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Here’s the status of cases where South African mothers are accused of killing their own kids

Published Aug 18, 2023

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Many are saying that the Lauren Dickason murder trial is a classic example of swift justice, with many social media users calling for South Africa to adopt a similar stance on meting out justice to perpetrators.

This week after a rigorous four-week trial, Dickason was found guilty of the murder of her three young daughters in New Zealand.

The former Pretoria resident had emigrated to Christchurch in August 2021 and killed her daughters on September 16.

She pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder and said it was infanticide and due to post-partum depression.

Her sentencing has been postponed.

The judgment cast a spotlight on cases in South Africa and the slow wheels of justice.

IOL looked at some recent cases where mothers are accused of killing their children.

In the first incident, a Ballito mother has been charged for the murder of her toddler daughter in April 2022, and will only be admitted to Fort Napier in Pietermaritzburg on November 29.

The 45-year-old woman cannot be named because she has a another minor child.

At the time of the incident, provincial police spokesperson Thenjiswa Ngcobo said the mother told police that the child was difficult and troubling her and she decided to drown the child in a bucket of water until she stopped moving.

She said the child’s hands were tied with tape.

The woman was arrested shortly after the murder by Detective Warrant Officer Bob Pillay from the Provincial Organised Crime Unit.

The woman has been an awaiting trial prisoner since her arrest.

It is understood that an observation is over a three-month period.

In all likelihood, the matter will return to court in 2024.

In a similar incident, a Durban mother accused of assaulting her daughter to death with a rolling pin is behind bars as an awaiting trial prisoner.

The three-year-old was killed days before her birthday at a flat in Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street in the Durban CBD on May 31, 2022.

At the time, police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Nqobile Gwala said: “On arrival, police found the body of a three-year-old girl with strangulation marks. It is alleged that the mother also assaulted the victim with a wood rolling pin on the face and head.”

Gwala said the motive for the killing was unknown.

This week, Natasha Kara, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the accused will appear in the Durban High Court in October for a pre-trial conference.

Two other women accused of killing their children have died before the cases could go to trial.

In one of the cases, an Eastern Cape mother who allegedly murdered her four children in a rondavel with a sledgehammer in November 2022, died two weeks after the murder.

Nomboleko Simayile, 32, died in hospital under police guard.

Eastern Cape provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said the children were aged between two and 11-years-old and sustained injuries to the upper parts of their bodies.

Simayile had not even applied for bail.

Similarly, Megan Prins, accused of suffocating her six-year-old son, Sloane, in June 2018 died two years later.

At the time, it was reported that she had given him pills to swallow and when that did not kill him, she smothered him with a pillow.

She then tried to take her own life.

The case was filled with dramatic twists and turns after she was sent for psychiatric observation.

Her cause of death was never disclosed.

According to the most recent annual report by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, there is a backlog of cases on the court rolls, which has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report said outstanding court rolls in the high courts have increased from 1,073 at the end of March 2021 to 1,251 at the end of March 2022.

It noted that this was in addition to the backlog of cases, which rose from 393 to 428, with most of the accused in detention.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola in outlining the annual report, said there were various reasons for matters being delayed in the justice system.

“Even though the initial investigation is to be completed while the cases are in the district courts, it cannot exclude withdrawals in the high courts, as witnesses may become unavailable due to various reasons, inter alia, new facts emerge during consultation with witnesses before the trials commence, and further investigation may also indicate that insufficient evidence may require the matter to be withdrawn,” he said.

Legal expert and Constitutional Jurist (University of Pretoria) Professor Koos Malan said unfortunately the unwritten legal culture of pursuing a case to bring it to its finality expeditiously has “deteriorated considerably”.

“There are disadvantageous techniques of delay in litigation that are abused by some trial lawyers to such an extent that they been normalised.”

Malan said backs in the 1980s, cases where finalised within weeks.

“It is the legal ethic duty of legal practitioners not to use stratagems to delay cases,” he said.

The other aspect, according to Malan, was a shortage of trained and particularly experienced police officers and prosecutors.

“This is a failure on the part of the political and managerial leadership in the justice system, where some don’t have a proper understanding of the professional requirements in the justice system,” he said.

Malan said crucially important experience and techniques were often lacking in these fields.

“In South Africa, affirmative action, and in some cases, cadre deployment was applied and in some cases inexperienced people were appointed to positions.

“They have the university qualifications, but not the experience,” he said.

Malan said once that experience and institutional knowledge has been lost, it’s difficult to fix.

“And cases rely on good police investigations, which is critical for court cases,” he said.

Malan said police officers with the experience and know-how are needed more so now than ever before, to ensure cases don’t fall flat.

While it is difficult to give a time-frame on how quickly cases should be wrapped up, Malan said preferably within weeks.

“In the 1980s and 1990s it was done, now even simple assault matters have six to eight adjournments and then the case is withdrawn. It’s common practise.

A Durban magistrate, who declined to be named, said South African courts were dealing with a high levels of crime which contribute to the high number of cases on the court rolls.

“Then there is the factor of delay for correctional supervision reports, probation officer’s reports, and psychological reports and defence witnesses.

“This impacts service delivery and expediting of matters,” Malan said.

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