If a woman living in fear for her life wants help from the Philippi Magistrate’s Court, she needs to get there by 5am. That’s because the court only accepts the first 20 in line.
If she’s the 21st,the doors of justice are closed to her.
Despite assurances from the Western Cape’s Justice Department that there was no “daily limit”, the Cape Argus witnessed a woman being turned away at 8am on Monday.
A court official turned a 29-year-old woman away and asked her to return the following day because the “20-person limit had been reached”.
“Now I have to go back to my house. My husband is going to be released from jail today (Monday). He was arrested yesterday (Sunday) because he beat me.
“I’m very scared now. He’s going to come back and I won’t have a protection order. He beats me and my children whenever he’s drunk. I have nowhere to run. I’m going to live in terror in my own home,” she said.
The woman said she had been unaware that the magistrate attended only to the first 20 people needing a protection or peace order.
Hishaam Mohamed of the Western Cape Justice Department said there was no such “quota”.
“There’s no limitation at all. We assist people until the last one or the end of the day, that’s our official policy. We need to investigate that and take necessary action against the official,” he said.
The first person in the queue on Monday was a 26-year-old woman from New Crossroads who wanted a peace order against a “friend” who stabbed her. She arrived at the court at 5.20am.
“I came on Friday (June 22) around 7.15am. The magistrate told me the court attends to a limited number of people and it had already reached its limit. I was told to be at the court by 5am,” she said.
More women started trickling into the court after 6am. There were already 12 women queuing inside the court by 7am.
The women there knew about the 20-person limit and said they had gone to the court early to avoid being turned away.
A 44-year-old Philippi vendor left her house at 5.20am to be at the court by 6am.”I want a protection order against my boyfriend. He beats me and accuses me of sleeping with the taxi drivers I sell medicine to,” she said.
“He demands that I come home with a box of cigarettes every day and, if I don’t, he beats me.
“I was here by 7am on Thursday. I was told the first 20 had already been taken, and I was advised to come back the next day.
“I sell medicine to taxi drivers and their passengers in Site C. They leave by 8am and I couldn’t afford to lose another day of business so I didn’t come on Friday.”
The woman said travelling to court so early was a risk in itself.
“I had prayed all the way to court. I’m very scared of being robbed,” she said.
A 30-year-old woman, who wanted a protection order against her abusive boyfriend, left her three-year-old son at home so that she could get to the court early enough.
“I had to leave before his transport arrived to pick him up from school,” she said.
The court official explained to the women who were “lucky” enough to make the cut that peace order forms were “quick” to complete and a protection order form took at least 30 minutes to complete.
He said those who were confident with their English skills could fill in their own forms, but the rest would have to wait for scribes to arrive at 9am.
After filling in the form, the women had to come back at 2.30pm to collect the protection order, which they then had to take to the police station closest to their abuser. An officer accompanies the women to serve the order on her abuser.
Meanwhile, Mohamed said the department had started implementing a “turnaround strategy” to improve maintenance and domestic violence matters.
“This project focuses on reducing the waiting time at court as well as the turnaround in finalising maintenance matters and we will be extending this project to the Domestic Violence section at Philippi Magistrate’s Court during August.”
Cornelius Monama, spokesman for Minister of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana, said: “We find it unacceptable when women are unable to access services for which they are legally and constitutionally entitled.
“Justice for women is not negotiable. The safety and protection of women remain not negotiable.”
Monama said Xingwana would launch the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence in August this year.
“Part of its objective is to co-ordinate a national response to gender-based violence and to close loopholes within the system to ensure the safety and protection of women,” said Monama.