The Department of Justice and Correctional Services is ensuring that residents across the country have access to justice services by renovating courts.
The latest courts to receive a face-lift are in the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu-Natal.
In the capital city of KwaZulu-Natal, the department unveiled the renovated Pietermaritzburg Magistrate Court on which R57 million was spent. Work at the court started in 2008 and finished in 2013. This included a new sexual offences court and the creation of more office space.
Community member Nikiwe Masikane hopes improvements will put a dent in crime in the area.
“The opening of this court will help fight crime in this area. We don’t have to worry about spending too much money on trans- port to attend court cases. We are happy that criminals will be prosecuted and no time will be wasted.”
The then Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe, who has since become the Minister in the Presidency, urged community members to make use of the services offered at the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate Court.
“Crime, violence and all forms of sexual offences can only decrease not because of these facilities working alone, but through the concerted will of all our people as a whole - working together to move South Africa forward,” said the Minister.
He added that the court had dealt with 17 675 criminal cases alone in 2013.
“In the same year, there were 1 385 maintenance cases and 18 999 civil cases.”
The court also dealt with 447 sexual of- fence cases, 2 583 small claims cases and 575 children’s cases during the same year. “This is certainly a busy court and this is what we mean when we speak of access to justice for all,” Minister Radebe said.
The 76-year-old court is one of South Africa’s historic colonial buildings. It was at this court that the late former President Nelson Mandela appeared in 1962 after he was arrested in Howick on charges of leaving the country without a passport and calling on workers to strike.
Over the years, the court has sat in three different areas creating challenges for the community who had to travel there. With the recent renovations, the court can house all staff and services at one building.
In the Eastern Cape, the Gelvandale Magistrate’s Court in Port Elizabeth was also launched after it was renovated at the cost of R45 million.
Resident Rosy Goena said gangersterism was a huge problem in Gelvandale and she hoped the new court would play a role in addressing it.
“I am hopeful that the court will make sure justice is served and innocent people are protected from gangsters,” she added. The court now has three courtrooms that deal with criminal matters. Services such as family, maintenance and domestic violence will be offered to not only the Gelvandale community but also to surrounding areas like Helenvale and Bethelsdorp.
Minister Radebe encouraged communities to rally behind the task teams established to deal with the scourge of gangsterism in their area.
Over the 20 Years of Freedom 43 new courts have been built across the country ensuring greater access to justice.