Child abuse, SA and the case of Delft
In January a 9-year-old girl was raped, set alight, and left for dead beside the R300 in Cape Town. In March, she succumbed to her injuries. This case is unfortunately not a unique occurrence. This year has seen an alarming increase in reports of child rape and homicide in the suburb of Delft and surrounding areas. On 3 March a three-year-old girl was discovered to have been raped by her neighbour. On 8 February, 11 year-old Siphokuhle Flephu was found dead in a shack in Delft, and was also allegedly raped. A week before this incident, a six-year old girl was raped in a communal toilet area in Delft.
Child sexual abuse and homicide have reached endemic levels in Cape Town and South Africa as a whole. Three children are murdered a day in South Africa. However, the majority of sexual crimes remain unreported, meaning that official figures greatly underestimate the reality of the crisis. Research from non-governmental organisation Community Agency for Social Enquiry reveals that "child sexual abuse occurs across cultures and socio-economic circumstances in South Africa".
It is difficult to understand what drives a person to commit such a crime. The research further states that causes can range from "personal experiences of abuse and the impact of dysfunctional families, to broader social factors such as high levels of poverty, the acceptance of violence in society, unequal gender relations, the disintegration of family life, certain cultural traditions and substance abuse." How, then, does Delft fit into this picture, and is it possible to make sense of these crimes?
A history of violence
Although poorer communities are more likely to experience violent crimes, poverty is not necessarily a guarantee of violence. However, under apartheid, violence became a ubiquitous part of South African society. Years of violence used both as a form of oppression and dissent has resulted in a reliance on violence as a solution - whether in a community or individual setting. As a result, contemporary South Africa is a society that too readily accepts a pattern of generational violence.
A more tangible effect of apartheid on communities such as Delft is their creation as a means of human re-settlement. Delft was initially created as a part of a housing programme for the 'coloured' community under the apartheid system. In the early 1990s the Integrated Serviced Land Project (iSLP) allocated a substantial portion of southern Delft for relocation of portions of the 'black' shack-dwelling population. In 1994, however, with the abolition of apartheid, the racially segregated approach was abandoned and southern Delft became a 'mixed' project. Thus an apartheid-conceived housing scheme was co-opted and, with minor manipulation, put into place.
Delft would again become the site of community resettlement in 2005 when the City of Cape Town identified land in Delft for use as a temporary relocation area (TRA) during the development of the N2 Gateway Project. This decision was made as a hasty response to the fires that destroyed parts of Joe Slovo and the hostels in Langa. The vast majority of residents were removed from these areas and accommodated in a TRA in Delft.
While clearly the city is attempting to combat a chronic housing shortage in the Western Cape, the process of evictions and resettlements can have disastrous consequences for community cohesion. Much in the same way that apartheid removals destroyed vital interpersonal support networks between families and friends, so too can the relocation to TRAs affect those residents moved or removed. According to a study by the Development Action Group, "for those relocated to the Delft TRA… the impacts were severe. Social and economic networks were severely disrupted, and many lost their jobs due to the poor transport links from Delft to the rest of Cape Town".
Delft, then, is a community constructed largely from artificial government housing policies, most of which are implemented in an ad hoc fashion. The result being, that the community has not had much opportunity for natural (re)growth and cohesion. This is an extremely important factor when attempting to understand the inculcation of violence in an area, and specifically the generally even more abhorrent crimes against children.
Poverty and service delivery
Although, as already stated, poverty does not necessarily equate to violence, it is true that communities that experience dire socio-economic circumstances, such as Delft, are also "more susceptible to violence". Delft has one of the highest rates of unemployment in Cape Town at 41.33%. In addition, Delft experiences a chronic lack of access to social services. In an interview with Eyewitness News , Robert Macdonald, head of the Western Cape Department of Social Development, admitted to an urgent need for more social workers: "There are more than 20 social workers servicing the Delft area but there's a dire need to increase that number".
