While it is reassuring to know that government still thinks it is important to spend money on making communities safer, Tshwaranang will be reserving its excitement until we’ve seen the Budget Votes for the departments of Police and Justice and Constitutional Development respectively. A National Budget after all, only sets out, in broad brushstrokes, what government thinks is important in the overall scheme of things; it doesn’t give us specifics. And as the saying goes, the devil is always in the detail.
The police budget for example has increased by 29.9 percent between 2008/09 to 20010/11. That hasn’t translated into the police spending more money improving the quality of their training around the Domestic Violence Act, or ensuring that increasing numbers of their members are trained in this regard. The Auditor-General has commented on the inadequacy of police training around domestic violence, as has the Independent Complaints Directorate and parliament’s Portfolio Committee for the Police. Even the police concede that the content of their training doesn’t meet the mark, anymore than the number of trainees does. But no amount of complaining (or increase to their Budget) appears able to galvanise the police into developing a comprehensive and costed training plan for their members.
In 1998, during the parliamentary debate surrounding the passage of the DVA, MP Susanne Vos memorably demanded: “Show me the money that the Justice Department can use to really make a difference to the lives of millions of women and their children in this country.” The importance of her question was underscored in a briefing on budget 2001 to the portfolio committee, when the Department stated that the implementation of new legislation such as the DVA had placed “severe pressure” on its offices. Officials went on to say that the 2001/02 budget for personnel “appears to be less than that required for the number of approved posts; fewer persons can therefore be employed.”
The Department has never gone on to rectify this problem, creating a situation where the quality of protection from domestic violence depends on whatever individual courts and officials think can be spared - rather than demanded - from their budgets.
So until we see what the increases of the departments of Police and Justice and Constitutional Development are going to be spent on, the plaudits, bouquets and champagne corks remain on hold.
Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre