Ensuring justice for SA’s women and children
Violence against women and children is a stark reality for many South Africans, and more so for the people tasked with investigating this scourge and bringing the perpetrators to book.
The 2018/19 crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS), showed that 179 683 contact crimes against women were reported to the police.
These ranged from murder to sexual offences, attempted murder, assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and common assault. A total of 45 229 similar crimes against children were reported to the police.
In the same period, 36 597 sexual offences such rape, sexual assault, attempted rape and contact sexual offences against women were reported to the police, while 24 387 of these crimes against children were reported.
The job of ensuring that those responsible for these crimes are caught falls largely on the shoulders of the SAPS’ Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Unit.
Major General Bafana Linda (54) is the National Component Head for the the unit.
Linda, who has been a police officer since 1986, acknowledges that “being the face of the fight against gender-based violence (GBV) is a difficult job”.
He is responsible for ensuring that the 185 FCS units across the country are well resourced to successfully pursue and arrest perpetrators of violence against women and children. In addition, he is responsible for ensuring that the units are updated on procedures, policies, guidelines, national instructions and strategies.
“I am responsible for policy and standards. This means that I have to look at current legislation and if amendments are needed, I am responsible for that. I also have to make sure the functioning of the units is standardised.”
Linda is also tasked with ensuring that the FCS units are able to react appropriately when cases are reported to the police. He also oversees educational outreach programmes that aim to teach communities about the FCS units.
The call to serve
After matriculating at KwaMbonambi Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal in 1983, Linda worked as a clerk at what is now called the Ugu District Municipality.
Having considered a career in teaching, Linda's interest in law enforcement was also piqued by a novel he read at school about a master detective who tracked down thieves who were hiding in caves.
The first crime scene Linda attended to as a police officer was that of a murdered young woman in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. It is while he was stationed in Hillbrow that he first realised there was a need to pay greater attention to sexual offences crimes.
After asking his commander to hand over all sexual assault cases to him, Linda established a unit in Braamfontein to deal with these cases. The unit was in the same building as the then Child Protection Unit, which was tasked with investigating crimes against children. The two units would later merge to form what was called the Domestic Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit, the forerunner of FCS units.
“The first upgraded FCS unit in the country was in Braamfontein, which I headed,” recalls Linda.
“I had a passion to be the voice of the voiceless. I realised that rape is about power and control and you have to fight power with power. I felt I should be able to defend the most vulnerable, which are women, children and the elderly.”
Putting perpetrators behind bars
The FCS units were decentralised in 2006 and absorbed into the greater police service. According to Linda, decentralisation negatively affected investigations because of a lack of specialised skills by some detectives now tasked with handling these cases.
Specialised FCS units were relaunched in 2010 and since then, have helped secure more than 4 000 life sentences for perpetrators.
There are more than 4 200 police officers working at 185 FCS units, across the country. However, Linda believes that more officers need to be recruited so that these units can function optimally.
Officers in the FCS units need to know the Sexual Offences Act, Child Care Act, Children’s Act and the Film and Publications Act. They are also trained on the correct way to treat an abuse victim and how to collect evidence in a manner that does not further traumatise the victim.
The units investigate crimes such as rape, domestic abuse and cybercrimes, for which the officers receive specialised training so that they are able to deal with child pornography and related cyber offences, which are increasing in South Africa.
“Children are now manufacturing their own child pornography and they are not aware of how it can affect their future. We try to teach them about such things,” says Linda.
The FCS Unit has helped put many serial rapists behind bars. Recently, work done by the FCS units led to the conviction of a serial rapist in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, who lured victims with the promise of jobs. The rapist was sentenced to 425 years and 32 life terms behind bars after being linked through DNA to 32 rape cases, Linda says.
The unit also arrested a taxi driver who targeted victims using public transport. He was linked to 39 rape cases and sentenced to 39 life terms.
Linda says public servants and communities can play a role in fighting violence against women and children by participating in community policing forums and reporting known or suspected cases of abuse to police. This can be done through the police’s 10111 contact line or by contacting the GBV Command Centre on 0800 428 428.
The FCS units work with non-governmental organisations, the Department of Social Development, the Department of Health and Department of Justice in combating violence against women and children.