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A lecture on conjecture

Wow. South Africa is at it again.

Apparently our beloved country of soothsayers has refined its general problem-solving skills for solving criminal investigations from their armchairs without any real facts or perspective to such a degree that our courts should just pack up shop and ask Judge Judy for a job.

Granted, it’s hardly a new phenomenon. Or even a uniquely South African one. But it is disgraceful. And with recent high-profile cases such as the Shrien-Dewani-accused-of-murdering-a-pretty-girl (and everybody loves it when a pretty girl gets murdered) case, I’ve been reminded every time I hear about it just how bad the phenomenon has become. I avoid discussion of the case or reading about it now simply to avoid the nauseous feeling that is always inevitable when made to ingest large amounts of bullshit.

Nowhere was the stupidity more apparent than on internet forums and in news site commentary. Comment styles on the murder varied, but were mostly useless and fell into the following categories:

  • Hateful, eg “Dewani did it and must go to Pollsmoor and get wood in his bolly.”

  • Surreal, eg “Dewani couldn’t have done it because I had a vision where he was riding on a cloud over San Francisco sprinkling rainbows from a sack over his shoulder at the time of the murder.”

  • Irrelevant, eg “She was so beautiful!”

  • Illegible, eg “dawani sicks me!!! lock him or lata jol Jozi nice not wot!!!!!!!!!”

There are those that say not to take too much heed of internet forum postings. Youtube comments, for example, have become a universal laughing point, with nobody expecting them to ever make sense. And that’s perhaps tolerable when watching a video clip of a monkey scratching its butt then sniffing its fingers and falling out of a tree. But when it comes to news, about such particularly sensitive issues as murders, one expects people to exercise some restraint. Especially considering that those using the internet and reading news sites are generally thought to be educated.

And now, the new toy of the week for the presumptuous and presumably bored masses is a person getting shot by a traffic official near Newlands stadium. Again, we have judgements handed down in abundance by the public internet animal (sorry, chimps and dolphins and other members of the Stop Making Idiot to Animal Comparisons League). They’re really going to town on this one, making no pretence about their bias against the traffic department, or their belief that loving cricket means you’re incapable of being a hoodlum in any way. I mean, it’s not like our nation has ever been shamed by a cricketer or anything.

Sure, we’re all bitter about the way things are done. The way the country isn’t being run quite the way we would do it in our personal capacity — for better or for worse. The way the traffic department milks us via those tall metal money collectors that stand on the side of the road and take pictures when we misread a badly placed little sign in the middle of nowhere. And while I’m mentioning it — the least Beaufort West’s traffic department could do to say thank you for all the donated water is to ease up on their distinctly spiteful style of “law” enforcement. The Karoo cash cow is getting a bit tedious.

But making bold sweeping claims about officials before knowing the facts, without having been there? Is this where we’re at as a society? Hold back on the wild accusations for a bit, people. Let the investigation run its course, and after that is complete, ask for some transparency to make sure the job was done. It really just seems too tempting for some to fart their mental flatulence out over our computer screens, and even worse in actual face-to-face discussions in pubs and other congregation grounds of the socially enlightened.

To be more specific, look at the comments around the issue of self-defence in the comments section of News24’s coverage of the incident, for example. Take note the utter rubbish spewed forth uncontrollably by some about something like a traffic officer’s right to self-defence. From a legal point of view, there is no requirement for shots to be fired first, or even a firearm to be involved. What does need to be involved is the true belief inspired in the acting individual that grievous bodily harm or their own death will occur to themselves or others if they don’t act with maximum force. All sorts of factors are taken into account, such as time to react, backup available, means available, physical attributes of people involved, and the person’s reasoning ability. In court though, in court …

Additionally, some truly special individuals have even questioned why traffic officials are armed. The degree of naivety required to ask such a question blows my mind. A quick summarised list of factors might help those confused souls among us:

  1. South Africa has a particularly high violent crime rate. It’s a bit of a sudden news flash, I know, but there it is folks.

  2. Traffic officials are often confused with being SAPS members, or lumped into the same category. People with a hatred for the law often shoot at anything in blue. Even South African Air Force members were being targeted in certain areas because of the similarity of their uniforms to the police. Women might love a man in uniform, but criminals get totally, uncontrollably, lustfully hot for killing men (and women, lest a feminist pop a coil) in uniform.

  3. Stopping vehicles in our crime climate is not as “routine” as some sorely mistaken individuals believe. Some of the most violent and unreasonable people are those stopped for traffic violations, PARTICULARLY drunk ones. And I know, just know, that some fool with the analytical prowess of a mouldy cucumber’s knee-jerk reaction will be something along the lines of “but how do you know the guy at the stadium was drunk?” (more accurately probably phrased in questionable syntax with exclamation marks and/or question marks in the double-digit range following it). So I’m going to point out, unnecessarily for logical people, that I was not talking about him, because quite frankly I know nothing about his condition at the time, just like everybody else commenting on the matter. This sentence exists for the first troll who read straight past this to open their mouths for their feet (I will merely cut and paste it as a reply).

  4. Traffic officials often work alone, whereas SAPS members usually have a partner. Restraining a violent individual on your own is not as easy as you might think.

I’m not taking any sides here. The above is merely to illustrate the level of stupidity that accompanies public commentary on things they actually know nothing about. If indeed the traffic official acted wrongly, then justice must take its course. No doubts about it. But justice, and the national psyche as a whole, has nothing to gain from making unsubstantiated comments.

Public commentary doesn’t need to go beyond “that is an unfortunate incident. I’m sorry to hear that life was lost. I look forward to hearing the conclusion of the trial and I trust that factors will be made transparent to the public after the investigation has taken place”. If you really, absolutely, positively have to give your two cents, because you know inside yourself that watching CSI: Miami reruns has turned you into the super sleuth who once unleashed would end SA’s crime in an instant (in which case get out there and join the police, you selfish bastard) then please, for goodness sake, rather offer up possibilities by saying things like “this could have been the case”, or “maybe … happened”. That might make you sound like a reasonable person, unlike the following special extracts from the comments section on News24:

Jonno Butler — “Luke did not ever carry a weapon of any description (you see, only cowards do that).” Wow Jonno, I know a few veterans who would love to hear your insightful opinion. And, “Luke was unjustifiably shot dead. This will be proven in a court of law and the person who pulled the trigger will get the appropriate sentance(sic) of this you can be sure.”

spinprint1 — “I regard the the police as the enemy within” You might just be a criminal (and possibly a redneck too) when …

maseratifitt — “Nothing can justify this killing ! Condolences to the family and friends. We seriously need Leadership, Direction and Discipline.” Amen, Italian car lover, and add responsible commentary on legal proceedings to that.