Escapees parade is not the way to go

2012-03-17 08:48

Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s parade of bloodied and seriously injured escapees Bongani Moyo and two of his co-accused, Khumbulani Sibanda and Leon Dube, was wrong.

While there is a call for government to be tougher on crime, this isn’t the way to do it.

We have laws and institutions that regulate how we deal with criminals and alleged criminals.

We also have a Constitution to protect the rights of all within our borders, law-abiding or not.

This is the order we as South Africans agreed on because we believe in human dignity and because we don’t want individuals to take the law into their own hands, as happened in our apartheid past.

In this sense Mapisa-Nqakula is no better than those involved in mob justice.

Mobs sometimes take the law into own hands when they feel the justice system has failed them, but in this case, Mapisa-Nqakula has control over the systems that failed her.

By parading the recaptured escapees, she tried to steer attention away from her department’s failings, but in fact achieved the opposite.

As happens with mob justice, Mapisa-Nqakula tried these men before charges had even been pressed. When they were brought into the press conference, they had not yet had the time to plead or put their side of the story to a court.

How do we know that, next time someone is wrongfully injured or tortured in a prison, the minister won’t decide to allege all sorts of crimes before parading them in a similar way to justify their injuries and cover the warders’ guilt?

Mapisa-Nqakula has also, apparently, done little to address the corruption endemic in the department. She told journalists Moyo might have bribed prison warders, which means that the Jali Commission’s recommendations of almost a decade ago have mostly been ignored.

Even if there was no bribery involved, Pretoria’s C-Max prison should be more difficult to escape from than by merely tying together prison uniforms and scaling a wall, as has been claimed, or smearing yourself with Vaseline, as Ananias Mathe claimed he did during an escape in 2006.

The minister apparently also flouted her own law, section 123(1) of the Correctional Services Act, which effectively prohibits the parading of prisoners in front of cameras without their consent.

It’s clear that there was no such consent, and she should have known better.

The department should investigate the escape of Moyo and his co-accused and put measures in place to avoid a repeat.

But the judicial inspectorate for correctional services and the relevant human rights bodies should also investigate the minister’s conduct and, if she is found to have been in the wrong, seek the appropriate remedy.

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