'Violence will increase when more parolees are released'
“When more inmates are released on parole by the government in the next month due to overcrowded prisons, South Africans can expect crime and domestic violence to escalate even more.”
This is the view of Cape Flats activist Roegshanda Pascoe. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s comments last night that “our criminal justice system will remain focused on gender-based violence cases and that we can expect more arrests and more prosecutions against perpetrators to follow” provided her with cold comfort.
It is the very justice system she believes has failed South Africans dismally. While Ramaphosa is right to refer to the gender-based violence as a "second pandemic" the country is fighting, with 21 women and children killed in the last few weeks, Pascoe reasons it's a reactive instead of a preventative response. After all, this second pandemic has been raging for years and led to many "talk shops" that had little effect.
Pascoe, who has been living in witness protection since last year March after testifying in a murder trial that involved gangsters, said: “The one thing I feared is when the parolees are released – 2 280 prisoners have been released on parole in SA since May 20 and the Correctional Services Department said last week it intends to release about 19 000 more in the next month – I knew that all hell was going to break loose.
“They may have only committed petty crimes as claimed, but they had played a greater role in their respective communities. We knew that due to the instability the lockdown had already created, it would increase even more.
“I’ve had interviews with the minister of Justice on the issue of releasing parolees. Requesting them to work with the NPOs and NGOs in the communities, so that we know who the perpetrators are that are coming back into our communities.
“He couldn’t answer me. I am told even the gang leaders can buy a seat on the Parole Board.
“Since the lifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol, you have seen an escalation in gang violence. You are sitting with a very intoxicated gang member that cares even less about the consequences of his actions and thus you are sitting with a lot of innocent victims on the Cape Flats.”
While Pascoe – who has reaped the fruits of a WhatsApp healing group during the lockdown – acknowledges the role alcohol has played in the spike in the gang and domestic violence, she already feared for the mental health of Cape Flats residents before the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Something I have been very vocal about is the mental stability of our people. Most of our people are at the point where they can’t take it anymore. The implications of Covid-19 is so depressing for many of our people. This has resulted in a lot of suicide cases, which we have been fighting at the front line.
“We have also had to contend with domestic violence that has escalated with the advent of Covid-19. The sadness for me when it comes to the surge in the murdering of women since June 1, is that the reaction of the authorities has become reactive rather than preventative.
“How many memorandums and pleas do our government need because there are solutions at hand but they don’t want to listen. Our president’s condolences are not enough when there are no facilities available for women who feel their lives are endangered.
“Before a murder takes place, a woman tends to feel unsafe in her environment, knowing that should she move out, there are other issues complicating the matter.
“Sometimes even a shelter doesn’t help because a few years ago a woman got killed outside the gates of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, who are survivors of abuse.
“There is no way the State can claim they put effort into protecting our women. More than a one-department approach is needed, rather a multi-sectoral one from all departments like Health, Housing and Justice.
“You have women saying, “why should I worry about Covid-19 when I am sitting here with an abusive husband who will beat me to a pulp or to death if I don’t get him his drug fix for tonight. There is no choice for them in this matter and going to the police station won’t help because they won’t receive any assistance.
“This week, a Tafelsig mother reached out to me after her daughter was threatened. A young man warned her parents she was going to go missing, but we could address it immediately. I got someone to visit the family and give the guy a warning.
“Had her parents gone to the police station, they would have said nothing has happened, so there is nothing to worry about. That is what people have got used to receiving from a system that should be protecting our people.
“The ‘act’ must first happen before the police will respond so there is nothing preventative. People are also not preventative themselves because they are living in a system which is reactive.
“I broke down and cried when I heard of the 28-year-old woman and her 7-year-old child who were murdered. Her family knew that she was in an abusive relationship but the system does not protect our women and children. Our women second guess themselves when they want to escape from home because there is no support system to assist them if they do.
“We are done with memorandums and strategy sessions. We want the policy to be rewritten for the protection of women and children to ensure that those guilty of rape and murder get no bail and no lesser sentence than life.
“We don’t want police officers to work at the stations with domestic violence cases. Activist organisations want to have their own women at police stations who can reach out to the women.
"We want to process the cases until a conviction is made as the police have proved neither they or the Justice Department are providing a service to our people.
"All community-based NPOs and NGOs doing this work should be supported with resources from government and all red tape should be cut. Our women are afraid and feel ashamed when they report their cases to police stations. If they are endangered, then we will arrange a safe space for them.
“If the government is not going to listen to the people on the ground who are fighting this on a daily basis, our society is going to keep on bleeding due to this dysfunctionality.
“I am looking forward to a meeting with Social Welfare MEC Sharna Fernandez because we don’t have enough safe houses. I had a case recently of a woman who was a witness to a murder in Philippi and we had to take her out of her community with her children.
“My house in Manenberg became a safe haven for her for a while. She is living like I have to live, moving around among friends.
"But on a departmental level, there isn’t support. We know that if a woman wants to leave her husband, even our shelters are not addressing the issue of mental instability a woman is experiencing; they are just providing shelter.
‘You can’t just put them with other people and assume things will get better. Yes, women are resilient and strong, but my personal journey has taught me you take it one step at a time.”IOL