Speech by Brigitte Mabandla, Minister of Justice & Constitutional Development, during debate on the President’s State of the Nation Address in the National Assembly

12 February 2008

Honourable Madam Speaker;
Honourable Members;

The 27th of April is unforgettable to millions of South Africans who celebrated the new dawn. The promise of freedom and equality, the possibility of restored dignity to millions. It was, Madam Chair, the onset of building a just and caring society. These were heady days, a time of great hope, the country was vibrant with positive energy, people in their organised formations were seized with defining policies for a post apartheid South Africa. Do you remember all those workshops, conferences, and animated get-togethers in the towns, in the rural areas, in taverns, at universities and colleges, in school rooms, le ko makgotleng a di Kgoshi (Nasezinkundleni). Thirteen years on there has been a significant change for the better, definitely greater access to economic opportunity, an improved social life for thousands, indeed there is a huge paradigm shift in the arena of ideas. Today progressive thinking is dominant. Most South Africans ascribe to the values enshrined in the Constitution, for example, notwithstanding their different political backgrounds honourable members Kader Asmal and Koos Van Der Merwe would see themselves as fervent advocates of human rights.

In society at large there is more tolerance of difference, greater inter-racial connectivity, greater awareness of human rights such as equality between men and women, the rights of children, the advancement of socio-economic rights, for example, political parties in this house will all assert that they are pro-poor. What this says Madam Speaker is that we may be starting to find consensus and answer the question that the President asked on whether we have areas of convergence and I dare say we are getting there. President it is correct to say we live in an age of hope still, physically no where in South Africa will you see signs blanke/nie blanke anymore. Even in our memory symbols of the past are fading.

During your State of the Nation, President, you addressed parliament about 24 Apex Priorities for the government in its last term of office. You urged us to spare no effort at meeting the goals that we have set ourselves. You say Mr. President it should be business unusual. Amongst the important priorities is the fight against crime and creation of a safe environment for all South Africans. We in the ANC recognise the imperative of an efficient criminal justice system for socio-economic development. The ANC is committed to the fight against crime and creating a safe environment for all the people of South Africa. Thus we are committed to a restructured court system, a transformed judiciary and legal sector. In the past three years there have been ongoing discussions with all stakeholders and the judiciary about transformation. I would like to thank the judiciary and the legal fraternity for their invaluable contribution in the discourse of transformation.

Members of the side bar and the bar have contributed immensely in the drafting o the Legal Services Charter which was presented to me in November and which I will put before Cabinet and then Parliament in the early part of the year. Great strides have been made in the conceptualisation of a transformed judiciary. In the meantime we have put before Parliament Legislation for the renaming of the High Court divisions. I am certain we will at least put before parliament before the end of this year Legislation on the restructuring of courts. Policy documents will precede this process. Last year also was an important year as we completed the draft policy on the South African traditional Justice System and we shall put before Parliament the Traditional Courts Bill. Once more I thank all those who participated in the discussions and I thank the Traditional Leaders for Contributing substantially to the thinking in the policy document. Similarly I thank the women’s groups that are making inputs in the discussions.

In the year 2003 the JCPS Cluster took a decision to undertake the Review of the Criminal Justice System. A Unit was set up in 2005, they are supposed to undertake both secondary and primary research, and to work closely with relevant institutions, including tertiary institutions. This Review is a JCPS Cluster process located in the Department of Justice. In 2007 the JCPS Cluster and business leadership partnered to find solutions in the fight against crime. An important outcome of that is a plan now dubbed the Review of the Criminal Justice System. This plan allows for intermediary and focussed interventions and in large parts can be implemented immediately. Of importance to my focus today is that the information collated from the various Departments through this initiative indicate gaps and lack of capacity in critical areas. It also throws up the weakness of lack of coordination along the crime fighting chain. There is recognition of potential in an effective system if we can address these weaknesses.

A similar weakness of coordination between the security units of government was picked up by the Khampepe Commission which was called upon to, inter alia, determine whether the DSO is still an important institution in the fight against crime. In fact I dare say that the potential tension between SAPS and the DSO was of immense deliberation at the time when the DSO was being established. Mr. President the review of the Criminal justice System and the outcome of the Khampepe Judicial commission requires us to address this matter urgently. At the core of our agenda should be to enhance our capacity to fight crime, in particular, organised crime and corruption.

In the past 13 years we have built a formidable capacity to fight crime in comparison to the time before 1994. The revamp of the organised crime fighting units in SAPS, the DSO was established with much acclaim in expectation of strengthening our capacity at fighting crime. We have other elite and specialised units such as the Asset Forfeiture Unit. From the time the AFU was established both SAPS and AFU designed national guidelines to work out modalities of cooperation between the two institutions. The AFU also works very closely with other security agencies within the state. In fact members of the SAPS are allocated in the same buildings as the AFU in the regions, there is an asset and investigations task team that trains SAPS members in particular on the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. The Head of the AFU , Advocate Willie Hofmeyer, informs me that co-location of SAPS investigators with the AFU lawyers has been crucial to ensure success in day to day operations.

He however points out that there can be room for improvement. Let me indicate that the Special Investigating Unit currently working on a huge number of corruption cases has recorded success. Special Investigating Unit has saved the state over R7 Billion. It has grown from a small body of 70 to over 600 members who are playing a crucial role in government’s fight against crime. But more importantly the Special Investigating Unit has shown how working with other law enforcement agencies and sharing success can make massive impact. In the Department of Social Development Project, it has worked closely with SAPS, NPA, and the Scorpions to ensure more than 6000 prosecutions within 3 years with a conviction rate of more than 90%. I am informed further that the National Prosecution Services, the SAPS, are cooperating around organised crime as well. I must say there has also been cooperation amongst the forces including with the DSO at operational level. But what is today even visible to the public out there that may have caused uncertainty amongst the populace at large is the tension between the DSO and the SAPS.

Thus in the light of Khampepe’s recommendations with regard to the DSO and in the context of the Review of the Criminal Justice System we need to undertake an audit of all our specialised units to enable us to restructure our elite units in such a way that our capacity to fight crime is improved. We should approach Parliament by March with Legislation relating to the restructuring of these services. At all times we will work very closely with institutions to seek consensus and to benefit from their operational experience. The NPA has many who serve the state with distinction and dedication and they are spread throughout the agencies of the NPA such as the DSO, the AFU, the SIU, and the NPS. And I want to assure in particular members of the DSO that in the realignment we are considering we will not be in breach of the constitution nor undermine their rights.

For us in the JCPS Cluster, the fight against women and child abuse is paramount. We will work to strengthen coordination amongst us an in accordance with the ANC’s drive to fight corruption. We will work to strengthen efforts the ground. This year we will popularise the Victim’s Charter with more vigour it will certainly be business unusual. In conclusion Madam Chair, we of the ANC will mobilise for safer communities and thus a better life for all.

I thank you