Concert chaos calls for ef­fi­ciency, not hand-wring­ing

Saturday Star - - OPINION - KEVIN RITCHIE @Ritchkev

I SPENT Mon­day go­ing through so­cial me­dia with an in­creas­ing sense of hor­ror, read­ing un­var­nished ac­counts of ter­ror out­side FNB Sta­dium in the south of Joburg – iron­i­cally just af­ter the Global Cit­i­zen Concert cel­e­brat­ing the cen­te­nary of Nel­son Man­dela’s birth.

Peo­ple were mugged, had their cell­phones stolen. Some were stabbed. Many ran to a fuel sta­tion where the mob fol­lowed them and robbed them.

There were ap­par­ently very few po­lice vis­i­ble. Those who were there al­legedly stood by. After­wards there were re­ports of cops be­ing al­most de­lib­er­ately ob­struc­tive as the vic­tims tried to make state­ments.

What was par­tic­u­larly galling, though, and I’m sure for many other South Africans, was the blame-dodg­ing and hand-wring­ing after­wards, fol­lowed by the usual inane (and im­mensely dan­ger­ous) blus­ter.

I saw a tweet by the Minister of Po­lice tri­umphantly declar­ing that one of (many) thugs had been caught. Noth­ing, though, on whether any ac­tion would be taken on al­le­ga­tions that his of­fi­cers were guilty of dere­lic­tion of duty. Then I saw a head­line about an ap­peal by an anti-crime ac­tivist call­ing for prison sen­tences of 300 years. It was un­re­lated to the may­hem out­side the sta­dium, but my de­spair deep­ened.

It’s so typ­i­cally South African. We want harsher laws, we want the death penalty, but we never ac­tu­ally want to pre­vent the crime. I’d far rather not be the vic­tim of crime than have the as­sur­ance that my at­tack­ers will rot in jail.

But even if that were enough of a sop for what­ever in­juries I’d suf­fered to life, limb or prop­erty, you and I both know it’s a prom­ise that’s not even worth the en­ergy it took to beat that drum.

Get­ting a crim­i­nal be­hind bars re­quires po­lice who will take down your state­ment, de­tec­tives who will ac­tu­ally in­ves­ti­gate, foren­sic techs who will dust for fin­ger­prints and other ev­i­dence, which pros­e­cu­tors need to pre­pare the docket and then go to trial. That’s a lot of dots to join – as op­posed to just writ­ing out a docket num­ber to present to in­sur­ance and make your claim.

Even then, if a crim­i­nal is sent down, they could be back out af­ter serv­ing only a third of their sen­tence – but now equipped with a Mas­ter’s in ap­plied crim­i­nal­ity from the univer­sity of life.

We don’t need more laws, we cer­tainly don’t need in­fan­tile calls for sen­tences that are tan­ta­mount to street jus­tice, de­void of any ju­rispru­den­tial ra­tio­nal­ity. We just need our laws ap­plied and those that we pay to up­hold law and or­der to do their jobs.

This wasn’t the first ma­jor event at FNB Sta­dium, not by a long stretch. We had the World Cup fi­nals there, count­less big-name con­certs and other sports fix­tures – we even had Madiba’s me­mo­rial, with scores of world lead­ers past and present and sev­eral US pres­i­dents, and the only thing we had to worry about was a sign lan­guage in­ter­preter who lost the plot.

So, what went wrong? What made this one dif­fer­ent? Those are the ques­tions we should be ask­ing.

Those who are guilty should be pun­ished, be­cause then we’ll start get­ting se­ri­ous about fight­ing crime in this coun­try.

Ritchie is a me­dia con­sul­tant. He is a for­mer jour­nal­ist and news­pa­per ed­i­tor.


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