Cape Town—Death by shooting has taken on epidemic proportions in the Cape and shooters get away in 95% of the cases because they never set foot in court.
Doctor Linda Liebenberg, clinical assistant at the department of forensic medicine and toxicology at the University of Cape Town, conducted research over a five year period into 532 post-mortems of people who died in shootings in the western metropolitan area in Cape Town in 1999.
Of these, 476 people were murdered and 25 were shot dead by police on duty. The others committed suicide.
Liebenberg has been specialising in forensic medicine since 1989 and it bothered her that “we do so many post-mortems on people who die because of violence but we so seldom go to court. My research for my dissertations led to shocking findings.”
‘Stillborn police investigations’
She said a state-of-emergency for gun violence in the Cape Metropolitan area is not an outrageous idea. The police’s work is often hampered by the constitutional rights of suspects. A state-of-emergency would neutralise this problem.
Apart from the fact that it was a nightmare to obtain all the information, only 104 of the cases made it to court over a five-year period. Of these, only 38 cases ended in convictions and in 11 of these cases, one perpetrator shot dead 11 others. In effect this means that there were 27 convictions—just 5,1% of the cases Liebenberg investigated therefore led to convictions.
In 22 cases the suspects were acquitted and 44 cases were withdrawn. In 114 cases, the police closed the cases as “untraceable murders”, 29 cases were merely closed and in eight cases the suspect died.
The research showed that investigators drag their feet in investigations. After an average of 55,3 months, dossiers were still with investigating officers and were still not being handed over to prosecutors. In some cases, the dossiers contained only a post-mortem report and no other information. In these cases, nobody was arrested either. In 182 cases, delays with dossiers were the main cause of the problem.
In 28 of the deaths there were no MAS numbers (case numbers) and in 32 cases there were numbers but no further information available.
Flood of violent crime
There are 41 cases still in the legal process with the state prosecutor or at the magistrate’s court 50 months after the relevant shooting.
“Police are overwhelmed by a flood of violent crime and a lack of staff members and experts to address the problem,” Liebenberg said.
“The fear, intimidation and apathy of the public play a very, very important role in the investigation of a crime. Eyewitnesses to murders that are committed in broad daylight are inhibited by fear and this leads to ‘stillborn police investigations’,” she added.
The police service also battles to fully utilise electronic data. However, there are some police officers who try their best, Liebenberg stressed.