There is a sense of disbelief and despair among members of this impoverished community that the plight of rural children who are victims of gender-based violence appears to have been ignored. Residents of the town of Moorreesburg, 100km outside Cape Town along the N7, are furious that a man accused of raping and indecently assaulting girls aged four and three in 2019 has still not been prosecuted.
The alleged incidents took place in May and October 2019 and a 49-year-old local pastor was arrested soon afterwards. The charges, however, were provisionally withdrawn for further investigation. There is a sense of disbelief and despair among members of this impoverished community that the plight of rural children who are victims of gender-based violence appears to have been ignored.
Since the decision to provisionally withdraw the charges, legal practitioner Venice Burgins has bombarded the director of public prosecutions (DPP) in the Western Cape, with questions on the progress of the investigation and when the suspect will be formally charged.
On Friday 10 July 2020, the DPP informed Burgins that the office had been in contact with the SAPS with regard to speeding up the investigation.
“Only once the investigation has been completed and I have received all the available facts, evidence and circumstances in this matter will I be in a position to make a decision. I assure you the matter is still receiving our attention,” said the DPP.
While the community grappled with this delay, it was hit by another double blow. Two eight-year-old girls were allegedly indecently assaulted by a second suspect who is also well-known by residents. The alleged crimes were committed in June 2020 but parents of the victims only recently became aware of the allegations.
On Monday Maverick Citizen visited Moorreesburg and spoke to the parents of the eight-year-olds as well as Neil Ackers, of the Moorreesburg Action Group. The 29-year-old mother of one of the alleged victims said that she had contacted a prosecutor at the Moorreesburg courts on Monday 7 July about the alleged sexual assault.
“I was told he cannot take on this case because the child is eight years old and we are going after hearsay,” she said.
A suspect was arrested but later released.
… She blamed the police and the justice system, saying victims had been failed and had been denied the opportunity for the cases to be heard and for the court to reach a verdict.
The mother of the child said the alleged assaults on her daughter had taken place over a period of time and had come to light when a boy had reported to her that he had witnessed her daughter on top of the alleged suspect in his shack.
“I took my child to Piketberg clinic. My child was examined by a nurse who told me my child wasn’t penetrated but her private parts were covered in red marks which were inflicted by an object.
“I feel sad and disappointed about the fact that the accused has not been charged. My child still gets nightmares. While she sleeps she shouts, ‘Oom leave me alone’ and mentions his name. I want him to be sent to jail,” the mother said.
The mother of the second eight-year-old found out on Wednesday 1 July that her child had been allegedly sexually abused by the same accused. This was after police came to her house looking for her child. The mother and child were taken to the Moorreesburg police station where officer Estelle Croy talked to the victim. The child told police of her ordeal.
On Thursday 9 July, the mother and child accompanied the investigating officer to the Saldanha police station where the girl talked to a social worker. Her mother said the social worker had told her she believed her daughter had been assaulted but had been too traumatised to talk about it on that day.
“I’m hurt because it is a child. I’ve always read about it in the newspaper but never thought it would happen to me. The trust that I had for grown men is no longer there. I trusted him with my child,” she said.
Ackers said the justice system had failed the people of Moorreesburg.
“We cannot allow people accused of these heinous crimes to walk our streets. That’s why we will have a carcade and a picket on Friday 17 July, not just to make people aware of these unspeakable crimes but also tell the court our children need to be protected,” he said.
That more than 12 months had lapsed since a charge of rape had been lodged was “unheard of”, said Ackers.
Bergins, in the meantime, has vowed to find justice in all the cases.
She blamed the police and the justice system, saying victims had been failed and had been denied the opportunity for the cases to be heard and for the court to reach a verdict.
“From the Moorreesburg cases it’s very clear that the justice system has a major problem when the victims are under five years old. We also understand the constitutional right that the accused’s rights are also protected and we respect this. But there’s been a surge with a pandemic of GBV throughout the country and we plead for ministerial intervention.”
On Friday 17 July, members of the ANC Western Cape will visit Moorreesburg and take part in a carcade against GBV.
A weekend programme aimed at discussing GBV and the impact of Covid-19 and the lockdown on the economy and society in general will also take place.