Re­flect a bit, be­fore you’re cheer­ing up

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

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.

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