Minister Lamola sets his sights on tackling GBV
Still within his first year in office, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has already shown a steely resolve to strengthen South Africa’s justice system. He is tackling the country’s most pressing issues, with a particularly tenacious focus on clamping down on violence against women and children.
Minister Lamola became South Africa’s youngest Cabinet Minister in this administration when he was appointed to head the Justice and Correctional Services portfolio by President Cyril Ramaphosa in May 2019. The appointment of a 35-year-old Minister raised some eyebrows amongst sceptics, but Minister Lamola’s background and extensive experience made him a worthy candidate for the position. Since taking office, he has taken strong steps to address Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and other key issues in his crucial portfolio.
Accelerating the opening of sexual offences court
In the face of continued high levels of GBV and child abuse, the Minister is on a drive to strengthen the justice system to deal with sex offenders and other abusers. He is accelerating the opening of 10 more sexual offences courts to be rolled out in the current financial year, adding to the 94 currently operating around the country.
“The department is already reopening specialist courts and will be expanding these across the country, so that GBV and other crimes against women and children are attended to adequately by the justice system. These are very important people in our society and to protect them is in the best possible interests of our nation,” said Minister Lamola.
The sexual offences courts were reintroduced by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in 2013 to provide specialised redress to victims of sexual abuse and violence and to reduce the turnaround time in finalising these matters before court. Minister Lamola said several sexual offences courts have already imposed heavy sentences on offenders.
“The sexual offenses courts have meted out heavy sentences. An offender was sentenced to four life sentences for four counts of rape, another one was handed a life sentence and 50 years. Both of these sentences took place at the Moretele Magistrate Court, Hamanskraal. Another offender in KwaZulu-Natal was sentenced to seven life sentences plus 76 years and this serves as an example of the good work the sexual offences court does.”
New interventions in clamping down on GBV
Minister Lamola has highlighted that the justice system has been performing well when it comes to convicting criminals of sexual offences, but he is acutely aware that more effort needs to be made.
“In quarter one of the 2019/20 financial year, the national figure for the offences of rape on our court rolls was at 2 479. The national conviction rate for all sexual offences in this quarter was 74.5 percent, which amounts to 1 064 convictions. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) does take these matters seriously when they are brought before them. But it is not enough,” said the Minister, explaining that more change needed to occur within homes and communities.
“It needs more societal work and needs us men, in particular, to be more sensitive and responsive to the calls of the nation. The NPA and the judiciary may not be able to do all the work, we need men to do their part.”
Other interventions government is implementing to combat the scourge of GBV include proposed amendments to legislation such as the Sexual Offences Act, such as overhauling and modernising the national registry of sex offenders and making the names of those on the list open to the public.
“We will ensure that we review laws that address the economic plight of women, this is our priority in this administration. We will be reviewing legislation such as the Traditional Courts Bill and the Recognition of Customary Amendment Bill. We will introduce a Gender Based Violence and Femicide Bill and review the Sexual Offences Amendment Act Bill to ensure that National Register for Sexual Offences expands its scope and address the question of making it public,” Minister Lamola said.
Efficient and effective justice system
According to the Minister, proper integration between the departments of justice and correctional services is also a priority.
“I would like to see sound integration between the two departments in terms of the data we collect, and also harness the power of technology to create an efficient and effective justice system,” he pointed out.
The issue of rehabilitating offenders in the prison system is also close to Minister Lamola’s heart.
“I have observed that many offenders are my age or younger, so this resonates with me and makes me able to relate to them. I have interacted with some of them and think that we can be very impactful if, when they get out of correctional services facilities, they can be economically and socially beneficial to society. This is why I want to see the programmes for rehabilitation of offenders having an impact.”
Minister Lamola said that his work in the justice system will include improving access to services for all South Africans.
“We need to increase our ability to help people who are in need of proper judicial services but do not have the resources. Most of all, we need to ensure that everyone is equal before the law as per the demands of the Constitution. Rich and poor; women and men; no matter the race, colour or creed; they all need to be able to access justice. This is why we are working towards ensuring that we can achieve universal access.”
Bolstering public confidence
With public confidence in law enforcement agencies and prosecution authorities still fragile, Minister Lamola said the credibility of the justice system needs to be bolstered.
“We are in the process of restoring the credibility of the NPA and investigating agencies. We must ensure that all law enforcement agencies do their jobs without fear, favour or prejudice to anyone; apply the rules of the Constitution and ensure that we protect and safeguard the rule of law.”
He said good strides are being made with regard to transformation targets.
“The systems we use to track empowerment have shown an encouraging number of black men and women prosecutors and attorneys in the public sector. The private sector also has a role to play in this, which is why we are introducing a charter engaging with the private sector on this.”
Addressing fraud and corruption
Addressing the issue of fraud and corruption in his Budget Vote, the Minister acknowledged that the revelations of high levels of brazen corruption arising at the various Commissions of Inquiry are a “serious affront to our constitutional democracy”.
He added that the department will continue to provide administrative support to enable the Commissions of Inquiry to do their work and, in the process, strengthen the rule of law and the country’s constitutional democracy.
The department will also provide budgetary support for the establishment of the Investigative Directorate, which falls under the NPA, to enable it to deal with relevant cases arising from the various commissions.
The Investigative Directorate will work with a range of entities, both governmental and non-governmental, to ensure that perpetrators of fraud and corruption are brought to book speedily.
Functioning of correctional services
Minister Lamola acknowledged that a variety of significant obstacles need to be overcome to ensure the optimal functioning of correctional services.
“We are already putting systems and plans in place to resolve issues such as nepotism, favouritism, low staff morale and a clear prison work policy. We should be able to resolve them as expeditiously as possible so that our facilities can reach world standards.”
The Minister has been travelling across the country assessing the state of correctional facilities, and while encountering many challenges, he has also come across facilities which are providing excellent examples for others to follow. He cites the Brandvlei Correctional Centre in the Western Cape, where he recently attended for the launch of the continent’s first ever prison radio station, run completely by inmates.
“They also run their own dairy farm which also supplies other facilities, as well as a bakery, all operated by the inmates with the help of correctional services officials. The community benefits from it, and once the prisoners are released they can go out and find employment at a radio station, farm or bakery. This is just one of the very good examples that we should be aware of; there are many others around the country,” Minister Lamola said.