Ramaphosa has called the three bills part of a coordinated government response to the “pandemic” of GBV in South Africa.
By William Barron
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 10 of VARSITY News.
In the president’s weekly letter from 7 September, Ramaphosa discussed the introduction of three new bills to Parliament. They are intended as part of a response to the calls for criminal justice reform which chiefly women’s organisations have been making in the year since 2019’s widespread protest action over gender-based violence (GBV). The legal reforms contained in the bills include declaring sexual intimidation an offence; expanding the scope of the National Register for Sex Offenders; and mandating government departments to provide relief for survivors of domestic violence.
The bills have all been introduced to Parliament by the Minister for Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola. According to the president, they are part of a “multipronged strategy” which includes a R1.6 billion Emergency Response Action Plan which will give extra resources to government departments to combat GBV. Specifically, the bills are designed to address calls for harsher punishments for perpetrators of GBV, and to make it harder to evade punishment.
The first is a Bill to amend the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act (Bill 16 of 2020). This puts forward sexual intimidation as a new offence and widens the definitions of the offence of incest. It also requires the National Register for Sex Offenders to include the particulars of all sex offenders (currently only those of perpetrators of sexual offences against children and people with disabilities are included). It also increases the duty of persons who suspect an offence to have occurred to report it.
The second is the Criminal Law and Related Matters Amendment Bill (Bill 17 of 2020). It increases bail for suspected sex offenders and expands the offences for which minimum sentences must be handed down. Ramaphosa says these are efforts to “fill the gaps” that allow some perpetrators to “evade justice”. Hence, reforms place new requirements on officials. Prosecutors must place their reasons not to oppose bail in cases of GBV on record.
The third is the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill (Bill 20 of 2020). Under the amendment, more types of relationships will be specified as contexts for domestic violence. It also intends to protect older people from abuse by members of their family. It obliges the departments of Social Development, Basic Education, Higher Education, and Health to provide services for survivors. People with knowledge, belief, or reasonable suspicion of the commission of offences against children or people with disabilities will be liable to fines or imprisonment.
These reforms relate to the treatment of GBV as a criminal justice issue, one to be addressed by the increase policing and making punitive measures stricter. This has earned the response criticism for not being constructive enough as a victim-centred approach. Further, it does not focus on the shortcomings of police in the processing of cases.
Ramaphosa announced that South African Police Service (SAPS) members who do not meet their legal obligations under the Acts will be committing misconduct, subject to reporting to the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service. This is not the same strict treatment with which the amendments intend to treat civilians with the knowledge or suspicion of the commission of sex offences.