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Krugersdorp gang rape case withdrawal a blow to GBV victims

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Picture: Timothy Bernard/ African News Agency (ANA) – Police arrest illegal miners following the gang rape of eight women in July. The NPA has said there is insufficient evidence to prosecute the suspects. The withdrawal of the rape charges is a blow to all GBV victims and raises public uncertainty over the credibility of law enforcement agencies, say the writers.

By Zanele Zuma, Noluthando Phungula and Hlengiwe Phetha

Violence is a worldwide phenomenon causing the deaths of more than 1.6 million people each year, making it one of the leading causes of deaths globally.

Despite being commended for its Constitution that embraces human rights, South Africa is chained by gruesome acts of crimes that are gendered in their nature. Gender-based violent crimes become daily experiences and interventions to curb the plight are hampered by factors such as withdrawal of cases due to insufficient evidence.

The sudden withdrawal of the rape, sexual assaults, and robbery charges with aggravating circumstances against all 13 men and a minor did not only come as a shock to the public but left scepticism about the credibility of the law enforcement agencies in South Africa.

The incident on July 28, when eight women were gang raped while filming a music video at a mine dump in Krugersdorp, affirmed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s assertion that South Africa was not a safe place for women. It is the affirmation that free-of-gender-based violence (GBV) societies are non-existent and South Africa is no exception.

The announcement of the withdrawal of the Krugersdorp rape charges by the National Prosecuting Authority on October 27 was a blow to all GBV victims whose hope for justice lies with law enforcement agencies. The announcement raised public uncertainties on the credibility of law enforcement agencies.

The rush to gain media publicity, with promising statements and without putting in the work, remains the SAPS’s greatest deficit. The immense pressure that is bestowed upon police officers to make arrests within 72 hours also limits the chances of gathering solid evidence that could lead to the prosecution of perpetrators of crime, particularly GBV cases.

The role of law enforcement agencies in eliminating violent crime against women remains crucial but faces many challenges. Such agencies are the only hope that could bring security and justice to victims of violence. The Krugersdorp case has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that South Africa is a non-safe environment for women.

This is contrary to the first quarter crime statistics (2022/2023) report by the Police Minister Bheki Cele. The statistics reflect a decrease in sexual offences such as rape, sexual assault, attempted sexual offences and contact sexual offences. While the statistics may paint a decrease in such crimes, it may well be the case that the loss of confidence in law enforcement agencies is the reason victims are no longer coming forward to report such cases. This may be incorrectly captured as a decrease in crime but rather speaks to a decrease in reporting. While it is good and well to report on decreased sexual crime statistics, it is more important for our government to focus on uprooting such behaviour.

Cases that are dropped due to insufficient evidence are often as a result of law enforcement agencies’ failure to do their work efficiently. The country continues to witness crimes against women. The failure to hold perpetrators accountable further increases the loss of public trust in law enforcement agencies.

The withdrawal of the charges in the Krugersdorp gang rape case is a low blow to all women who might want to come forward and report cases and seek justice. Such outcomes also act as a barrier and a silencing mechanism for victims of gender-based violence.

Dr Zuma is from Wits University and Dr Phungula and Dr Phetha are from the University of Johannesburg.