By Jeanne Bodenstein
The Indian writer and mathematical genius, Shakuntala Devi, once said “Numbers have life, they’re not just symbols on paper”.
I realise that some of you reading this, might not care about numbers at all. Unless you are an accountant. Or a maths teacher. Or someone that is into Soduku. But, to be honest, I do like numbers. And I like the stories that they tell. And such a story I found in an unlikely place last week…
I attended the meeting of the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services where the Department of Justice presented their Annual Report for the year of 2016/2017. This is an opportunity for the Department to tell the Committee if their targets have been achieved and to present proof in numbers.
Side note: A large part of the parliamentary Portfolio Committees’ role is to oversee the work of the National Executive (i.e. various government departments) and you will know that I am always interested in how parliament does this.
It is easy to attend a meeting like the one last week and not even see the specifics when the numbers flash by (at record speed, mind you). Overwhelming numbers. But, interested as I am, I look for the stories behind the numbers so that I can share them with you, obviously. One such story, was the story about sexual offences courts. The Department told the Committee that 11 courtrooms across provinces were upgraded to sexual offences courtrooms during the past year, completing the first phase of the rollout.
This number tells the story of the rural community of Tsolo, Eastern Cape, where survivors now have access to specialised services to help them get through the difficult process of giving their testimony in court. The magistrate and prosecutors at this court have been specially trained to deal with sexual offences and the court room is designed in such a way that rape survivors will not have to wait in the same waiting room as the accused or his supporters, child witnesses will be able to give their testimony in a separate room using Closed Circuit Television and support services will have their own offices to offer confidential support to rape survivors and other witnesses for the state. Cases will be processed and finalised more quickly because only sexual offences cases will be heard in this court room.
Added to this, 106 more courtrooms will be upgraded in the second phase of the rollout, bringing the total sexual offences courtrooms to 163 at the end of phase two. This is huge, because it means that more than half of the total number of regional courts across the country will have sexual offences courtrooms. More than half of the survivors of sexual violence in South Africa will receive support in the criminal justice system.
By looking for the stories that these numbers tell, the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign can continue to ask the right questions of the relevant people at the right time. We will continue to hold government accountable for the rollout of sexual offences courts, so that rape survivors can tell their stories in supportive courtrooms and in the presence of supportive people. And we will continue to ask for more numbers until the story they tell is that our government has honoured its promise. You can follow us on Facebook to read more of our stories of change and to share this with your friends.
Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently rediscovered her love for mystery novels.