File picture: SAPS Twitter
DURBAN - A 23-year-old man was sentenced to life imprisonment last week for raping a 13-year-old girl in Melmoth, almost two years ago.

Phumlani Xulu, who was sentenced by the Eshowe Regional Court, was arrested the day after he committed the crime in 2017, by a member of the Eshowe Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS).

Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele said the victim was going to fetch water with other children when Xulu approached them.

Mbele said Xulu ordered the boys to engage in sexual activity with the girls but they refused and ran away, while the victim was held back by the rapist. She said the children met a bus driver and told him of the incident.

“They took him to the scene where Xulu was found raping the victim but he ran away when he saw the bus driver,” said Mbele.

Last year between July and December KwaZul-Natal recorded 251 convictions in cases of crimes against women and children, including murder, rape and child pornography of which 54 received life sentences.

Colonel Brenda Muridili from Operational Divisions said a total of 1357 accused were given 371 life sentences and over 4629 years’ imprisonment by the courts in 838 cases nationally last year.

Adeshini Naicker, acting director of Childline KZN, said South Africa had the highest number of sexual crimes in the world and the number of convictions were not proportional to the actual number of cases reported.

She said the lengthy court process needed to be re-evaluated to ensure more convictions.

“The higher number of adjournments results in a case sometimes dragging on for years and is secondary trauma for a child. During these long intervals, children often forget minute details of the incident and this is detrimental to the case,” Naicker said.

Jeanne Bodenstein, advocacy co- ordinator at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, said although the conviction rate was “quite high”, what was worrying was the rate of prosecution.

“The conviction rate for sexual offences for the 2017/2018 financial year was 72.8% for the National Prosecuting Authority, but they only prosecuted 6844 cases out of around 50000 cases,” said Bodenstein.

She explained that the conviction rate was calculated on the basis of the cases that went to trial.

“Cases that have been reported but don’t go to trial based on the discretion of the NPA, which in the majority of cases, don’t get taken into account when calculating the conviction rate,” Bodenstein said.

Some of the ways to address this, according to Bodenstein, were to make sure that the criminal justice system was equipped to deal with crimes involving sexual violence and to revise prosecutors’ performance targets.

“Prosecutors are measured on their prosecution targets and realising convictions. A revision of prosecutors performance targets would be a big step towards how many cases get prosecuted.”

She added that the FCS Unit played an “extremely valuable” role in collecting evidence, and detectives were trained to deal with rape survivors in a sensitive, respectful way.