Shirley de Villiers FM features editor & columnist
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/THE SOWETAN
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/THE SOWETAN

There’s much for which we can admire ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule: his interest in dairy farming, paternal devotion to his tenderpreneur offspring, apparent ability to magic away both a Pierneef artwork and R255m meant for an asbestos eradication project, and a steely commitment to disregarding Cyril Ramaphosa’s party line, consequences be damned.

This week, those consequences involved the ANC’s provincial executive committee (PEC) in Mpumalanga reinstating a committee member who is facing charges of repeatedly raping two eight-year-olds. This, despite the party’s national executive committee (NEC) decision that “those accused of corruption and other serious crimes against them ought to step aside from their responsibilities”.

The reason? Confusion in the NEC has made it impossible for provincial subsidiaries to enforce the directive.

See, in Magashule’s Animal Farm world – where some politicians are more equal than others – he will not step down from his lofty position, despite facing multiple counts of fraud, corruption and money-laundering related to the asbestos tender, because the party branches haven’t demanded it.

It makes the directive a bit difficult to enforce elsewhere – especially since ANC national chair Gwede Mantashe told the Sunday Times this week that a legal opinion suggests the decision to stand aside should be voluntary.

And so the Mpumalanga PEC found itself in a quandary. As a result of the NEC directive, the committee had initially taken the decision “that the accused must step aside”, acting provincial ANC chair Mandla Ndlovu told News24’s Qaanitah Hunter. “Now, some are saying it’s voluntary, so we need the NEC to sort out this confusion.”

No surprises here

It beggars belief that no-one saw this confusion coming. The NEC’s August 2020 directive was, after all, not new: it was a reiteration of a resolution taken by the party in December 2017. And that was itself a reaffirmation of a 2015 national general council resolution.

That the ANC has not seen fit, in five years, to give procedural footing to its own resolution belies the party’s sincerity about rooting out corruption. As telling is the fact that it’s taken a whole five years for the resolution to actually be rolled out – and not for a lack of possible test cases.

No surprises, then, that the party’s copped out by making its directive “voluntary”.

Only, it doesn’t have to be, according to constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos. On his blog this week, he shows the various means the ANC’s own constitution would allow the NEC to take action against those who have brought the party into disrepute. And, importantly, why the “innocent until guilty” argument doesn’t prevent the party from taking disciplinary action against them.

If it has the political will to do so, of course.

Misguided, inefficient, incompetent

But the ANC’s inability to find its own backbone means it has restored a man accused of child rape to a leadership position in the very week that the world is marking the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

(To add an entirely unnecessary layer of farce, the Mpumalanga PEC has insisted, without a trace of irony, that it will continue to lead campaigns against gender-based violence, or GBV, writes Hunter.)

On opening a dialogue on GBV and femicide on Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “As we launch this year’s campaign, we ask: for how long must this go on? For how much longer must we say, ‘enough is enough’, only for it to continue. It simply cannot go on.”

Only, it does – in no small part due to the government’s own failings.

Ramaphosa this week pointed to the small steps the government is supposedly taking to manage the scourge – among them the “improved provision of essential services, making evidence kits available at all police stations”, and strengthening the criminal justice system.

Two articles published this week, however, suggest there’s much work to be done on this score – first, because government’s plans may be based on faulty data, and second, because of rank incompetence by the police.

In an op-ed for health journalism outfit Bhekisisa, University of Johannesburg researcher Lisa Vetten points to the evidentiary gaps in just one aspect of the government’s planned GBV response.

In September, police minister Bheki Cele announced that 30 GBV “hotspots” had been identified. They’ll be equipped with additional resources and services, such as “permanent desks dedicated to GBV cases, DNA evidence collection kits and shelters”, Vetten writes.

It’s an admirable idea, allowing for targeted intervention. Except, as Vetten shows, the method used to identify these hotspots would seem to be flawed.

For example, eight of the 30 police stations that report the most rapes in SA are not included. Three of these are in Limpopo – one, Thohoyandou, logged the fifth-highest number of rape reports in 2019/2020 – yet by the police’s guess, there’s no GBV hotspot in that province.

The authorities also seem not to have controlled for population, so it’s unsurprising that 24 of the 30 hotspots are in SA’s three most populous provinces – while not a single one has been identified in the sparsely populated Northern Cape.

If Vetten points to potentially poor implementation of a good idea, Shani Reddy, writing for Maverick Citizen, points to failure of a different sort.

Between July and September 2020, 92 cases were struck from the court roll in the Western Cape, according to the provincial department of community safety’s court watching brief unit. Fifty-two of the cases were jettisoned because the dockets were not presented; 40 because the investigation had not been completed.

About 70% of those cases – 66 in total – were GBV cases, including 14 for rape, 12 for murder and seven for attempted murder.

Reddy’s article is an indictment of the system. For example, she writes of a case concerning a contravention of a protection order, which was postponed five times due to the docket being missing or the investigation incomplete, before eventually being struck from the roll.

Sadly, she shows, it’s not an outlier. Instead, it’s indicative of the laxity of authorities when it comes to policing GBV – “inefficient and ineffective police work”, as community safety MEC Albert Fritz says. And while the article’s scope is limited to the Western Cape, there’s no reason to think the behaviour of the police in other provinces would be any different.

If there’s no real institutional intention to hold the perpetrators ​to account, then government’s response to GBV – like the ANC’s to crime and corruption – is all hat and no cattle.

*De Villiers is the features editor of the FM​

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