Winnie Kubayi

Ashoka Fellow
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South Africa
Fellow since 1998
Centre for Criminal Justice
This description of Winnie Kubayi's work was prepared when Winnie Kubayi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998 .

Introduction

Winnie Kubayi (South Africa 1998), the Director of the Centre for Criminal Justice, is working to ensure that the rights of women and children, enshrined in the South African Constitution, become part of a daily practice in the Criminal Justice system and not simply words on a very important document.

The New Idea

The way a case is reported plays a critical role in prosecuting a case through the justice system. The reality is that many of those turned away, or whose cases are thrown out of court because of inadequate evidence, happen to be women who are victims of violence. Very often, the questions asked to establish the credibility of the victims, were regarded as insulting, of doubtful relevance and negatively affects the relationship between the police and the victim. To make sure that cases are reported, properly documented, and that evidence is built up to secure a conviction, the Centre for Criminal Justice (CCJ) is opening Community Outreach Centres in local police stations. The purpose in doing this is to make sure that the reporting is done properly and the necessary evidence gathered. In addition, it is also an attempt to deal with repeated complaints of women and children, that they had been dealt with harshly and unsympathetically when they have reported an act of violence against them. Having persuaded the police to allow the CCJ to set up Community Outreach Centres in the police stations, the Centre works with the victims from the time the case is reported until it goes to court. After securing a conviction of the perpetrator the Centre goes further, and makes sure the victim gets counseling or other assistance from appropriate agencies and authorities. The way a case is reported plays a critical role in prosecuting a case through the justice system. The reality is that many of those turned away, or whose cases are thrown out of court because of inadequate evidence, happen to be women who are victims of violence. Very often, the questions asked to establish the credibility of the victims, were regarded as insulting, of doubtful relevance and negatively affects the relationship between the police and the victim. To make sure that cases are reported, properly documented, and that evidence is built up to secure a conviction, the Centre for Criminal Justice (CCJ) is opening Community Outreach Centres in local police stations. The purpose in doing this is to make sure that the reporting is done properly and the necessary evidence gathered. In addition, it is also an attempt to deal with repeated complaints of women and children, that they had been dealt with harshly and unsympathetically when they have reported an act of violence against them. Having persuaded the police to allow the CCJ to set up Community Outreach Centres in the police stations, the Centre works with the victims from the time the case is reported until it goes to court. After securing a conviction of the perpetrator the Centre goes further, and makes sure the victim gets counseling or other assistance from appropriate agencies and authorities.

The Problem

The government has, on paper, addressed the problem of discrimination against women. Legislation that contained discriminatory provisions against women was either amended or repealed. The South African Constitution provides for equality before the law, and specifically provides for sanctions against discrimination on the basis of gender. However, the reality is that discrimination does not end with the passing of legislation. This is particularly true of discrimination on the based of gender. Practices, attitudes and traditions entrenched in the institution of the criminal justice system need to be challenged and transformed. As a result of a series of workshops run for the community the Centre identified a serious problem, namely that, women were being denied access to the criminal justice system. The main stumbling block was found to be the police, a key component in the criminal justice system. Police throughout the world are regarded as gatekeepers to justice. They have the discretion and the power to decide who is permitted access and who is not. It was found that the majority of people being turned away happened to be women. Because of the inadequate reporting, structured collection of evidence and the presentation of the evidence, cases that were brought to trial were often thrown out, or no conviction of the perpetrator secured, because of the quality of the evidence. At the very least, a woman who was a victim of violence was treated unsympathetically, with great suspicion, and both her credibility and morality was questioned. In addition to the above, the police are not trusted, they have no credibility in the community and often, because of the way they interrogate victims, they leave the victims confused, feeling diminished and upset. As a consequence victims often withdrew their co-operation enabling the police to reinforce their perception that there was no case to be pursued. Women in rural areas have additional problems to deal with. Their status in communities makes it very difficult to break the silence surrounding the violence they and children suffer, especially if the crime is committed in the family context, because of the nature of the society. Secrets of the family are kept in the family with little concern for the victim but for the protection of the perpetrator and family pride. Although there is a legal remedy for such violence, the Prevention of Family Violence Act, its implementation is poor and no monitoring mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that this changes.

