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Cape Town - Police officers are not properly implementing the Domestic Violence Act in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, an expert told a commission of inquiry on Friday.
Professor Lillian Artz, a director of the University of Cape Town's gender, health and justice research unit, testified at the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry on the police's response to domestic violence and sexual crimes.
She said her research findings were that officers from the various police stations in Khayelitsha were not properly trained in the minimum requirements of dealing with domestic violence according to SA Police Service national instructions.
The first requirement was that a police vehicle be dispatched to the scene without delay.
The second was that the crew of that vehicle be informed of who the complainant was and whether to expect violence.
She said domestic violence only became criminalised when a protection order had been breached, but many people never even followed through with finalising such an order.
She had conducted research on domestic violence protection order applicants in association with charity organisation Mosaic, which assists the justice department.
Less than 10 percent of Khayelitsha applicants who were assisted by Mosaic found the police to be helpful and most gave them a score of five out of a possible 10.
“In only 19 percent of cases were complainants told they could lay a criminal charge at the police station.”
Artz said that when the protection order had to be served, many provincial officers misread the Domestic Violence Act and would only serve on the respondent.
The act allowed that any person over the age of 16 could be given an order on behalf of the respondent, she said.
It was, however, not uncommon for the order to be served on the very person who had laid the complaint.
“In practice, the applicant is often the one who is in the house when the protection order is served, who then has to serve it on the respondent. It's just an untenable situation.”
She acknowledged systemic failures that prevented officers from fulfilling their duties, including a lack of airtime for cellphones, a lack of police vehicles and reported pressure to keep crime statistics low.
Artz concluded that there had to be a practical, strategic priority for domestic and sexual offences in Khayelitsha.
The commission was set up by Western Cape premier Helen Zille to probe accusations by civil society formations that police inaction was leading to an increase in “mob justice” killings in the area.
The Social Justice Coalition alleged that police inefficiency was leading to criminals running rampant in the sprawling township, and residents being forced to take the law into their own hands.
The commission's activities were delayed for some time when Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa tried to have the inquiry scrapped.
Mthethwa lost his legal bid to stop the commission in the Constitutional Court in October last year.
The first phase of hearings was expected to end on February 21.