When it comes to response to violent crimes against children, the greatest problem is a lack of coordination between the three main response units: the SAPS, Social Services, and Pathology Services. Macdonald also observed that the shortage of social workers affected the whole of the Western Cape: "If you look at legislation, like the Children's Act, which prescribes a certain ratio of social workers to the population, we are probably at about 50 percent of the total number it should be in the province". Where the SAPS is concerned, they have often not received the necessary training to investigate home and family circumstances of the victim. Miscommunication between the various parties can take a variety of forms, leading to cases 'slipping through the cracks'. An example described by Professor Lorna Martin of UCT's Department of Forensic Medicine is that a child was admitted to hospital with injuries that eventually resulted in death. Pathology Services were able to ascertain the causes of death as unnatural and as a result of abuse. However, as no case was ever opened the results were not linked to a case number and therefore become part of an inquest rather than a homicide investigation, the priority levels of which differ vastly.
Furthermore, the turnaround time of Forensic Pathology Services can be hindered by their reliance on external services for results, such as toxicology or DNA. In the instance of DNA testing, Forensic Pathology Services must submit samples to the Forensic Science Laboratory at the SAPS where they experience a high work load and slow turnaround time. The SAPS also suffers from increasingly high case loads, with the result that vital protocols in cases are often overlooked due to the simple assumption that 'it is important therefore someone must have done it already'. Bad communication, ignorance of procedures, and simple human error as a result of overwork are problems that plague the SAPS and lead to a vast number of cases that remain unsolved.
The family unit
The importance of a functioning family unit cannot be underestimated; however the reality is that violent crime in South Africa is most likely to occur in a social situation among relatives, partners, friends or acquaintances. Children are at the greatest risk from care-givers and people known to the family, such as neighbours and friends - as was seen in the recent case where a 3-year-old girl was raped by a neighbour. In addition, Stats SA reports that South Africa "has one of the highest rates of father absence in the world". The result is that "children are left vulnerable owing to an unconventional family structure and poor parenting". Perhaps most worrying is the rise in child rapes perpetrated by children - highlighted by the alarming case of a grade R girl who was allegedly raped by three other children at her school in Mitchells Plain in March. This is largely due to the unconventional living conditions experienced by most children in South Africa, which leads to an early exposure to adult sexuality. This can be a result witnessing rape, sexual abuse, or merely sexual activity between adults of the household, and also from experiencing sexual abuse from adults themselves.
The HIV/Aids pandemic is another significant factor in the breakdown of the conventional family unit. Another report compiled by The Community Agency for Social Enquiry found that "one of the greatest threats to the realisation of children's rights in South Africa is the HIV/Aids epidemic... It is generally accepted that the socio-economic impact of HIV/Aids on communities and families increases children's vulnerability to abuse, but other possible links are more contentious". This is relevant when considering the infamous 'virgin cleansing myth' - that sex with a virgin will cure HIV/Aids - as a cause for child rape. Despite widespread media reporting on this anomaly, most studies have concluded that the 'myth' is not a major factor, typically because "the perpetrators mostly do not know their HIV status".
What does this mean for Delft's children?
It is very important to remember that child sexual abuse occurs across the board in South Africa, regardless of economic status, race, or other demographic considerations. However, certain socio-economic factors, such as poverty, substance-abuse, high occurrence of violent crime, and the effects of HIV/Aids on family life, are undeniable mitigating factors when it comes to exceptional occurrences.
Delft is a prime example of an area where these factors coalesce, resulting in the escalation of violent crimes perpetrated against children. However, it is important to note that these mitigating factors are not suffered by Delft alone, but by most of the surrounding areas. Delft is not particularly unique then, but rather happens to be in the spotlight at the moment.
There exists a paradox between the national policies and strategies that have been put in place by government to combat child sexual abuse and homicide and the ultimate delivery of these services. Current levels of service delivery are simply not able to meet the stipulations of important policies such as the Children's Act of 2005.
While it may be easy to criticise the SAPS, Social Services, or Forensic Pathology Services, they themselves experience lack of funding and support from both local and national government, and (especially in the case of the SAPS) a lack of necessary skills training to deal with cases of child rape and homicide. Ultimately, in order to tackle the issue of the sexual abuse of children, there needs to be transformation on the economic, political and cultural arenas.
_Berenice Bentel is an _online producer at Primedia Broadcasting.