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Woeful State of the Nation Part 2

In part 1 of this blog post, I discussed the State of the Nation address, delivered rather badly last Thursday by the president. I mentioned how the problem of crime had gone almost completely unmentioned by the Comrade Leader’s speech.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one to decry the lack of crime prevention strategy in the State of the Nation address. The trade union Solidarity delivered thousands of letters yesterday to the president’s doorstep, begging His Majesty to do something about crime.

As promised in the first part of this blog post, here are my crime-combating policies. Well, since none are forthcoming from the government, I’ve had to think up some of my own. These are the sort of things I’m looking for when I listen to a State of the Nation address.

Reinstate capital punishment

The death sentence. Certain crimes should be punishable by death. Murder and rape leap immediately to mind. The death sentence was abolished in 1995 by the Constitutional Court in the landmark case, State vs Makwanyane. In that case, the court held that the death sentence for murder is unconstitutional because it is cruel, inhuman and degrading and incompatible with the right to life and the right to dignity as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Some commentators have argued that in Makwanyane, the Court placed undue emphasis on the criminal’s rights and not enough on the rights of the victims, the duty of the government to protect the basic right to life of innocent citizens (as is prescribed by the Constitution, no less) and society’s interests in general. This was perhaps a rather self-conscious attempt by the Constitutional Court to “redress the wrongs of the past”. I would agree with those commentators. Makwanyane was a stab at social engineering and a colossal failure at that, judging by the murder statistics in the years since then (50 murders a day, by the last count). In fact, the crime rates should be enough for the courts to admit that Makwanyane was a mistake. Even if the murder rate doesn’t subsequently come down, which it surely would, the public would at least be consoled that justice was being down, that criminals were paying dearly for taking innocent lives.

The debate on the abolition of the death sentence is somewhat protracted and perhaps outside the scope of this blog post but I will say this: most death sentence naysayers point to longer jail sentences as a more palatable alternative to capital punishment. However, in South Africa, the recidivism rate is well over 90%. Or to put that in English, over 90% of people released from prison because their sentences are finished will commit crime again. That statistic alone rubbishes the idea that jail sentences can function as a proper alternative to the death sentence. That aside, it should suffice to say that a simple analysis of the way the Bill of Rights was interpreted in Makwanyane, which lead to the abolition of the death sentence, does raise some questions as to whether the Constitutional Court’s priorities where correctly placed when that verdict was reached.

“Depoliticise” the police and the National Prosecuting Authority

In fact, ideally the NPA should be decentralised completely, but that will never happen as long as a socialist and centralist ANC is in power. But they could at least take a few steps in the right direction by not deploying alleged mobsters like Jackie Selebi or clowns like Bheki Cele to the police force. Whatever happened to selecting proper career police to the position of national commissioner, whom we could at least trust to know what they were doing? And political brownnosers like Menzi Simelane being national director of the NPA does not bode well for impartiality in the prosecuting authority.

The police and prosecuting authority should be run by proper people, who will have our best interests at heart, and not those of the governing party.

Suspend affirmative action in the NPA and judiciary

This will be a very unpopular policy, I know. But it’s high time we injected some Obamaesque thinking into our policies. What I like the most about Barack Obama is his integrity — he has the political will to what’s necessary, even if it’s wildly unpopular. Like bailing Wall Street out. Besides, affirmative action at the end of the day boils down to a form of tokenism, something I really despise. Why isn’t the government focusing more on equipping people with the skills to enter the under-represented jobs, rather than opting for easier and far less effective affirmative action? Window dressing in the form of underskilled people being placed in positions because of their skin colour isn’t unheard of, especially in the public sector. More often, the positions are simply left vacant if the only suitable candidates are white. This farce needs to stop, especially in critical public services like the judiciary and the NPA. If the government really can’t help it, they can window dress and push token candidates of colour as much as they like in services that aren’t critical to our safety.

Would the Comrade Leader make political enemies were he to implement these policies? Yes, quite a few. No more cushy jobs for Zuma yes-men in the NPA.

But would these policies make a difference? Yes, a big one. And that would make the other 48 million South Africans who aren’t murderers, plunderers or politicians very, very happy.

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  • Sipho Hlongwane

    Sipho Hlongwane is a journalist and columnist for the Daily Maverick. He is an avid fan of jelly beans, Top Gear, Arsenal and thinks that South Africans tend to take themselves a little too seriously. [email protected]