Sex offenders' register to be 'expanded' - but not necessarily made public

20 November 2019 - 20:01 By Andisiwe Makinana
Sexual offences in SA are a national crisis, says deputy justice minister John Jeffery.
Sexual offences in SA are a national crisis, says deputy justice minister John Jeffery.
Image: 123RF/Andriy Popov

The government is wary of making the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO) fully available to the public over fears of "vigilante justice", but is putting plans in place to make the register more accessible than it currently is.

This is according to deputy justice minister John Jeffery, who said the country had to carefully consider making the register public, because opening it up could lead to those on the list being targeted by communities.

Jeffery told parliament on Wednesday that they were looking to expand the register to include all people convicted of sexual offences, and will also look at expanding access to the register.

He cautioned that this will be something that society would have to debate carefully, as South Africans have a penchant of taking the law into their own hands.

“What we've got to be careful of is that in South Africa, on average, two people get killed in vigilante violence per day. If you suddenly discover that there is a sex offender or rapist living next door to you and if there is rape in that community which may not involve that sex offender, they may well get targeted. The community may assume it's them and may target them. So those are some of the things we've got to look at,” he said.

The Sexual Offences Act provides that names of people convicted of sexual offences against children or people with mental disabilities must be included in the register. But the law only gives employers in the public or private sectors of people looking after children or people with mental disabilities access to the register, to check that the person being hired is fit to work with children or mentally disabled people.

Jeffery said this was not enough and needed to be widened.

“If you are managing a tertiary college women's residence, none of those employees have to be vetted on the sexual offences register because they are looking after adults. That's the problem with the act,” said the deputy minister.

Jeffery said they will be bringing amendments to the Sexual Offences Act early in the new year, proposing that offenders with “any conviction for sexual offence” should be in the register.

He was leading a delegation from the department of justice, the NPA and Legal Aid, which was briefing the justice portfolio committee about the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act, specifically focusing on investigations, court processes and sentencing.

Noting that sexual offences are a national crisis, Jeffery said they would like to improve the conviction rate.

A presentation to the committee showed that there were 32,570 entries in the register and 24,912 of those entries had been validated.

According to a document presented at the meeting, 7,658 of those entries were “re-tested before being discarded". Since the beginning of this month, 3,176 clearance certificates have been issued to government applicants who will have direct access to children or mentally disabled persons.

The register's registrar, Ntombi Matjila, explained that the “discarded cases” were not discarded but were cases where they could not obtain source documents.

“We are currently doing a data verification process through the courts to obtain information that was not included in the register,” she said.

Matjila said the register was previously found to not have accurate, valid or complete information. The office of the auditor-general has been auditing it every year and last year, in order to rectify the audit that was found to be inaccurate, they started validating all the information in the register, taking out all invalid entries made because of system errors.

PODCAST | Race muddies the discussion around competence in SA politics