An eye for an eye is not the an­swer

Post - - OPINION - ■ Yo­gin De­van is a me­dia con­sul­tant and social com­men­ta­tor. Share your thoughts with him on: yo­

THE com­mu­nity was un­der­stand­ably an­gry when the life of 9-year-old Sa­dia Sukhraj from Shall­cross, west of Durban, was snuffed out by a bul­let dur­ing a hi­jack­ing just over a week ago.

When a wife dies, the hus­band is re­ferred to as a wid­ower. When a hus­band dies, the wife be­comes a wi­dow. When par­ents die, their chil­dren are called or­phans.

There is no word for the par­ent whose child dies.

It is not nat­u­ral for par­ents to bid a final farewell to an off­spring. No par­ent should have to bury a child. This is con­trary to the cir­cle of life. Chil­dren should bury their par­ents – not the other way around.

Com­pas­sion­ate, car­ing, con­cerned men and women were plunged into the abyss of grief as news quickly spread of an­gelic Sa­dia’s death on her way to school that morn­ing.

That evening, hun­dreds of fu­ri­ous res­i­dents protested out­side the Chatsworth Po­lice Sta­tion to de­mand jus­tice for Sa­dia.

It is tol­er­a­ble that they bar­ri­caded roads with burn­ing tyres. It is al­low­able that they threw stones at po­lice­men. It is also bear­able that they hurled pro­fan­i­ties – even women spewed out the bad word that rhymes with “duck”. The com­mu­nity mem­bers were, af­ter all, quite in­censed that the po­lice was not do­ing enough to com­bat crime.

How­ever, what I found to­tally un­ac­cept­able and de­plorable was that among the pro­test­ers were those who were calling for the re­in­state­ment of the death sen­tence.

No amount of anger and frus­tra­tion should ever be used to jus­tify the re­turn of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

For a mo­ment, pon­der the fol­low­ing. In 1963, Nel­son Man­dela – we re­gard him as the Father of the Na­tion – and sev­eral other ANC lead­ers were charged with plan­ning to com­mit sab­o­tage and over­throw the racist govern­ment.

Dur­ing the trial in 1963-64, Man­dela and his com­rades had been found guilty. The con­vic­tions car­ried the death penalty.

But Judge Quar­tus de Wet stopped short of or­der­ing their ex­e­cu­tions and in­stead sen­tenced them to life in prison.

When Man­dela was spared the noose, the op­pressed ma­jor­ity cel­e­brated the spar­ing of the life of their hero, and they were joined by millions in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Can you imag­ine where South Africa would have been had Madiba been hanged?

Fol­low­ing his re­lease af­ter 27 years of in­car­cer­a­tion un­der tor­tur­ous con­di­tions, Man­dela in­spired South Africa’s po­lit­i­cal and racial rivals to work to­gether to build a democ­racy.

He showed his fel­low coun­try­men it was pos­si­ble to for­give one’s en­e­mies.

Ma­jor­ity rule was ush­ered in with­out blood­let­ting. The rel­a­tively peace­ful tran­si­tion from apartheid to democ­racy would not have been pos­si­ble with­out Man­dela’s lead­er­ship, vi­sion and per­son­al­ity. Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and for­give­ness be­came the Man­dela Mantra.

It is not un­rea­son­able to sup­pose that South Africa would have be­come a bas­ket case overnight had Man­dela been sent to the gal­lows.

The death penalty has been a mode of pun­ish­ment since time im­memo­rial. Je­sus Christ was cru­ci­fied on the cross by Jews for what was be­lieved to be a crime of blas­phemy.

Cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is men­tioned in the Holy Bi­ble many times, and the “eye for an eye” prin­ci­ple is ad­vo­cated.

South Africa ex­e­cuted ap­prox­i­mately 4 000 peo­ple since the in­tro­duc­tion of the sen­tence in 1910 un­til 1995 when the Con­sti­tu­tional Court abol­ished cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

The Con­sti­tu­tional Court’s 1995 rul­ing for­bade the govern­ment from car­ry­ing out the death sen­tence.

The court ruled that death is the most ex­treme form to which a con­victed crim­i­nal can be sub­jected. Its ex­e­cu­tion is final and ir­rev­o­ca­ble. It puts an end not only to the right to life it­self, but to all other per­sonal rights which had vested in the de­ceased un­der the con­sti­tu­tion.

The Con­sti­tu­tional Court un­der Chief Jus­tice Arthur Chaskalson said death was a cruel penalty and the le­gal pro­cesses which in­volve wait­ing in un­cer­tainty for the sen­tence to be set aside or car­ried out, added to the cru­elty.

