Advocate Bonnie Currie-Gamwo is the deputy director of public prosecutions in the Western Cape in charge of the murder portfolio as well as child justice. File picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency

During this year's #16DaysofActivism, IOL puts the spotlight on those who dedicate their lives to fighting violence against women and children.

Cape Town - The Western Cape has the dubious distinction of being home to SA's murder capital, Nyanga, as well as having the highest number of child murders for the 2017/2018 reporting period. 

And Advocate Bonnie Currie-Gamwo has the grim task of reading nearly every docket involving these murders in the province.

Currie-Gamwo is the deputy director of public prosecutions in the Western Cape in charge of the murder portfolio as well as child justice. A huge part of her daily life involves studying the dockets with a well-trained eye and forging the path to justice for the victims

Currie-Gamwo has been an advocate in the high court for the past 20 years and much of her focus has been in the prosecution of femicide and child murder cases. Up to last year, she also managed the sexual offences and gender-based violence portfolios as well as heading the provincial Rapid Response team for trafficking in persons, ensuring that the Western Cape had their first successful prosecutions in trafficking in persons. 

"I've had years of sexual offences, child pornography, you name it, that was my focus for many years, but I think I've found my niche with murders. It's draining yes but I think not as emotionally taxing as sexual offences, especially if you have small children," she says.

"I've managed the murder portfolio since 2014. I am responsible for coming up with strategies and interventions as to how we are going to prioritise murders. 

"The Western Cape has the most amount of murders registered at the moment. When I was given the murder portfolio I was asked: 'What are you going to do? How are we going to prioritise? Where are the problems?' I looked at it and saw that one of the biggest problems was that cases that should have been escalated to the high court weren't being. So I issued an instruction through my boss to the lower courts that every murder where there is an arrest must be sent to us for a decision. The us means me, unfortunately. 

"The reason for that is there is a quality check so we can see what's in the docket, why are cases being withdrawn, why are cases not being enrolled. I said: 'Send it to me and I will give you a response in 7 days', which is hard. I read about 60 per week. For this year I have read just over a 1 000 murders. 

"Where someone has died and there's a murder docket open and there has been an arrest, it comes to me. I read it with an eye to see how complex the matter is. Do we send it up to the high court or not?"

Speed and quality n the investigation are very important, to Currie-Gamwo, who once she has seen the docket also guides the police in how to investigate the matter further. 

"If it goes to the high court, it comes to our office and we set timelines for the matter. We say this is high profile, this is important. We ensure the investigating officer sticks to the due dates because we want the case to go to court as soon as possible.

"The ones that I take a particular interest in are the child murders. The guys in the office always say: 'Oh my gosh if she's the checker it's the worst' because I stick to due dates. I aim for six months from the date that this child died for this matter to be finalised, that means the killer is sentenced. 

"I've done it before. I did it with Anene Booysen. In less than six months of her death the accused was in jail, serving his sentence."

She says: "In the Western Cape we have a huge problem with our children dying. I think I've received about 62 child murders for this year, and these are only the ones where there has been an arrest. 

"There are cases like a school killing that will not go to the high court, but where a parent is responsible those will mostly go to the high court, to prioritie it but also so that the media can write about it because it is a problem. 

"People out there must understand that if you see a child being abuse or slapped about interventions must be made. A lot of child murders are committed not by strangers but by people who are known to the child.

"People have this idea that a stranger comes along... No, it's not. It's someone they know, which is horrific. But there's almost always a pattern of abuse and unfortunately that pattern of abuse is often underemphasised by those witnessing it. 

"If you see a one-year-old being slapped hard or being punched by a parent or if you see them with marks, It's not going to end there. As the kid grows older, they start resisting and that parent now realises this child can actually get me into trouble and that's where the killing starts."

Currie-Gamwo says: "I don't think you can read a child murder docket and be completely the same afterwards because these kids are absolutely vulnerable. And these kids are often growing up in areas that are marked by gang violence, so their whole lives they are surrounded by violence. There's no trauma counselling, there's no psychologist at the school, they just have to go through it and I think it has a huge impact on society. 

"We had one matter where the 9-year-old sister witnesses the 5-year-old sister being bashed to death. She is looking through a keyhole watching this. Because the perpetrator tells her "don't move, you stay here," she watches this. She started stuttering. We sent her for trauma counselling but how long will that last?

"That child will never be the same, You can imagine what kind of adult she is going to grow to be, what kind of abuse she will allow herself to be subjected to and what kind of abuse she is going to inflict on others because that's the only thing she knows. And that's the saddest part of the legacy of child murders. 

Currie-Gamwo says for her if there's a conviction and someone goes to prison, it sends out a message.

"We do this job so we can give dignity back to this child. Often the child is dumped. Little Courtney Pieters was put in a shallow grave, little Stacha was put in a shallow grave, like they're dirt. So I'm saying let's give these kids back their dignity. Let's put them through the high court, not through the lower courts where the matter gets postponed all the time.

"This is why I do what I do: to give dignity back to these kids and at the same time let the family know this child was important."

IOL