This year will mark 26 years since the dawn of democracy in South Africa. The judiciary plays an important part in our past history, a history which has unfortunately been dragged kicking and screaming into our present.
I sat at the Court (I won’t mention the name) and I don’t understand how black and brown poor people are meant to receive justice? Black and brown people sitting there are primarily poor and are there for hours on end. The court deals with Protection Orders, some criminal cases excluding murder and Section 65 cases which is civil and deals with someone suing you for monies owed.
At the protection order section, I saw an old black lady who was badly beaten up. Her one eye was swollen shut and her lip was split. Her jaw displayed bruises that was clear evidence of her having been beaten up. She was there to apply for a protection order. She was holding her eye that she could see out of, trying to stem the tears falling rapidly from it. She then gets called in to the office/room, I’m assuming to explain what happened. The door is not closed so there is no privacy that this woman has. I am already hating on the invisible husband or boyfriend and my anger is fuelled when I look at the number of women sitting on the bench outside the office of the clerk of the court.
About 15 minutes after the woman has been called, a policeman brings another woman, a younger one, to the room. Immediately I hear a wailing sound from the room, and I see the younger one embracing the victim and I thought that it was very sweet of the daughter to come along and comfort her mom.
Suddenly I see the older woman push her daughter away (I confirmed it was her daughter with the other lady sitting there). By now I am not even pretending not to watch but am blatantly staring. I could almost feel the older woman’s pain and I could definitely hear the pain in her cries. Soon after that, the clerk leaves the office with the women and they both go downstairs. Another clerk, this time a female (the other one is male) comes into the office and starts calling us one by one. She closes the door during her sessions. The older woman comes back alone and sits on the bench again. She is still crying and still looks defeated as if she doesn’t want to continue living.
The women sitting there rally around her and offer words of comfort, hugs, and tissues to wipe her tears. And once she calms down, she starts telling her story. I am always impressed by people’s ability to bond within minutes when there is a common cause. The woman who was sitting with us so badly beaten and bruised was not abused by her husband or boyfriend but by her daughter. Yes, the same daughter who was “comforting” her in the office. The daughter beat her up and she called the police. The police arrested the daughter and the woman said it wasn’t the first time it had happened, but it was the first time she had called the police on her daughter and was now seeking a protection order. The policeman and the male clerk then decided between each other that she, the victim, needs to forgive her daughter and basically, they should kiss and make up because, according to them, the accused is sorry for what she did. So, what they did, even though they had no right to do so, was to convince this poor woman to forgive her daughter and to “force” a meeting between the victim and the accused. The daughter was taken to the cells downstairs to wait to appear. This was the reason for the older woman’s vehemence in returning a hug. She, the victim was then asked to sit outside for a while and to think about dropping the charges against her daughter and she was dissuaded from applying for a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998.
The women rallying around her asked how she felt, and she said that she was tired of the abuse and wanted to go ahead with the application. She also did not want the daughter to live in her house anymore.
My questions: “If this is the way the courts and police deal with such sensitive issues then how many people have been persuaded to “kiss and make up” by police and the courts?” How many have gone back into that situation simply because they didn’t receive the correct assistance? What made those people decide that her daughter posed no threat, even in the face of physical abuse, to this woman? It is a verifiable fact that abuse escalates especially once the victim has sought outside assistance. How many of our police and court officers are sending people back into a violent, often life-threatening situation?
The police and court officers need to be trained to know better and thus do better for every victim that they deal with. They need to be empathetic and listen and offer the victim the correct support. Just because it’s a child it doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t abuse a parent. We need only remember Ellen Pakkies, who killed her son because she could no longer tolerate the abuse.