by Tauhierah Salie
“Nobody should bury their child.”
This is something we’ve heard countless times. But, in Cape Town, the funerals of innocent children are a regular occurrence. And so is the trauma, devastation and heartbreak that goes along with it, which may never cease.
The two most recent child murders- allegedly committed by convicted criminals – have however ignited a fierce anger amongst residents, sparking calls for a complete review of South Africa’s parole system.
For starters; the celebratory flame of world-renown festivities that the Mother City proudly boasts shriveled to dust, after the body of a 12-year-old girl was found in shrubbery of Schaapkraal just over a week into the New Year.
The child, described as ‘loving and bubbly’, was playing in the front yard of her Pelican Park home when she went missing. After being arrested, her neighbour directed police to her body. The 48-year old was found to have been out on parole for the rape and attempted murder of an 8-year-old in early 2003.
The victim, now 23, recalled her life-changing ordeal and explained how the suspect stabbed her multiple times and brutally raped her. She survived by pretending to be dead and rolling into the bushes, in hiding.
News of his previous delinquencies angered the community. Neighbourhood watch groups, community members and other concerned participants had been part of the search for the young girl, often into the late hours of the evening.
Distraught friends and families accompanied her mother to court proceedings, where the anxiety of seeing the perpetrator caused her to have a panic attack. Outside, dozens of people demonstrated against bail for the suspect, slamming President Cyril Ramaphosa for not doing enough to protect the community.
The man now faces charges of murder and kidnapping and his case was postponed to April 14th.
Exactly a month after Michaela was kidnapped, police once again appealed to the public to help find little Tazne Van Wyk. The eight-year-old had walked across the road from her house to a nearby shop in Elsies’ River when she was taken. A day after she went missing on 7th February, her flyer was up on social media and her face splashed on the front pages of newspapers.
Police soon identified her neighbour, Mohiydien Pangaker, as a person of interest. His face was likewise blasted across social media and as the day’s passed, a growing number of residents searched for the pair. Soon, dozens of community organizations embarked on late-night searches and, similarly to Michaela’s case, turned up empty-handed each time.
However, the arrest of the 54-year-old suspect in Cradock in the Eastern Cape last Monday, gave the search party a brief sense of optimism, before he revealed to police where to find her dead body. The retrieval of her body, from a storm drain in Worcester, was equally as traumatizing and shattered weeks of hope and prayer that she would be returned to her family safely.
Amid all that hope, was also a sense of desperation. After news broke that she was found dead, that desperation fumed into rage and communities were baying for Pangakers blood.
This was evident through the mass demonstrations outside the Goodwood magistrate court where he made his second court appearance on Friday.
Hundreds of residents from across Cape Town, the majority of whom come from poverty and gang-ridden areas on the Cape Flats, such as Bonteheuwel, Delft, Elsies River, Lotus River and Parow, barricaded Voortrekker road with a gate ripped from the back of the court.
As the morning of his appearance went on, the protest grew in size and intensity. Livid protesters called on a ‘failing government’ to step up, implement harsher punishments for perpetrators of crime against children and women, no bail for rapists and even the reinstatement of the death penalty.
The highly charged atmosphere was heavy with sadness, disappointment and grief for at least 1014 children under the age of 16 that had been murdered in the 2018/19 year. In attendance were also child and women’s rights advocacy organisations such as the Total Shutdown Movement, Moms move for Justice, Badisa, Mitchells Plain Crisis Forum, Salvation Army Care Haven and Pink Ladies; while various political parties including the NFP, DA and ANC also added their voice.
Angry residents were determined to lay hands on the suspect, but police reinforcements were called and they were slowly silenced. The crowd dispersed after Pangakers’ case was postponed to 17 April.
However, protesters then took to the streets of Parow where the little girl was allegedly spotted before her death. They looted a shop, threw bricks and stones at a house and tipped a car that allegedly belonged to a drug dealer. Protestors also burnt down four dwellings, among them an alleged brothel, where they say Tazne was taken before her departure.
On Sunday, thousands attended the little girl’s memorial service in Elsies River, with hundreds of grieving parents shedding tears for their late children. An anti-crime summit was also held to discuss issues such as how to rebuild functional community safety structures, skills development, safer schools and youth-based interventions.
The similarities between the two cases, a few weeks apart, shook Capetonians to their core and put power behind the calls for reform within the government and the criminal justice system. Particular attention was drawn to the fact that both suspects in these matters targeted young girls and that they were convicted criminals. The latest was convicted of 11 crimes since the 1980’s, infuriating dejected families. It was widely reported that Pangaker was previously convicted for crimes including theft, housebreaking, possession of a stolen vehicle, common assault, capable homicide, abduction, child neglect and murder.