It is also an in­hu­man pun­ish­ment for it in­volves, by its very nature, a de­nial of the ex­e­cuted per­son’s hu­man­ity, and it is de­grad­ing be­cause it strips the con­victed per­son of all dig­nity and treats him or her as an ob­ject to be elim­i­nated by the state.

In short, the Con­sti­tu­tional Court de­clared that the car­ry­ing out of the death sen­tence de­stroys life, which is pro­tected with­out reser­va­tion un­der our con­sti­tu­tion.

With crime spi­ralling out of con­trol in South Africa, the voices calling for cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment to be re-es­tab­lished have been get­ting louder.

How­ever, there is no con­crete ev­i­dence show­ing that the death penalty ac­tu­ally de­ters crime. Var­i­ous stud­ies around the world com­par­ing crime and mur­der rates in coun­tries that have the death penalty ver­sus those that don’t found very lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween the two.

Cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is of­ten de­fended on the grounds that so­ci­ety has a moral obli­ga­tion to pro­tect the safety and wel­fare of its cit­i­zens.

Crim­i­nals put the safety and wel­fare of the public at risk. In or­der to en­sure that killers do not kill again, mur­der­ers should be put to death.

How­ever, cus­to­di­ans of ethics ar­gue that cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is im­moral in prin­ci­ple, and un­fair and dis­crim­i­na­tory in prac­tice. The death penalty some­times de­stroys an in­no­cent life.

They say that when the govern­ment metes out vengeance dis­guised as jus­tice, it be­comes com­plicit with killers in de­valu­ing hu­man life and hu­man dig­nity.

They re­ject the prin­ci­ple of lit­er­ally do­ing to crim­i­nals what they do to their vic­tims.

No­body ad­vo­cates pun­ish­ing rapists with rape or mo­lest­ing mo­lesters. Why then should the death penalty be deemed an appropriate re­sponse to vi­o­lent crime?

No one de­serves to die.

In a just so­ci­ety, the great­est penalty should be in­car­cer­a­tion for life, with the pos­si­bil­ity of re­gain­ing some lib­er­ties. This penalty, when ex­e­cuted prop­erly, would pro­tect so­ci­ety from crim­i­nals as ef­fec­tively as the death penalty. Vi­o­lent prisoners must be kept in max­i­mum-se­cu­rity pris­ons in se­cluded lo­ca­tions.

Many who call for cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment say that fear of death should serve as a de­ter­rent to those who com­mit mur­der.

But we are deal­ing here with hu­man nature, not logic. In the case of what are called “crimes of pas­sion”, the per­pe­tra­tor is too possessed by rage or de­spair to care about con­se­quences.

In the case of gang mur­ders, the young men in­volved are clearly per­sons who place lit­tle value on life, in­clud­ing their own. When they are hun­gry, there can be no con­sid­er­a­tion for right or wrong.

They have no fear of be­ing caught – and with an abysmall low con­vic­tion rate, they reckon that com­mit­ting crime is worth the chance.

Those who carry plac­ards calling for the death penalty be­lieve ret­ri­bu­tion is suf­fi­cient rea­son to ex­e­cute mur­der­ers.

It is per­fectly nat­u­ral to want to see cal­lous in­di­vid­u­als meet the same fate as their vic­tims. But this is an emo­tional ar­gu­ment.

Law-abid­ing cit­i­zens must strive for a higher moral stan­dard. Their de­mands for ret­ri­bu­tion is sim­i­lar to the mo­tives of gang mem­bers who are driven by a cy­cle of re­venge killings.

What we need is a po­lice ser­vice that does what it is meant to do: polic­ing. Presently, po­lice pro­tec­tion has be­come a myth.

Com­mu­ni­ties be­lieve they have been failed by the po­lice – the very peo­ple they are sup­posed to look up to for safety and se­cu­rity.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials have an in­her­ent obli­ga­tion by law to pro­tect peo­ple against il­le­gal acts that threaten their hu­man rights and dig­nity.

The po­lice ser­vice must pro­mote a cul­ture of hu­man rights in South Africa.

The po­lice ser­vice must be beefed up forth­with so that it will help safe­guard our hard­won democ­racy. The po­lice must again “pro­tect and serve”.

Crim­i­nals get de­terred when they think there is a high prob­a­bil­ity that they will be caught and when they know that, once ap­pre­hended, the wheels of jus­tice turn swiftly.

Thus, the de­tec­tion and sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties of po­lice of­fi­cers must be jacked up. Such mea­sures can only lead to more con­vic­tions.

Mean­while, calling for the death penalty should be made a pun­ish­able of­fence. It is an af­front to hu­man rights and dig­nity.

An eye for an eye only ends up mak­ing the whole world blind, said Ma­hatma Gandhi.


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