The Strategy

Using the Centre of Criminal Justice, which is based on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of Natal, Winnie has developed a multi pronged strategy to address the problem. (It is important to note that although the CCJ is located on university property it receives no support or subsidy from the university. However, the connection with the university provides an authority and credibility to the CCJ when necessary and especially when dealing with intransigent elements in the Police Force.) The CCJ has established pilot Community Outreach Centres (COC) in six police stations in KwaZulu Natal. Once the model has been firmly established in this Province, and the supporting evidence marshaled to demonstrate the value of it, pilots need to be established in other provinces. Working in police stations has had three additional benefits: sharing resources has kept the operational costs low be a catalyst in improving community/police relations keeping the police informed of new legislation and regulations These COC's are staffed by volunteers who are trained by the CCJ. Volunteers are drawn from a wide sector of the community and are constantly monitored by the CCJ. The pilot at the Plessislaer Police Station has been so successful that it is receiving a subsidy from the local authority in the area. Being located at the Police Station it is possible to work with the victims from the time the case is reported until it goes to court and a conviction secured. This involves the initial reporting, the building up of a dossier of evidence, ensuring that the police act on the report and are prepared for court. A by-product of this methodology is that it assists the police to improve their skills in documenting a case and gathering evidence to take a case to court. (The inability to fulfil this basic requirement in securing a conviction has been repeatedly commented on unfavorably in judgements throughout South Africa.) Further support and counseling is provided to the victim and where necessary, they are referred to other appropriate agencies and authorities. Although the CCJ concentrates on victims of crime they do not ignore other problems brought into the Community Outreach Centres. This is particularly true in rural areas where resources are limited. As it is not possible for the CCJ to be present everywhere, workshops are run for communities to inform them of their rights in accessing the justice system. This process ensures that information is spread as widely as possible and that there is a growing understanding of how they can challenge the abuse of power at whatever level in their community and what their responsibilities are as citizens. The CCJ has also taken the initiative in organizing outings for children who are victims of sexual abuse. The purpose is twofold: To get to know the children in a different environment so that they better deal with the trauma suffered by the children Provide counseling so that the hopes, fears and aspirations of the children are addressed. Working with the police to change both their attitude and approach to women and reporting an incidence of violence against them. Work is already being done by other agencies involved in the training and retraining of police throughout the country. However, this is being done at the level of training institutions and 5 -10 day workshops. The COC's, through their practice and physical presence in police stations, gets down to the very lowest level of staff at the police stations. In addition to the above, Monitoring the implementation of the Prevention of Family Violence in rural areas in collaboration with other agencies working in the rural areas. A new development for the CCJ is the request to assist with the retraining of all levels of the police force in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Person

Winnie was born in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg. She was adopted by her paternal grandmother and taken to Venda in the Northern Province. She remained with her grandmother until she matriculated in 1985. The family was socially and economically slightly better off than many in the surrounding area but she was encouraged to be concerned for those who had less than she had. Her grandmother was the major influence in her life, encouraging her to study, be independent and to care for others. She enjoyed engaging in debates at school and used this forum to raise the issue of injustice in the country. Although she was not a member of a political organization or student organization, she was repeatedly warned by school authorities to "Stay out of politics." Growing up she noticed how families handled the abuse of children. Once it had happened, it was never mentioned again. People said, "The perpetrator is warned", but nothing was ever done to or about the perpetrator. Equally nothing was done for the victim. She decided that she would try and do something about this situation when she completed her studies. She studied law but has never practiced as a lawyer. Since completing her studies she has worked in the social sector driven by her passion to ensure that the rights women and children are protected.