This week a 35-year-old South African drug trafficker, Janice Linden, was executed in China by lethal injection.

That China should dare apply its own laws on its own territory has unleashed in South Africa a whirlwind of misplaced outrage and platitudinous sanctimony.

The Inkatha Freedom Party termed the execution ‘unfortunate’ — which it undoubtedly was for Linden — while the Democratic Alliance railed against her ‘unfair’ sentence and attributed her death to a ‘failure of diplomatic pressure’ due to South Africa’s ‘human rights blind spot’ where China is concerned.

What bollocks. The South African government did as much as it could be expected to do.

The pronouncement abroad of the death sentence on any nation’s citizens unspools always the same well-practised hometown tango. The steps are precise and unvarying, whatever the nationality of the death row prisoner.

First, the local media pillories the perfidious foreigners and contrasts unfavourably their barbaric ways to the virtuous home justice system. Then the home government issues a throat-catching plea for clemency that it fully expects will be ignored, which it invariably is. Finally, the remains are repatriated, to be interned as though they were those of a saint rather than a criminal.

It is certainly true that South Africa is overly sensitive about offending China. Witness the contortions to prevent a private visit by the Dalai Lama. But it is disingenuous to argue, as do the DA and the South African Human Rights Commission, that a sovereign nation’s imposition of the death penalty on a South African citizen, after an unchallenged due process, is somehow an international human rights issue.

The death penalty exists in some criminal codes, a harsh punishment that the some may frown upon but is perfectly legal in international law. Get over it. Since it is likely to be around for a while yet, it is best avoided by refraining from criminal stupidity when travelling to countries as diverse as Thailand, Japan and Botswana.

China annually executes more than 4 000 people, more than the rest of the world combined. It is particularly harsh on drug trafficking, although this is only one of 55 crimes that can draw the death penalty but this is something that anyone travelling to China has to be comatose not to be aware of.

That drug runners remain undeterred testifies to the accuracy of the description ‘mules’. One has to be intractably perverse — or in desperate straits and terminally naïve — to travel as Linden did to China with 3kg of crystal methamphetamine in one’s luggage — 60 times the threshold for a death sentence.

And let’s get real about her protestations of innocence. For her first trip overseas she chose a relatively obscure destination in southern China? Telling her family that she was job hunting in Johannesburg? Come on!

It is undoubtedly tragic for Linden and her loved ones that a single reckless gamble cost her life while those who put up the table stakes are untouched. Conceivably, had the South African mercy plea been accompanied by the arrest of Linden’s supplier, it might even have succeeded.

Detective work, however, takes real effort, as opposed to just slinging a saddle onto our high horse. After all, since South Africa no longer has the death penalty, Linden’s execution affords a rare opportunity to bemoan the supposed failings of another nation.

Unfortunately, South Africa’s morality is but skin deep and capital punishment has been abolished only in theory. In the past year 1 267 people died from police action or in police custody while a recent Sunday Times investigation names officers in a police squad which allegedly tasks itself with gunning down dangerous criminals.

This, the highest cop homicide rate in the world, doesn’t elicit much public disapproval locally nor does it bestir much those ever-vigilant guardians of human rights, the DA. So spare us the crocodile tears about Linden.


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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