underreporting of rape cases due to fear of stigma or secondary victimization, and implying an underestimation of the real extent of rape captured in police statistics.

Civil society has been successful in pushing for the revamping of sexual assault services through the establishment of several sexual offences courts across the country and the opening of Thuthuzela centres, dedicated to improving turnaround times in resolving rape cases and developing appropriate rape management strategies. The recent closure of some sexual offences courts and non-expansion of the Thuthuzela centres threatens these gains.

Having seen the dwindling in service provision, where is the consideration of the thousands of women who raped or sexually assaulted from 11 June, during and after 11 July 2010? Will women and children reporting sexual violence during the World Cup month not benefit from having their cases heard in the most expeditious and effective way, as demonstrated by the courts recently? Will female residents in this country be left in the sidelines by the criminal justice system because all resources are channeled for the benefit of scoring points with FIFA?

There is need for accountability and investment in the improvement of service delivery not only during the World Cup season but also throughout the year, and not only to non-residents but also residents and citizens of this country. Our leaders must understand the crippling effects of such violent crimes on our morale as a people.

Prevention of sexual violence needs to be on the criminal justice system’s agenda, and they have a chance to start now, today! Not only soccer can unite us as a nation or a continent, but also the principles of accountability, ubuntu, and fighting for peace.

It is critical that the media, FIFA officials and all the fans appreciate that the criminal elements to the World Cup do not relate only to stolen currencies, electronic equipments, and personal effects, but also to the emotional and physical harm perpetrated by a single act of rape or sexual assault. This is the plight of all women and children across the world, on a daily basis.

We know that women living in South Africa carry an even greater burden, it is our mothers, our sisters, our children and us who are raped and not much effective resolution is reached. These people love and support soccer. The Commission on Gender Equality raised issues with the government’s preoccupation with meeting the demands of FIFA in as far as building good quality stadiums, improvements in the transport system; which up to now have little to account on its social responsibility to the SA people.

Ke nako that our government demonstrates more consideration, innovation and initiative to its people, rather than merely creating a good impression with foreign partners and donors. There should be an explosion of initiatives linked to the world cup emphasising the safety and security of women at the prevention level as well as increasing access to care and treatment at the secondary level. When all these are in place perhaps we then can have a sigh of relief and say we have “shown them.”

Nwabisa Jama Shai is the Research Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service.

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