/ 21 August 2017

Police care more about protest action than they do about violence against women

The bro code: Dominic Khumalo’s post showing solidarity with Mduduzi Manana
The bro code: Dominic Khumalo’s post showing solidarity with Mduduzi Manana

Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula held a press conference on August 10 2017, just a day after Women’s Day, to update the public on the case against (then) Deputy Higher Education Minister Mduduzi Manana. Manana has been accused of assaulting Mandisa Duma at a nightclub earlier in that week, with graphic video evidence of the assault circulating on social media.

At his press conference, Mbabula addressed the public on the processes that the police has undertaken following the assault. According to Mbalula, Manana had not been arrested because there were no witness statements, the case docket had not met a certain standard, the police needed to be thorough and Manana did not pose a flight risk.

Whilst these reasons seem fair and in line with criminal procedure and constitutional law, they are not applied consistently in all cases. In particular, there is a stark difference in the manner in which the police respond to violence against women and how they respond to cases involving protest, for example. Instead, when protests take place, police most often rush to the scene immediately. Specialised police units attend to the scene, large numbers of arrests are made and, in most cases, whoever is found at the scene is arrested – no questions asked. In fact, the police have no issue arresting people suspected of taking part in protests in the early hours of the morning at their homes, after the protests have taken place. Indeed, often witness statements are made after arrests and people are only officially charged days after being taken into police custody.

We unfortunately do not see such a prompt chase for justice on the part of the police when it comes to arresting perpetrators of violence against women. Why is it that in cases involving protest, where people are exercising their constitutional rights, the police are willing to circumvent criminal procedure in order to make swift arrests but they are so slow in responding to violence against women, despite the serious nature of the crime and the high levels of such abuse in our country?

Could it be that the police act more promptly because protestors cause an inconvenience to the general public such as blocking traffic and access to institutions? Could it be that the police make quick arrests because when there are protests there is sometimes malicious damage to property? Could it be that police officials fly to protest scenes because they seek to protect interest of corporations and government officials that the protestors are usually protesting against?

The message from the police service then is clear: police come down harder on protest action, which is not a crime but a constitutional right when it is at the inconvenience of many and judging from the police’s conduct, buildings are more valuable than the bodies of women. Seemingly, profit for corporations and the protection of government officials is more important than the dignity and the lives of the women who are being abused and murdered daily.

Despite seemingly clear video evidence of Manana and others assaulting Mandisa Duma and what amounts to a public admission from the (then) Deputy Minister himself, the police did not make an immediate arrest. The police’s submission that there was ‘no emergency’ in arresting Manana is indicative of their complacent attitude towards violence against women in the country.

The Minister of Police has announced that the ministry will now focus on implementing an existing six-point plan on how to deal with gender-based violence. While this is welcomed and much needed, the question is why has this this plan been waiting to be implemented in the first place. The Constitution provides that Saps’s objective is to prevent, combat and investigate crime, to maintain public order and to protect and secure all those living in the country and to uphold and enforce the law. As it stands, Saps is failing dismally at this in respect of violent crimes against women.

Mbalula has admitted that police stations have “neglected” many cases of violence against women by not accepting reports of gender-based violence, not investigating these cases and/or by losing their dockets. There is no better time for Saps to take their constitutional obligation seriously and to start acting promptly and with respect in preventing, combating and investigating violent crimes against women. If the police acted as quickly as they do in protest cases, far fewer women would die at the hands of their abusers.

Palesa Madi is an attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies based at Wits University. She writes in her own capacity.