Distraught: Family members of Courtney Pieters comfort each other after the body was found. Picture: Leon Knipe.
Calls to establish a commission of inquiry into the safety of children in the Western Cape has been rejected by the Premier as an "expensive" exercise, writes Valdi van Reenen-Le Roux.

Cape Town - Their bodies were found across  the Western Cape. From Ocean View to Atlantis, Worcester to Khayelitsha – some were newborn babies, others older boys who were caught in the crossfire of gang violence.

The recent murder of Cameron Britz, who was raped and killed, and Chimika Cornberg, who was shot in her bed while she slept, is a chilling reality that child murders continue unabated. Chances are likely that the 33 names on the Trauma Centre’s Child Murder Database are not the only ones since our data was gathered from victims’ families, community leaders and the media.

All the children have heart-wrenching stories of how their innocent lives ended abruptly. It is the intense cruelty of their murders and the broken lives of child survivors that cement our resolve to continue lobbying – along with 15 other NGOs – for the safety of our children in the Western Cape.

While people are genuinely seeking ways to end the scourge, we need to question whether such interventions are sufficient in preventing continued violations of children’s rights. How can these necessary early interventions be supported and coupled to violence prevention mechanisms?

Our call to the Premier to establish a commission of inquiry into the safety of our children in the Western Cape is linked to the need for sustainable preventative mechanisms. Her rejection of the commission as an "expensive" exercise that can be alternatively addressed through a research project suggests that children’s safety is not a priority. We fail to see how the analysis of six case studies would be more viable than hearing multi-stakeholders testify on the challenges of children in their communities. 

The premier is reminded that the government is legally responsible for the well-being and safety of children in South Africa. Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the government is expected to ensure child rights implementation, co-ordination, monitoring and accountability. We remind national, provincial and local government that when the state fails to protect its citizens, it is tantamount to torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, according to the UN Convention Against Torture and is an international human rights crime.

On June 26, the Trauma Centre joined its global peers onUN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture by focusing on the child murders and those who witness child rights atrocities. The Western Cape government cannot renege on its responsibility towards children.

Even though the province’s constitution makes provision for a child commission and despite the passing of the Child Commissioner Bill in 2005, more than a decade later, there isn't one.

How do we move forward in strengthening child protection implementation without assessing the status quo? Case studies highlight the tragedy in personal terms rather than guide intersectoral, violence prevention interventions. It will not highlight the impact of invisible violence on visible violence, nor will it focus on how exposure to colonialism and apartheid has created transgenerational and intergenerational trauma in predominately black communities. 

Based on Dr Sarah Malotane Henkeman’s Invisible/Visible Violence framework which considers cultural, structural and psychological violence as invisible forms of violence that influences how visible violence (self-directed, interpersonal and collective) is experienced in communities, we briefly outline how victim/perpetrator cannot be seen as purely interpersonal. People, communities and society deny or collude with invisible and visible forms of violence. 

Courtney Pieters’s mother bore the brunt of visible (or physical) violence to the extent that she was escorted from court by the police to avoid a physical attack by her neighbours. But the invisible impact of joblessness, unemployment, hunger and poverty which sent this young mother out to work at night – leaving her children behind – is a reality for women on the Cape Flats. Little or no scrutiny regarding the role of Courtney’s father in her upbringing is evident, hinting at the double vulnerability which women like Pieters experience as a parent and as a single mother.
 
Consider the (in) visible violence of the minimum wage compared to the exorbitant salaries chief executives have given themselves. Safety of their children while they are working is nearly guaranteed unlike the risk that black mothers and fathers face leaving for work in the wee hours of the morning and arriving home at dusk.

We are encouraged by the unwavering stance of peer NGO, Social Justice Coalition and their partners who lobbied since 2011 for a Commission of Inquiry into Policing in Khayelitsha.

While Helen Zille regards a commission as "expensive", the Social Justice Coalition views commissions as invaluable. They highlight the O’Regan-Pikoli Commission as a "significant victory" that has "laid the foundation for long-term systemic change to safety and justice in South Africa". Since the release of the report, the organisation has used the 20 recommendations to inform their interventions including social audits, mass action and legal proceedings. The coalition has used the commission to inform prevention interventions that are constructive and sustainable in strengthening safety in Khayelitsha. 

List of child killings in the Western Cape.

The report similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report provides a record of the findings and recommendations that cannot be ignored. The SA Coalition for Transitional Justice continues nearly two decades later to deal with the unfinished business of the TRC. Based on the findings and recommendations of the TRC’s final report, civil society groups such as Khulumani Support Group, CSVR, Human Media Rights Centre, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation remain resolute to deal with the unfinished business of the TRC, lobbying for reparation and victim compensation. Lest we forget that the majority of South Africans affected by the apartheid violence lived in the very communities affected by child murders.

We acknowledge that crime prevention requires the collective participation of all stakeholders, including the voices of the child. This commission is not about gaining political points or grandstanding. It is about stakeholders highlighting how government needs to strengthen child rights implementation, co-ordination and accountability and how civil society as well as others can come alongside government to ensure the safety of our children.

A week or two ago, Cameron Britz voiced her premonition that she would be raped and murdered. Today her family is left with her poetry and letters that highlights her anxiety regarding personal safety. She echoed the fears and worries that children in the Western Cape are feeling. The voices of our children are important in finding solutions to the war waged against children.

* Valdi van Reenen-Le Roux is the executive director: Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus