Cape Town- The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has denied claims by Premier Helen Zille it was the source of disputed statistics showing the conviction rate for gang-related crimes in Mitchells Plain was only 0.7%.
Two weeks ago Zille released a statement in which she slammed the criminal justice system for the “conviction crisis”, according to a question Community Safety MEC Dan Plato answered in the provincial legislature, and insisted that only 0.7% of all gang-related prosecutions resulted in convictions at the Mitchells Plain Magistrate’s Court.
In her statement, Zille said: “The convictions crisis is a sign of a dysfunctional criminal justice system. We are calling on SAPS, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Justice Department to bring an end to this national disgrace.
As it stands, the chances of anyone going to jail for gang-related crime is close to zero in Mitchells Plain, the province’s number one precinct for violent crime, drug trafficking and illegal possession of firearms.”
Zille’s spokesperson, Michael Mpofu, said: “The NPA gave this information to SAPS, who gave it to us. They should tell the public about the vast sea of cases that never get to verdict.”
The provincial government insisted that an “insufficient” number of police officers meant there was not enough time to investigate or spend time in court, or sufficient numbers for the witness protection programme.
“As far as we are concerned the 0.7% conviction rate in Mitchells Plain, and below 2% province-wide for gang-related crimes, remains a very serious concern,” said Mpofu.
Spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the NPA had not provided the SAPS with statistics for convictions.
“In fact we never provide SAPS with any statistics,” said Ntabazalila.
Asked to respond, Mpofu said it was concerning the NPA did not share their information with the SAPS, adding “surely this is the basis of a good criminal justice system”.
A forum of senior officials in the province’s crime and justice cluster, consisting of the police, NPA, Department of Justice and the provincial Department of Community Safety, also dismissed Zille’s claim.
The Development Committee (Devcom), as the forum is known, meets bi-monthly and is chaired by the Western Cape’s regional head of the Justice Department, Hishaam Mohamed.
He said solutions to gang-related criminal activity would not solely come from the Western Cape, but also national government, and that consideration had to be given to the relationship between gangs, socio-economic factors and the role of organised crime.
Mohamed said the forum provided its statistics for cases dealt with at a high level for the period April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, indicating the number of cases finalised with a verdict at 156, convictions at 133 and acquittals at 23.
“This is a conviction rate of 85%. Of the 156 cases finalised with a verdict, 65 cases were gang-related, of which one is the George ‘Geweld’ Thomas case,” said Mohamed.
And while officials from the provincial Department of Community Safety had sat in the forum’s meeting, they had not raised concern about the conviction rate.
“At no stage in the past two years was the matter of low conviction rates raised by the Department of Community Safety for discussion purposes among the stakeholders.”
Mohamed said the fact that there was no offence described as “gang-related” made it extremely difficult to establish which offences were considered.
“Our statistics do not indicate such a low conviction rate on any crime category of cases enrolled on the court rolls. Therefore the statistics utilised, on which the press statement is based, (should) be provided for further discussion,” said Mohamed.
“It is alarming that the Western Cape government endeavours to tarnish the reputation of the criminal justice system in the media, without discussing or verifying their findings in a forum.”
He said while the provincial government was slating the criminal justice system’s alleged inefficiencies, all spheres of government had to work together to ensure the safety of communities in which they served.