By MICHELLE SOLOMON
ONE in three people in the country believe the courts discriminate against poor black South Africans.
Even worse, only half believe courts are working for them.
These results were drawn from the 2012 South African Social Attitudes Survey – administered by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) – where a detailed set of questions surveyed more than 2500 participants in November and December last year.
The survey results reflect a worrying distrust and lack of public confidence in the criminal justice system.
That only half of the respondents trust the courts represents a decline from 2009, when 57% felt the courts were working, said the HSRC.
The survey found that while some South Africans thought courts were prone to error, they also believed the institutions were largely impartial.
But the HSRC noted that poor South Africans disagreed.
“Poorer South Africans were less convinced of the fairness and impartiality of court decisions than the better-off, and therefore were found to be less trusting of the courts,” the HSRC wrote in its review recently.
Johannesburg-based Legal Resources Centre attorney Yana van Leeve said she found the survey results both surprising and worrying.
“The context in which the questions are framed is important,” she said, noting that perceived racial and class biases have more to do with access to resources and legal representation than with the courts’ procedures.
A Mthatha mother whose daughter was sexually assaulted at the age of 10 said despite the conviction of the assailant, she had little faith in the criminal justice system. The Dispatch cannot name the mother, daughter or assailant in order to protect the young survivor’s identity.
He was found guilty in 2011 and given an eight-year prison sentence, four years of which were suspended for five years.
The man is up for parole this month, just two years into his jail time.
“If [the man] is let out, then I believe the criminal justice system is crooked,” the mother said. “I believe the system to be extremely cruel.
“We suffered immensely to get justice in this case. That man should have been locked up for life.
“There is no justice in South Africa. Absolutely none,” she added.
HSRC research specialist Ben Roberts administered the survey, and said the results raised worrying questions about the state of democracy in South Africa.
“We’re seeing this broad-based concern about how procedurally fair these institutions are,” Roberts said, adding that high-profile court cases often work to influence public opinion. He said this was especially true with regard to perceived differential treatment by the courts.
“There have been particular cases of late that have called into question the roles of the core institutions for democracy,” Roberts said.