Rape and gender-based violence on farms is an aspect of rural safety and security that is mostly overshadowed by brutal farm attacks and killings. However, women living on farms often face greater insecurity and an even more uncaring and inefficient law enforcement and justice system than their urban counterparts.
Responding to questions from the DA regarding violent crimes on KwaZulu-Natal farms, provincial community safety MEC Bheki Ntuli recently revealed that during the past 20 years only 18 convictions were achieved for rapes on farms.
In a transcribed response Ntuli revealed that there had been 81 cases of rape recorded since 2000. Of these, 60 arrests were made and only 18 convictions were achieved.
Conviction rates for gender-based violence in South Africa are staggeringly low. In an interview on SABC’s Morning Live police minister Bheki Cele recently said that only 130 of the 4058 people who were arrested for alleged gender-based violence since the start of the lockdown in March have actually been convicted. This translates to a conviction rate of only 3%.
Colette Solomon, director of the Women on Farms Project (WFP), a registered non-governmental organisation (NGO) working with women in commercial agriculture, says the KZN conviction numbers reflect the general trend in the country. Rape is generally under-reported and arrests and convictions are unacceptably low.
Solomon believes that while more women are reporting rape, this is still only a fraction of the actual number.
“Women are discouraged from reporting rape because of systemic failures of the criminal justice system, which arrests and convicts only a small proportion of perpetrators” she says.
She believes that in farming communities this situation is exacerbated and often rape victims who do report crimes are usually not supported.
“In farming communities, women face additional, specific barriers, including distance to police stations. Police usually are unable or unwilling to drive out to farms. There are also poorly trained police officers, including often a shortage of women police officers. And most rural police stations don’t have private and safe rooms for victims reporting rape,” she says.
Solomon postulates that there is also a lack of support services, such as counselling. Rape cases are routinely postponed which makes it expensive and difficult for women to travel repeatedly from farms to courts. Most rural courts don’t have specialised Sexual Offences Courts.
Cele acknowledged that some members in the police force do not take rape seriously.
“One thing we accepted is that sometimes our own police do shoddy work, but that is an improvement we are trying to do.”
He said that cases are often opened, and then withdrawn. “You find that families and friends put pressure on the abused women, especially if the perpetrator is a relative or a father, uncle or known boyfriend. Families tend to tell the victim that ‘you are bringing embarrassment to this house’ or ‘who is going to take care of us if the uncle or father gets arrested’.”
Cele encouraged the public to report police members who fail to execute their job, victims can report them by using the SAPS telephone directory that includes the numbers of every station commander in the country. It also includes the cluster commander and the district commanders and is available in all the police stations in the country.
He further promised that disciplinary actions would be taken against those police officials if they fail to do their jobs.