The South African Federation of Trade Unions congratulates Advocate Shamila Batohi on her appointment as the new head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and wishes her well in an exceptionally difficult job.
Her immediate challenge is to reform the NPA itself, which she has described as “a house on fire”, and said that her position “would be like a shark tank”.
At the same time as cleaning out the rot which has corrupted and paralysed the NPA during under Zuma and the Guptas, she faces the no less daunting challenges of prosecuting all those involved in corruption and looting public institutions, and bringing down the high levels of crime and gangsterism.
The early days of the Zondo Commission into State Capture have already exposed prima facie evidence of criminal acts, which have to be added to the long list to those already uncovered by the former Public Protector, the ‘Gupta emails’ and Jacques Pauw’s “The President’s Keepers”.
The NPA’s former leaders made virtually no attempt to bring any of the alleged culprits to justice, and were themselves implicated in the very crimes which they should have been prosecuting others for. The new director must immediately start prosecutions of all the culprits, without fear or favour.
The second challenge is to tackle the violent crimes which have made life a nightmare for residents of South Africa’s communities. In many poor townships, particularly around Cape Town, criminal gangs and drug dealers are terrorising neighbourhoods and killing any who get in their way.
Lack of action by the police and courts has created a sense of impunity for these gang leaders. This often leads to counter-violence when communities understandably, but wrongly, take the law into their own hands and deal directly with those believed to be the criminals. Ms Batohi should therefore make sure that these gangsters are prosecuted and sentenced appropriately.
South Africa remains one of the ten most murderous countries in the world.
57 people are murdered every day, an increase of 6.9% over 2017. The number of women murdered increased even faster, by 11%, the number of boys by 20%, and girls by 10%.
It is therefore appropriate that Ms Batohi has been appointed during the 16 Days of Activism on Violence against Women and Children. According to People Opposing Women Abuse an average of 360 incidents of physical and sexual abuse against women take place every day – meaning that a woman is abused every four minutes. The number of rapes is estimated to be 109 a day.
These figures are likely to be an underestimate given the low level of reporting and prosecution. In 2009, according to the police’s own statistics, the conviction rate for for rape was 11.5%. Other estimates in 2014 put it as low as 10%.
SAFTU urges Ms Batohi to make it a top priority to bring down the appalling levels of these crimes and encourage those affected to come forward with confidence that the NPA will prosecute the perpetrators and protect their victims.
The NPA however can only be successful if the SAPS, and especially the Hawks, are providing it with winnable cases to prosecute. Of those the police arrest only 42% eventually appear in court. The rest are released. And only 30% of the suspects who do appear in court are found guilty.
The whole police and judicial system needs to be transformed into an efficient and dedicated force of crime-fighters.