Deaths due to many factors

WHILE one can find a direct correlation between Thabo Mbeki and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s refusal to provide ARVs and Aids-related deaths, the link between Nelson Mandela’s desire to abolish the death penalty, the Constitutional Court’s verdict in the state v Makwanyane and the high murder rate is more tenuous.

The reasons for this are complex, having to do with the influx of military weapons from Mozambique and other countries onto the South African illegal weapons market post-1994, high unemployment among returning members of former liberation movements, integration of thousands of incompetent homeland cops into SAPS, the impact of professionals’ exodus from SAPS’s forensics and other departments, the inability of the justice system to cope with rising numbers of cases and society’s loss of faith in law enforcement.

Also, one shouldn’t forget government’s campaign to disarm law-abiding citizens and discourage those who wanted to buy weapons through absurd interpretations of firearm legislation, or the legal system’s tendency to give more weight to the rights of criminals than of the citizens who defend themselves, families and property.

Nevertheless, the question posed by J J Ossher (“Murder rate high”, March 24) is important and deserves consideration in light of South Africa’s notoriously high crime rate, which shows no believable signs of decreasing.

Game theory assumes decisions are made by intelligent and rational people, who are aware of and care about the consequences of their actions.

However, there are many cases in which people accused of crimes were unintelligent, uneducated or irrational at the time of committing the offence.

Intelligent and rational people also commit murder, often in spite of the use of the death penalty, with a rational expectation the crime will remain unsolved.

Given that murders still occur in countries which use capital punishment and murderers are executed almost daily, it’s safe to say the rope, bullet, needle and sword are unsuccessful deterrents.

While I am pro-death penalty and disagree with the Constitutional Court’s reasons to abolish it in the state v Makwanyane, I am consoled by considering how many victims of bungled investigations and police torture were spared meeting the hangman since 1995.

Ultimately, a simplistic answer to Ossher’s question would be that it’s easier for a president to influence a government department which affects the people than it is to influence people who affect a government department, because government employees are conditioned to obey authority figures, while millions of citizens are conditioned to disobey them.

- M Negres, Port Elizabeth