Justice fails when too much is at stake

At least nine cases related to domestic violence were withdrawn in the Johannesburg magistrate’s court in February, according to Pumeza Futshane, the chief state prosecutor in the office of the director of public prosecutions, South Gauteng.

“This is a major crisis not only because, as the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority], we get a tongue-lashing when cases are withdrawn, but because women keep going back to men who will one day kill them.

“We get reasons like ‘he is the father of my children’, ‘there is no food’, or that they have spoken and resolved the issue,” she said.

It is not the only court experiencing a high volume of cases being withdrawn. The prosecutors at the Hillbrow magistrate’s court also have scary stories to tell, such as how a few months ago a pregnant woman opened a case of assault after she had been beaten by her boyfriend but how a few days later she was back to withdraw the case.

“I told her I would not drop the case because he would kill her next time, so I pushed on with it and the magistrate acquitted the man due to insufficient evidence because she was not willing to testify,” said a prosecutor at the court. He cannot be named because he was not given permission to speak to the media.

He also spoke about other cases.

“At least eight out of 10 of the cases that are opened here are closed again and there is not much you can do about it. Whilst you were sitting outside the office, I thought that you were here to drop a case too,” he said.

His colleague, an investigating officer, sitting in a chair in the same office, said many of the cases he had been involved in and which were withdrawn were as a result of families talking the victim out of pursuing the matter.

“If you go back to our African culture, you will see where this stems from. You find that the families will ask the woman why she did not approach the family and find a better solution than pressing charges. The woman comes back to say everything has been resolved.”

The investigator explained that many women were financially dependent on their abusers.

Futshane agreed and said she had devised a new strategy to deal with this.

“We try to mediate now but how do you when you see a woman with a blue eye and the report shows her whole body is bruised?” she asked.

Another prosecutor working at the Hillbrow court said a woman had been furious when he had refused to drop a case of aggravated assault against her boyfriend.

“She told me that, if I don’t drop the case, she would move from her current address and I would not be able to find her to force her to testify. I dropped the case,” he said.

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Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.


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