Today is National Police Day in South Africa, and the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA) says that the South African Police Service (SAPS) still has many challenges to address when it comes to helping victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, who approach them for help, to stay safe. This is a problem that has been noted by the civil society sector for many years now and despite the country finally having a National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence (GBV), it persists.
Since taking its first call, nearly two months ago, the NSMSA’s National Shelter Helpline has had numerous reports regarding issues of poor service delivery from SAPS. According to Mariam Mangera Project Coordinator of NSM, the problems are largely the result of what appears to be police officers passing the buck, rather than effectively dealing with domestic violence cases that are brought to their attention.
She explains, “The police have to follow certain protocols when cases of GBV are reported to them. Some police stations are equipped with a Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Unit, with trained Forensic Social Workers responding to these cases which helps facilitate cases better.”
“However, many SAPS stations in the country do not have an FCS Unit and they are using this as an excuse to turn victims away. This is absolutely not supposed to happen as the police have clear National Instructions on how to respond to all cases of GBV. This was confirmed with me telephonically early in December. National Head of the FCS Units Major-General Bafana Linda said that a memo was sent out to all police stations around the country, informing them that whether or not they have FCS Units, they are still obligated to deal as effectively as possible with all GBV cases. This includes opening cases for these matters when reported,” says Mangera.
According to NSMSA’s Head of the Executive Dr Zubeda Dangor, “This is why the NSMSA recently reached out to Minister of Police Bheki Cele to request an urgent meeting. The Minister has acknowledged this request and we hope for a meaningful discussion within the next two weeks. With his assistance, we are cautiously optimistic that we can find ways to fix these persistent challenges of ineffective police responses to cases of GBV once and for all.”
While the FCS Units around the country are mandated to ensure that victims of gender-based violent crimes are treated with the utmost care to avoid secondary victimisation, all SAPS and related staff must be capable of dealing with these cases, at least up to the point that it can be referred to the nearest FCS Unit.
Mangera says that if a police station turns a victim away for whatever reason, the victim should escalate this matter to the Station Commander to insist that their statement be taken and/or that they receive the assistance they need at that specific police station. Should the Station Commander fail to act, they should lodge a complaint with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) available toll-free on 0800 111 696.
The NSMSA’s National Shelter Helpline helps victims and survivors access to all GBV-related services. This includes shelter placements, access to counselling services, referrals to legal-related queries, and assisting with navigating SAPS. Contact the NSMSA’s National Shelter Helpline, free from a landline or Telkom mobile on 0800 001 005, or dial 112 from a Vodacom or Cell C phone. The social workers are also available via WhatsApp or PleaseCallMe on 082 057 8600, 082 058 2215 or 072 230 7147 and via email at email@example.com.