But according to Justice and Correctional Services Department spokesperson, Chrispian Phiri, the media misinterpreted his rap sheet.
“Unfortunately that is a bit of misinformation that is doing the rounds about this fellow. We have analysed his record and what we have found is what we believe to be a systematic problem with our justice system. In the past couple of years, he has been convicted for smaller crimes- housebreaking, theft. Those are important crimes, I’m not saying they are insignificant at all. But the convictions were never for more than 2 years- its always between 0-24 months,” said Phiri.
“He only served time properly for culpable homicide and that was quite a significant amount of time he spent in jail. He was released on parole and absconded his parole conditions. We found that he absconded at a point where we were no longer able to track him and he was eventually apprehended for another crime and this time it was murder,” he elaborated.
Demanding questions were raised about why a man who continuously broke the law was allowed a chance to be part of the close-knit community. Phiri explained that the suspect had failed to adhere to his parole conditions when he fled to Cape Town.
Pangarker served only eight years of a 10-year sentence for the October 2016 culpable homicide of his own son. Phiri noted that, given that he wasn’t charged with murder, his parole conditions would have been ‘lighter’.
“If you look at the incarceration he was under, for culpable homicide- its not necessarily an intentional crime like armed robbery or murder or rape. even th the rehabilitation you’ll be put through for culpable homicide is very different than the rehabilitation you’d b put through for murder etc.
He explained how the worse extent of crime committed, the heavier the parole conditions would be.
“When the parole board is siting with our record, the type of crimes you’ve committed somewhat does play a role for them to assess the type of person you are and whether you can be released back into society, under parole conditions and what your parole should be,” he said.
Phiri highlighted that after absconding his parole conditions, police had been searching for him prior to his latest crime.
“When you’re on parole and you’re found at a particular address, the correctional officer comes to inspect whether you’re there and they also being a social worker to access your psychological condition. When they did not find him (Pangaker), they then opened a police case immediately,” he said.
“Absconding means you immediately go back and serve the rest of your sentence there. His sentence would have expired in April 2019, technically he was no longer a parolee.”
He also reaffirmed that it is a standard procedure that community members need to be notified of a criminals release.
“Before someone is released back into the community, the community must be informed but most importantly the victims of that individual crime,” he said.
One of the driving forces behind granting criminals parole, and an opportunity to reform, is overcrowded prisons. Prison conditions in South Africa are not the most favourable and have been identified as being overpopulated by a few thousands.
According to Phiri, the department has conducted analysis and studies which have pointed an anecdotal views Capetonians held for years; prison does little to save its inmates from a life of crime.
“In the Western Cape, there is a high rate of what we call is recidivism, (this is) individuals who have been incarcerated and somehow go back into society and commit another crime. And the anecdotal evidence suggest that because of the level of overcrowding in our correctional centres, people may not be rehabilitated sufficiently,” he explained.
Using Pangaker as an example, Phiri noted that a short period in prison does more harm than good.
“If you convict someone from 0-24, you actually don’t make an impact on rehabilitating that individual. Putting them in prison does not make an impact, if anything, it has an adverse effect on that individual and I think this case shows us that,” he said.
Western Cape Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz and the City of Cape Town’s Safety and Security Directorate spokesperson JP Smith are among those who have repeatedly called for more funding to go into criminal departments that can secure the convictions of arrested suspects.
Smith pointed to a direct link in the release of inmates from prisons and a rise in crime in the areas they reside in. Equally, the deep-rooted gangsterism both in and out of Cape Town prisons leaves ordinary citizens guessing if their neighbour could be a seasoned criminal.
Both the DA and ANC said they would be submitted questions to Justice minister Ronald Lamola on how parolees are selected, government’s policy regarding parole release and what monitoring takes place after release.
According to Phiri, one of the items under consideration is a mechanism that assists boards to make their decision.
“The research that we’ve done (showed) that most of our parole boards don’t have an independent tool to assess whether the person has been rehabilitated. That’s what the minister will be implementing,” he says.
“How do we give them a scientific tool, so that when the parole board are sitting and reviewing someone sentence’s eligibility for parole, they are able to assess if this person has been rehabilitated.”
According to Phiri, part of the department’s holistic approach to remedy the ailing system seeks to amend the Criminal Procedure Act to state that if a sentence of between 0-24 months will require post-prison rehabilitation in their community.