By Zelna Jansen
The rate of sexual assault in South Africa is among the highest in the world. In fact, the minister of police revealed last year sexual violence increased and in most cases the perpetrator was known to and trusted by the victim.
Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act of 2007 provides that a person who unlawfully and intentionally sexually violates a person without their consent is guilty of an offence of sexual assault.
Sexual violence is defined in the Criminal Law Act as including rape, child-sexual abuse, groping or torture of a person in a sexual manner. Sexual assault can therefore be described as the umbrella term used to describe several types of non-consensual contact and behaviour of a sexual nature.
South Africa and the rest of the world dedicate days to raise matters that impact women. We have the August 9 and 16 days of activism against violence against women and children.
It is a campaign geared towards creating awareness of women and children’s rights, eliminating the stigmas and stereotypes created by a society formed along patriarchal lines and empowering women and children.
This is necessary for many reasons. One such reason is a perpetrator is shielded by the Constitution and is innocent until proven guilty. This means a victim of sexual assault enters an adversarial system. A system that is against her or him and they must over and over relive the tormented experience.
No wonder so few cases make it to trial. Who would want to expose themselves to such torment and brutality? Premier Alan Winde suspended the MEC for Community Safety Albert Fritz on January 23 for “serious allegations pertaining to his conduct”.
Four officials working with Fritz were also suspended. Winde explained that in late November, he became aware of the matter for the first time informally. He spoke to the complainants a week or so before suspending Fritz.
These meetings were followed by obtaining legal advice and consequently a decision to suspend him. Winde issued a further statement on January 27, informing he had appointed “an independent advocate … through the State Attorney to conduct an external investigation into the veracity of the allegations made against minister Albert Fritz”.
The sanitised and scrubbed statement further points out that more complainants have come forward and the complainants have been referred “to an NGO dedicated to the assistance of complainants of the nature in question”.
Clearly, this is an attempt to control the narrative in the media. The media has, however, reported the allegations related to sexual assault, insiders have come forward saying that young women were always accompanying Fritz and officials on trips and Miche Solomons, who worked as an intern for the MEC, indicated she would be willing to testify in court.
However, I cannot disclose more due to legal advice. Winde has not denied this. This is alarming. It is even more alarming that Winde has adopted a “cloak and dagger” approach.
This approach is justified by being sensitive towards the complainants. Yes, there must be confidentiality as to the identity of the victims, however, at the same time, citizens cannot be held in the dark. Winde and Fritz are elected public representatives and, as such, must be held accountable.
There must be transparency about the nature of these allegations, particularly as it has been reported that the allegations relate to sexual assault which by its very nature includes sexual violence.
Also, Fritz has been a politician in high-ranking positions since 2011. If the allegations prove to be true, there could be many more victims. A community organisation in Mitchells Plain has now taken it upon themselves to conduct their own investigation by speaking to the parents of some of the interns who worked with the MEC.
The public relations advice given to the Western Cape Government and Winde is clearly out of touch with reality. Understandably, Winde needed to speak to the complainants and obtain legal advice before suspending Fritz and officials.
However, why wait two months? This speaks louder than anything else. Subtly for some and overtly for others, it sends a signal that GBV is not a priority. Was it more a priority to take a break? Or was it time to investigate the matter and strategise how best to convey and control the content in the media?
Too many questions … Sexual assault happens in the home, the school, the church, etc. It must be confronted head-on. It should not be dealt with in secrecy by appointing an independent investigator to speak to complainants.
That is the mandate of the SAPS. An elected politician must account to the people who placed him in office and therefore citizens have a right to know the nature of the “serious allegations pertaining to his (the MEC’s) conduct”.
* Zelna Jansen is a lawyer and CEO of Zelna Jansen Consultancy
** The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.