One of the most horrible incidents that have stuck with me this year was the abduction and murder of a New Brighton little girl in September.
Sonia Payi’s tiny body was found dumped on a field in Struanway, about 4km from where she had been abducted by an unknown man while walking to a shop with a friend.
So far, no one has been arrested for the murder.
In the days following her killing, the New Brighton community was, understandably, livid.
Tensions rose as residents went hunting for the murderer.
Various acts of mob justice occurred, including the assault of a woman who was seen walking with three children, in a bizarre incident initially thought to have been a kidnapping.
The thing is, Sonia’s brutal murder was not the first, nor will it be the last, to rock this community.
Police statistics show that New Brighton is one of the most dangerous places to live in the country.
Often the scene of vigilantism, it is also an example of a community where public confidence in the criminal justice system has been broken.
Here and elsewhere in our country, day-to-day conversations about the experiences of ordinary South Africans regarding the criminal justice system are often underpinned by scepticism and deep disappointment.
To be fair, some of the dismay stems from our own ignorance of how the law works, in particular our discomfort with how the constitution extends legal and human rights to accused persons we believe to be guilty of crime and therefore do not deserve such rights.
Much of the scepticism, however, comes from witnessing the system fail, time and time again, the most vulnerable in our society.
This while those meant to ensure that it works are embroiled in selfserving political games, leaving only the judiciary as the last line of defence to preserve our constitutional democracy.
The on-again, off-again charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan are possibly the most glaring symptom of the catastrophic political management of our criminal justice system.
I am not at all suggesting that those, like Gordhan, who sit in powerful positions should not be subjected to legal scrutiny when there is a just cause to do so.
I am simply stating that Berning Ntlemeza and Shaun Abrahams’ misguided pre-occupation with, for example Gordhan, makes a mockery of government’s grand mandate to build a criminal justice system that enjoys legitimacy in the public eye – one that is capable of fighting rampant organised crime in places such as New Brighton. But perhaps that’s just it. Theirs is a completely different mandate altogether.
In his book, Blood On Their Hands, career cop and suspended KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Johan Booysen paints a disturbing picture of the state of our criminal justice system.
For those who carefully follow the news, much of what Booysen documents in his book is, in one form or another, in the public domain.
But it is only when a story such as his is told comprehensively and in context that it goes beyond one man’s 40-year journey in the police force, and a frightening image of the state of our system emerges.
Granted, on many occasions the criminal justice system works, thanks to the men and women dedicated to its cause.
But too often their efforts are thwarted by the status quo:
- A culture of patronage where bad cops operate a complex web of deceit that allows them to rise to the highest echelons of power.
- A system where prosecutors abuse their power through the selective and baseless prosecution of those deemed to be a stumbling block to political interests.
- Where public money is diverted from the administration of justice and ploughed into a man-made political machinery designed to hunt down and eliminate those who refuse to be corruptible. This kind of rot is not new. It happened before our democracy and it happens all over the world.
But that does not mean it should be our norm. Not in a country where crime is not only a matter of personal security, but has far-reaching consequences for every area of our lives.
Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke and justice Edwin Cameron once said: “When corruption and organised crime flourish, sustainable development and economic growth are stunted. And, in turn, the stability and security of society is put at risk.”
Those calling for President Jacob Zuma to step down do so because, among other things, it has become abundantly clear that he will not fix this.
He could not be bothered with building a state capable of combating crimes that ravage communities such as New Brighton or Helenvale.
In fact, he is complicit in the attack on our country’s democratic institutions. The ANC knows this. As its internal machinery begins to tick towards next year’s elective conference, it must be mindful that such is the legacy of the Zuma presidency.
And so the question is – who will fix it?