Applying for witness protection
Witness protection is a voluntary programme, you can't be forced to join it. You can apply for witness protection for yourself or on behalf of someone who is a witness. You must report your fears to any of the following people:
- The investigating officer (detective) in the case in which you’re a witness.
- The station commander or anyone who’s in charge at any police station.
- If you’re in prison, the person in charge of the prison or a registered social worker at the prison.
- The public prosecutor in the case in which you’re giving evidence.
- Any member of the Witness Protection Unit.
You’re a witness if you;
- testify in court,
- make an affidavit,
- have to give evidence in the future, or
- have given evidence in the past.
You or anyone else threatened will be removed from the dangerous situation as soon as possible. You’ll be placed into temporary witness protection. A witness protection officer will examine your application for permanent protection. If the threat is real and your application is approved, you’ll be placed in permanent witness protection.
A witness protection officer will arrange for removal as soon as possible if you’re in immediate danger. You’ll have to fill in an application form after being removed from the dangerous situation. The Director of the Witness Protection Unit will be told within 48 hours that you’ve been removed to temporary protection.
You’ll be kept in temporary protection for no longer than 2 weeks. During this time a witness protection officer will investigate your application, which includes a risk assessment and an evaluation of you by a psychologist. The officer will report to the Director, who’ll then decide whether to extend the temporary protection, place you in permanent protection, or refuse the application. The Director might refuse the application if they think that other ways of protecting you are better than placing you in the permanent protection programme.
If the Director decides permanent protection is best, you’ll have to sign a protection agreement. In this agreement, you agree to abide by all the rules of the protection programme, which generally involve not revealing information about the programme, as well as any conditions that might have to apply for your case. You’ll not be placed in permanent protection unless you sign this agreement. The agreement is set up to ensure your safety as well as the safety of the witness protection officers and everyone related to the programme. All witnesses who’ve kept to the rules of their protection agreement have remained safe.
Permanent protection doesn’t mean you’ll be in the protection programme for the rest of your life. Permanent protection lasts as long as the threat against you lasts, plus a phasing out period of 6 weeks, followed by a discharge. The discharge may involve a new identity being created for you and you may be relocated.
Permanent protection, which continues until you’re discharged, includes the following:
- You and your extended family, where necessary, will be placed in a safe house that is furnished and self-catering (you don’t have to pay for this accommodation).
- You’ll be relocated away from the area where you usually live if that’s considered necessary.
- A clinical psychologist will do trauma and psychological assessment and help you with any trauma you might be experiencing.
- You will undergo an induction programme so that you’ll know what to expect.
- If you’re unemployed, you’ll get an allowance for your basic needs.
- If you’re employed, you’ll get a replacement salary.
- If your children are with you, arrangements will be made so that they can go to school.
- Some other costs will also be covered, such as your schooling, transport, clothing, and medical costs.
Protection of a minor
You can apply for a child without the child's guardian's (parent or another person responsible for the child) permission if:
- The guardian is a suspect in the case that the child is a witness to, or
- If the child has no guardian, or
- If the guardian can’t be found, or
- If it can be shown the guardian is refusing to give permission unreasonably.
Discharge from protection
You can be removed from the protection programme if it’s found that you’ve broken any of the rules, or it’s found that you’re abusing the programme in any way. The programme doesn’t tolerate 'information peddlers', people who pretend to be witnesses so they can go on the programme.
The Witness Protection Unit now also provides 'after-care' to help you to adjust after you leave permanent protection (that is, when you’re discharged). During the phasing-out period, another risk assessment will be done. Discharge from permanent protection will probably involve changing your identity. You’ll be helped to reintegrate into society. You may also have to relocate permanently away from where you used to live. As an example of how this can be done, if you own an RDP house in one area, this can be swapped with an RDP house in another area.
Everything to do with witness protection is done in terms of the Witness Protection Act 112 of 1998. There are 9 regional offices of the Witness Protection Unit, one in each of the provinces. However, their exact location isn’t made public. The functions and duties of the Office for Witness Protection are classified as “SECRET.”
If you have any queries that you want to direct to the Witness Protection Unit itself, you should contact the Head Office of the Witness Protection Unit, which is in Pretoria and forms part of the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa (NPA).
National Prosecuting Authority
Tel: 012 845 6000