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South Africa’s parole system has failed child victims

The government has admitted that the early release of two parolees may have resulted in the deaths of two children in separate incidents.

Last week eight-year-old Reagan Gertse was found murdered on a riverbank in the Cape Winelands town of Tulbagh. The suspect for the murder is 53-year-old Jacobus Pistoors who had been out of jail on parole for the past four months.

Pistoors had been convicted and sentenced to 12 years in jail for the rape of a five-year-old boy. 

The murder comes as the Cape still reckons with the murder of eight-year-old Tazne Van Wyk who was found dead in a drainpipe outside the town of Worcester. She was last seen alive two weeks before while walking to a shop opposite her home in Connaught Estate in Cape Town, 100km from where her body was discovered. 

The suspect in that case is 54-year-old parolee Moyhdian Pangarker. In 2016 he was sentenced to 10 years in jail after prosecutors charged him for the murder of his son. The court found him guilty of culpable homicide.

In both these cases, the suspects were known to their victims and their families.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has now reiterated calls by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the parole system needs to be asked tough questions about why Pistoors and Pangarker were released. 

Speaking after a meeting with correctional services officials, Lamola said their release was a mistake. 

“Ordinarily, our role is to remove individuals from society who have lost their humanity. We also somehow ensure that we reintroduce these individuals to their original selves after effective rehabilitation from their offending behaviour.” 

But, he said, this system can fail: “It seems on two occasions recently, we have been found wanting on this very crucial mandate and the cost has been too ghastly to bear as it has led to a loss of a daughter and a son here in the Western Cape and for that, we are deeply pained.”

Lamola this week announced that urgent measures to ensure certain categories of offenders undergo additional screening to prevent them from being released on parole. 

These include assessments by criminologists and psychiatrists to enhance the parole board’s decision to consider the release of offenders convicted of gender-based crimes and femicide. 

Lamola also said there are already legislative tools to declare offenders convicted of gender-based crimes to be declared “dangerous criminals” and be given indefinite sentences. “Now, more than ever, we need robust, transparent and consistent practices for managing consequences of noncompliance across the board.” 

In practice, he said this would mean that: “Parole boards across the country must be sensitive to the public outcry on GBV [gender-based violence] and crime in general. The actions of the parole boards must enhance the administration of justice in general. We have the tools to give effect to the president’s directive to ensure that the murderers of Tazne and Reagan never walk in our communities again.”

The Western Cape has had several high-profile cases of children being killed.

Last week, seven-year-old Emaan Solomons died after being hit by a stray bullet from an alleged gangster’s gun in Ocean View in the Cape South Peninsula.  Two men were arrested. 

In late December, five-year-old Valentino Grootejie suffered a similar fate when he was shot in his Lavender Hill backyard. 

Communities have staged several protests in recent weeks calling for harsher sentences for offenders. 

Following the appearance of Pangarker in court, angry residents attacked an apartment where it was rumoured he had stayed. 

In Ocean View, after Solomons’ killing, the community torched the house of an alleged gangster and drug merchant. 

Director at the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute Professor Shanaaz Mathews said the recent spate of child murders is not out of line with the trends in child murder statistics. 

She said about 1 000 children in South Africa are killed every year, or three each day. 

“What we see is that in reality most children are murdered either in the context of gang violence or child abuse.  These awful abduction cases are actually a small percentage of the overall number, but what we’ve seen is that you get this inverse focus. So while there are very few cases like this, they attract most of the media attention,” said Mathews. 

Lucy Jamieson, a senior researcher also working at the Children’s Institute, said families and communities need to be more vigilant in the safety of their children, even if it is directly outside their homes. “A lot of children disappear on their way to the shop or to school and we need to get our communities to be thinking about how we make sure our children are protected and observed all the time.”

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Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

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