Pun­ish crime in all its forms

CityPress - - Voices - Kaizer Ny­at­sumba voices@ city­press. co. za Ny­at­sumba is a writer and a busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive

De­scent to law­less­ness does not hap­pen overnight. It takes place over a num­ber of years and is usu­ally en­cour­aged by the ab­sence of con­se­quences for those who break the law. In many as­pects of our lives, South Africa has well and truly de­scended into fright­en­ing law­less­ness.

It has now be­come the norm that when­ever some com­pa­tri­ots feel they have rea­son to be up­set with any tier of gov­ern­ment, they re­sort to burn­ing schools or some other pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture to reg­is­ter their dis­plea­sure.

Dur­ing such dis­plays of anger, whether real or feigned for the cam­eras, a grow­ing num­ber of our com­pa­tri­ots feel jus­ti­fied to sow may­hem and, in the process, in­con­ve­nience ev­ery­body else. Even pri­vate prop­erty, such as cars and houses, are of­ten thought to be fair game.

When uni­ver­sity stu­dents em­barked on their Fees Must Fall cam­paigns in 2015 and 2016, some of them burnt halls and even li­braries. Their protests were about free ed­u­ca­tion, yet some among them un­der­mined this cause by en­sur­ing that what­ever money was made avail­able by the gov­ern­ment would be di­verted to­wards re­pair­ing, renovating or re­build­ing the dam­aged in­fra­struc­ture.

When trade unions em­bark on strikes, some of their mem­bers find it hard to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to trash our streets and un­leash vi­o­lence on those who do not sup­port them.

When ser­vice de­liv­ery protests take place in town­ships or vil­lages be­cause some tier of gov­ern­ment has yet again failed to live up to the many ex­trav­a­gant prom­ises rou­tinely made by po­lit­i­cal par­ties ahead of elec­tions, some pro­test­ers set alight any­thing they come across, es­pe­cially if it is pub­lic prop­erty. Pri­vate as­sets also do not es­cape their ire.

This con­duct is most ab­nor­mal.

Protests and strikes oc­cur in most demo­cratic coun­tries, but they are not rou­tinely ac­com­pa­nied by the kinds of vi­o­lence and law­less­ness that have be­come so com­mon in South Africa.

This is a sit­u­a­tion about which all South Africans should be deeply con­cerned. Yet, de­spite grow­ing de­nun­ci­a­tions, this trend con­tin­ues. The rea­son is sim­ple: those who com­mit such crim­i­nal acts do so with the full knowl­edge that what they are do­ing is il­le­gal. But they also know the chances are good that they will get away with it.

They know that there will be no con­se­quences for their ac­tions. If any­thing, they will prob­a­bly be feted in their com­mu­ni­ties as lat­ter-day rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.

Our big­gest en­emy, then, is im­punity. For as long as peo­ple can be­have so badly and get away with it, they will con­tinue to do so – and oth­ers will feel em­bold­ened to em­u­late them.

There­fore, to en­sure that those who ex­er­cise their con­sti­tu­tional right to protest do so within the am­bit of the law and re­spect the rights of their fel­low cit­i­zens to go about their lives as they wish, our law en­force­ment agen­cies must be seen to be en­forc­ing the coun­try’s laws with­out fear or favour. The con­se­quences for il­le­gal con­duct, from the most mi­nor to the most se­ri­ous, must be en­forced.

The cul­ture of im­punity will not end as long as po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are seen to be do­ing as they please and get­ting away with mur­der, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively.

The start­ing point is to en­sure that all po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and po­lit­i­cally con­nected in­di­vid­u­als who have al­le­ga­tions hang­ing over them of im­pro­pri­ety, malfea­sance or out­right crim­i­nal­ity, are made to ac­count.

Fail­ure to do so can only en­cour­age oth­ers down the rung in politics and the pub­lic sec­tor to follow suit.

Af­ter all, if politi­cians and those con­nected to them can break the law and get away with it, it would be un­fair to sin­gle out their ju­nior staff for se­lec­tive pros­e­cu­tion.

South Africa des­per­ately needs a zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy for any act of crim­i­nal­ity. It is only when that is done as a mat­ter of course, when there is cer­tainty that any act of crim­i­nal­ity will be pun­ished, that we will be­gin to ar­rest our de­scent to law­less­ness.

Un­til then, protests and strikes will con­tinue to be ac­com­pa­nied by vi­o­lence. More schools and li­braries will be burnt and there will be no re­spect for pub­lic or pri­vate prop­erty.

Un­til the mur­der­ers of my brother, Ado­nis Motha, of for­mer Or­lando Pi­rates goal­keeper Senzo Meyiwa and of many oth­ers are ar­rested, pros­e­cuted and sent to lan­guish in prison, we will con­tinue to be a law­less so­ci­ety. Un­til then, crim­i­nals will keep run­ning riot and take the lives of our com­pa­tri­ots, com­fort­able in the knowl­edge that there are likely to be no con­se­quences for their mis­deeds.

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