State must stop mob violence in its tracks

2011-07-09 10:17

It would be a grand exaggeration to say that we are a country that has lost all sense of law and order.

We could, however, find ourselves there if citizens continue to blatantly dare the state to act against them when they commit acts they know full well to be criminal.

Just this week, our television screens brought home the horror of a deranged mob attacking the homes of councillors they accused of being ­conduits in what they see as exploitation by the electricity utility Eskom. The manner with which locals paid no attention at all to the fact that their actions were being captured by television cameras signalled the fact that the moral fibre of society has unravelled.

It also showed that, while there are elected councillors, communities seem to have run out of leaders – men and women with enough authority and credibility to tell their fellow citizens when they are wrong.

Striking workers from various sectors have also bought into the belief that because of who they are, the requirements of law and order are not ­applicable to them. They believe it to be their right to intimidate and injure non-striking ­workers and maliciously damage their employers’ property. They do not expect consequences for their actions.

The state must be seen to act against those who want to reduce our country to a failed state ruled by the goons with the biggest guns. Poverty and righteous anger are not sufficient excuses for people to carry on as though the Constitution gives them rights but no obligations.

The state is constitutionally bound to ensure that all South Africans, as individuals and as a nation, “live as equals, to live in peace and ­harmony, to be free from fear and want, and to seek a better life”.

Failure to protect the councillors in Chiawelo or workers in Uitenhage is not only a failure against the individuals  concerned, but an ­abrogation of a constitutional responsibility by those elected, who have taken an oath to protect the Constitution.

We are not about to be alarmist. There is no reason for that. However, we cannot afford to remain complacent.

We need to arrest the decay now. We need to see arrests, prosecution and strong jail terms for those who wrongly believe that constitutional obligations to fellow citizens are beneath them. The state needs to send a strong message that it is still in charge, and will not entertain those with notions of being above the law.

If it does not, Chiawelo could easily mark the turning point in what will ultimately be a failed state, where the rule of law means nothing and the Constitution is not even worth the paper it is written on.

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