Reflect a bit, before you’re cheering up
PERHAPS it’s time we had a national holidays reshuffle, and we moved the Day of Reconciliation to August, when the weather’s rubbish, and install in its place either Freedom Day, Mandela Day or Women’s Day.
If that was out of the question, then we should rename December 16, call it something more in keeping with the national mood at this time of the year.
My own suggestion would be Fatuous Apology Day, as in “You want it done when? I’m sorry, and I don’t mean to laugh, but we’re shutting shop now and it’ll have to wait until the new year.”
Of course, like the regulars at the Mahogany Ridge, you may have suggestions of your own. National Day of the Wage Packet Blowout, maybe. Or perhaps Yet Another National Braai Day. If you’re the Fanon-centric type and you’ve had it up to here with the colonial gestures, then something along the lines of Kwanza Day.
But whatever it is, at least make it cheerful. I mean, here we are, slipping into the festive season, and what’s been the week’s overarching topic of conversation? Punishment.
It started with the controversy of taxi driver Jacob Humphreys’s murder and attempted murder convictions. Had he intended to kill his passengers, all schoolchildren, when he overtook a row of cars at a Blackheath level crossing last year, and ignoring safety warnings, tried to cross the railway line in front of an oncoming train?
The National Prosecuting Authority, in deciding to charge motorists responsible for fatal accidents with murder instead of culpable homicide, has argued that if it could be proved that a driver foresaw the possibility of an accident, but took the risk anyway, there was a form of intention to cause death. I don’t quite get the NPA’S reasoning – unlike talk radio listeners, I’m not an expert in these matters – but would suggest that “form of intention to cause death” sounds a bit like culpable homicide.
Perhaps the real reason Humphreys and other deadly taxi drivers have been charged with murder is that the sentences for culpable homicide were not quite severe enough. Which bring us to Janice Bronwyn Linden, the Durban woman executed by lethal injection in China for drug smuggling.
Both Linden’s family and opposition politicians believe that the government had done little to save her life. DA MP and foreign affairs spokesman Stevens Mokgalapa had, it was reported, appealed to President Jacob Zuma to intervene in the matter, saying: “Our government cannot stand idly by while one of our citizens is executed on foreign shores… Our president must do the right thing and speak out before it’s too late.”
When Zuma did speak out against the death penalty it was on Thursday, at the opening of the revived Gallows Memorial at C Max in Pretoria – and by then it really was too late. But they were fine, noble words nonetheless. “I do not think there is justice in killing another human being,” the president said. “Quite often I hear commentators saying ‘Bring back the death penalty’ to combat crime. Our constitution prioritises the right to life and dignity and the good judges did well to abolish it.”
About 4 300 prisoners were hanged in Pretoria before the gallows at the prison was dismantled. This is, according to Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based organisation focusing on human rights in China, about how many people the Chinese execute in a year. Which was progress – of a sort. Execution figures remain a state secret in China, but Dui Hua claims that the country carried out about 8 000 in 2006. The dramatic drop in the number came about as a result of legal changes in 2007 that required death penalties to be reviewed by the Supreme People’s Court.
The same sweeping tendency of compassionate bourgeois revisionism has resulted in changes to the Chinese criminal code and a number of crimes – grave robbery, smuggling rare animals, tax fraud, theft of fossils, smuggling gold and silver – have been removed from its lengthy list of capital offences. Killing a panda, however, remains on the list. Which is interesting only in that a Chinese national, one Hsu Hsien Lung, was this week sentenced to six years imprisonment by the Germiston Regional Court for possession of two rhino horns.
You may think that unfair, of course. Crimes against pandas carry a more severe sentence than crimes against rhinos, but consider this: Lung will be spending time in an SA jail – and that’s a punishment worse than death, especially if Shrien Dewani’s recent activities were an indication of anything. Lastly, we should remember Friedrich Nietzsche’s words in this regard: “Distrust everyone in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”
Now cheer up, everybody.