Protection by name is not enough

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Michael Padayachee. Photo: Supplied

Johannesburg - “I really need help, I don’t know what to do any more,” she says, her deep voice trembling through the speaker of the phone.

Just last Thursday, Manini Ncwabe was served with a protection order by the police from her estranged husband.

This was after Ncwabe, 41, a mother-of-two, had applied for one against him at the Vanderbijlpark Magistrate’s Court after he moved out of their home last month.

“We used to fight all the time. He used to drink a lot… In 2008, he burnt down the bedroom of our house and stabbed me twice with scissors. I opened a case against him, but it was thrown out of court because the court said there was no evidence. Yesterday [last Thursday] he brought a protection order against me because he said I swear at him, threw his things away and changed the keys to the house,” she said.

Ncwabe is but one of the thousands of cases across the country of women brutalised and harassed despite having protection orders.

Last month, 21-year-old Tina Mbili was hospitalised after her ex-boyfriend, Michael Padayachee, allegedly beat her into a coma despite her having a protection order against him, and two domestic violence cases pending.

Padayachee is out on R5 000 bail for a June intimidation charge that Mbili had lodged against him.

Two weeks ago, TV presenter and media darling Bonang Matheba dropped charges against her former DJ boyfriend, Themba Nkosi. She had taken out a protection order against him after an alleged assault in June this year.

So the question remains: What is the purpose of a protection order, and does it indeed protect victims of domestic abuse?

Domestic violence statistics remain unlogged in the SAPS’s annual crime statistics. However, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) released its Domestic Violence Act report for the period between July 2011 and March 2012, which it presented to Parliament last month.

The report detailed the cases in which the SAPS hadn’t been compliant with the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) 116 of 1998.

Most non-compliance matters from July to December 2011 were received in the Western Cape. The province had a total of 28 cases. Gauteng had 10.

A case at Johannesburg Central police station noted in the report that the allegation of non-compliance was based on “failure to arrest the alleged transgressor on receipt of the warrant issued by court and an affidavit that the protection order had been violated”. Another case from Eden Park stated the same thing.

In both cases, the IPID recommended that steps be taken within the department against the officer(s).

“It’s a shame that some sections of the police service do not understand the DVA. Women I know have died despite having protection orders. We have these wonderful laws in order but there’s no implementation,” said Mbuyiselo Botha from Sonke Gender Justice.

Dr Namane Magau from the International Women’s Forum reiterated Botha’s sentiment that it was not so much the order itself that was an issue, but its implementation.

“There are many cases where women are turned away by police who tell them ‘It’s your husband’, and tell them to sort out their marital affairs at home. There needs to be institutional support.

“These orders need serious attention, and the police need to be held accountable when they do not act accordingly, because where else can women run to?”

Nonkululeko Khumalo from People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) said their organisation had come across many women disillusioned by protection orders as they did not guarantee safety.

She said many women opted to drop criminal charges against their abuser as “the criminal justice system takes too long… Others don’t want to lose their jobs, so they drop the charges because they can’t miss work. If the man is a breadwinner, most of the time the women fear for their provision and the kids”.

Meanwhile, Soweto police spokesman Kay Makhubela said no police officer may reject a complaint, “whether with or without a protection order”.

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