SA’s death penalty is not yet dead

If we do not come to terms with the moral im­pli­ca­tions of what hap­pened at Marikana, we are reaf­firm­ing the state’s near-vig­i­lante right to

CityPress - - Voices - Achille Mbe­mbe voices@ city­press. co. za

We have yet to come to terms with the full mean­ing and im­pli­ca­tions of the Marikana tragedy. Although the re­port re­leased by the Marikana Com­mis­sion of In­quiry goes some way to­wards this goal, the foun­da­tional moral dilem­mas raised by the loss of ev­ery life in this con­flict have yet to be prop­erly ar­tic­u­lated.

What the world wit­nessed at Marikana was the ex­tra­ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tion of South African cit­i­zens in a coun­try that had for­mally abol­ished the death penalty.

Those who, from all sides, per­ished had not been in­dicted. Nor were they brought to any court of jus­tice. No ver­dict had been pro­nounced.

For­mal or in­for­mal, de­lib­er­ate or spon­ta­neous, the de­ci­sion to spill their blood and bring their lives to an end did not con­form with the fact that, in South Africa, the death penalty had been out­lawed.

That these ex­tra­ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions hap­pened in the way they did was not only a grave in­stance of dis­crim­i­na­tion and in­equal­ity be­fore the law, it was an in­dict­ment of the state.

For jus­tice to be ob­tained, com­pen­sa­tion and repa­ra­tions are morally in or­der.

What is the state and why are we con­vinced of its ne­ces­sity in the first place if not for the rea­son that it will pro­tect our lives by ex­clud­ing from the po­lit­i­cal sphere the great­est of evils – vi­o­lent death?

Orig­i­nally, the rai­son d’être of the state was to ex­pel death from the com­mu­nity. Its sin­gle most im­por­tant role is not to de­cide who must live and who must die – it is to guar­an­tee a se­cure life for all its cit­i­zens. This it does by dis­tanc­ing life from death, in law and in prac­tice.

Be­cause of our history of in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism, the state in South Africa was con­fig­ured in such a way that, on mat­ters of life and death, the law did not pro­tect ev­ery­body equally.

For blacks in par­tic­u­lar the law, death and the state tended to col­lude too of­ten and for too long in an end­less night­mare.

It was al­ways as if, to rit­u­ally reaf­firm the life of the state, black peo­ple had to be sac­ri­ficed in one way or the other, prefer­ably through some form of an ex­e­cu­tion in place of an ab­sent jus­tice.

The right to lib­er­ally spill black peo­ple’s blood is what kept giv­ing life to the South African state.

It is what fi­nally turned it into the breath­ing corpse we called apartheid.

The ex­e­cu­tion of black men and women in this coun­try was not ac­ci­den­tal – it was al­ways po­lit­i­cally de­ter­mined.

To jus­tify these ex­e­cu­tions, the state al­leged that, should the black man not be ex­e­cuted, he might turn out to de­stroy the state and thus re­turn all to a state of na­ture in which a far greater num­ber of men and women could die.

But as we have come to know, the true ci­pher of racism is not the de­mand for se­cu­rity; it is ni­hilism. It is the co­in­ci­dence of death and the norm.

The for­mal abo­li­tion of the death penalty does not mean that many are still not con­demned to Was Marikana a ver­sion of the death penalty in the new SA? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word DEATH and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name. SMSes cost R1.50 death. In fact, the death penalty has mor­phed into count­less forms of ex­tra­ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions.

Blood is still spilt, ei­ther in the hands of state or­gans or those of count­less pri­vate ex­e­cu­tion­ers.

We have en­tered a new pe­riod in our history when pro­cesses of ac­cu­mu­la­tion, pri­vati­sa­tion and dereg­u­la­tion are not nec­es­sar­ily hap­pen­ing through prim­i­tive dis­pos­ses­sion, but through chaos and dis­or­der.

What we call cor­rup­tion is a key de­vice in this new po­lit­i­cal econ­omy.

Post-apartheid South Africa is not only a na­tion in which most of its cit­i­zens are prop­erty­less in a so­ci­ety in which con­sump­tion rules, but also a na­tion of pri­vately armed cit­i­zens. A sys­temic re­dis­tri­bu­tion of the means of vi­o­lence is the in­evitable corol­lary of this new po­lit­i­cal econ­omy.

A po­lice force in mil­i­tary garb, hun­dreds of pri­vate se­cu­rity firms and a public cul­ture deeply nos­tal­gic of the en­vi­ron­ments of en­clo­sure typ­i­cal of apartheid have all con­spired to pro­duce an in­creas­ingly frag­mented, fear­ful and vul­ner­a­ble na­tion.

In the face of gen­er­alised mor­tal risk, the na­tion is will­ing to be­lieve that each in­di­vid­ual can be his or her own po­lice of­fi­cer, judge and ex­e­cu­tioner.

This new regime of risk and in­se­cu­rity and this mode of re­dis­tri­bu­tion of the means of vi­o­lence un­der­mine com­mu­nity and foster a so­ci­ety of atom­istic in­di­vid­u­als iso­lated be­fore power, sep­a­rated from each other by fear, mis­trust and sus­pi­cion, and prone to mo­bilise un­der the ban­ner of a mob or mili­tia rather than a com­mu­nity built around net­works of sol­i­dar­ity.

This raises all sorts of ques­tions, the most im­por­tant of which is what free­dom and cit­i­zen­ship mean in an armed so­ci­ety.

What does a term like “civil so­ci­ety” mean in such a con­text?

We recog­nise the fea­tures of an armed so­ci­ety in the pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons and the in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence and death re­lated to the use of guns.

An armed so­ci­ety is any­thing but a po­lite or de­cent so­ci­ety.

In an armed so­ci­ety, speech is not the high­est form of hu­man as­so­ci­a­tion. An armed so­ci­ety is not de­voted to the free­dom and equal­ity of its com­po­nent mem­bers.

It is de­voted to the cult of the gun, or the threat of it.

As things stand, there is ab­so­lutely no guar­an­tee that there will not be a re­peat of Marikana.

For Marikana to not be re­peated, we will have to pon­der the full eth­i­cal and le­gal im­pli­ca­tions of what ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

The gun rep­re­sents a form of vi­o­lence whose main fea­ture is to foster an un­demo­cratic cul­ture.

An un­demo­cratic cul­ture is one in which the gun turns into the priv­i­leged means that me­di­ates the re­la­tion­ships be­tween pu­ta­tively free and equal cit­i­zens.

And wher­ever the rule of the peo­ple turns into the rule of prop­erty and the rule of prop­erty into the rule of the gun, the like­li­hood of ex­tra­ju­di­cial forms of ex­e­cu­tion dra­mat­i­cally in­creases. Mbe­mbe is the au­thor of On the Post­colony, re­cently

re­pub­lished by Wits Univer­sity Press

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