Murder. Rape plus murder. Torture plus rape plus murder: another day in South Africa. The online news sites reporting the awful event are inflamed in the comments section by ‘BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY---NOW!!!!!’ Or that the ‘DEATH PENALTY IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO!’
These ill-informed, write-rage comments soon regresses to ‘this country's a circus’ and ‘I read, and believe, since the ANC took over in 1994, 20,000 people per year are murdered by crime... also 800,000 children were murdered, yes murdered, by legal abortion in [sic] the same time!’ Then to the most absurd rider ‘useless ANC! It was never like this in the previous government!’ Really?
More sober Anonymous contributors (most are Anonymous aren’t they?) believe (wrongly) that ‘the death penalty would play a huge role in curbing the crime rate.’
If indeed capital punishment would ‘curb the crime rate’, why has South Africa’s murder rate been on the decline since it was abolished in 1995? Then the rate was 67.9 per 100,000 people; at present it’s 31.9 per 100,000 people. (A similar phenomenon occurred when Canada abolished it in 1976; their murder rate also declined.)
In the United States, a September 2000 New York Times survey found that during the previous 20 years, the murder rate in states with the death penalty has been 48% to 101% higher than in states without the death penalty. And that the murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in states with the death penalty.
The Economist echoes this, ‘Despite voluminous academic studies of American executions and crime rates, there is no solid evidence that the death penalty is any more effective at deterring murder than long terms of imprisonment. This seems counter-intuitive. Surely death must deter someone. But the kinds of people who kill are rarely equipped, or in a proper emotional state, to make fine calculations about the consequences. Moreover, even for those who are, decades of imprisonment may be as great a deterrent as the remote prospect of execution.’
Indeed, in European countries which have banned such extreme sanction, their murder rate remains far below that of America’s. (Overall, more than two-thirds of countries have done away with it either in law or in practice.)
Even in Malaysia, a zealous exponent of state-sanctioned killings for drug dealing, the Malaysian Bar has urged the Government to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment. Bar president Lim Chee Wee said records had shown that the death penalty had not reduced the number of drug trafficking offences, ‘The numbers have not gone down. They have instead increased. This shows that the death penalty has a zero deterrent effect.’
But no, suppositions and facts like these upset the belief among those who profess ‘Death penalty please for all murderers and castrate all rapists!’ It’s not about justice then: closer to the truth (whilst revealing the mawkishness of the commentator) is ‘bring back the death penalty....its not about deterring but simply about punishment.’
So it’s really about punishment or bare-your-teeth revenge then, not one of our greatest emotions. And certainly not Christian. Or is it?
‘Only the death penalty will reduce the spat of murders in South Africa,’ Mr. Pieter Groenewald, the chief spokesperson on Police for the Freedom Front Plus said. Yet this party professes in its manifesto that ‘The FF Plus will promote moral values in accordance with the Christian value system.’
One assumes that their ‘value system’ is based on the good Book. But what exactly don’t they understand about the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not kill? That’s pretty unambiguous. Or are they perhaps referring to an ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ statement. Given that, and taken to its logical conclusion, suitable punishment would then be to rob the robber, torture the torturer, rape the rapist, and murder the murderer. Volunteers anyone?
What the FF Plus ignores is the full context from the good Man ‘You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’. Also pretty unambiguous then. Unfortunately they are not alone among these unchristian Christians.
The Christian Democratic Party’s manifesto states ‘Reinstate corporal punishment and the death penalty’ because as Theunis Botha states ‘It shouldn’t be seen as retribution. It is to ensure the safety of society,’
Ensuring the safety of society? AmnestyI International refutes this, ‘The threat of execution at some future date is unlikely to enter the minds of those acting under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, those who are in the grip of fear or rage, those who are panicking while committing another crime (such as a robbery), or those who suffer from mental illness or mental retardation and do not fully understand the gravity of their crime.’
Furthermore, a number of violent crimes, notably murder, rape and assault, are called ‘social fabric crimes’ by the South African Police Service because many of these offences are committed by people known to one another in familiar environments. In fact it was found that 50.3% of women murdered in South Africa are killed by an intimate partner. (Blunt force injuries were shown to be associated with intimate killings, while gun ownership was associated with intimate femicide-suicides. Elevated blood alcohol levels combined with unemployed status was also found to be associated with intimate killings.)
Obviously then, drink and drugs exacerbates the violence, the will to kill, when the killer has lost his civil faculties. And hardly, in the rage of the moment, will the potential killer think, ‘Hold on a moment, I may be get the death penalty for this.’ Indeed, if that thug knows he could face the death penalty, nothing will hold him back from further violence against others.
But the perception lingers among some commentators that the kill all is a cure all and that ‘democracy is about the will of the majority ...the majority of people support the death penalty.’ But just over 70% of South Africa’s population profess to be Christian, so going by the Book, the majority of South Africans do not support it.
Despite the evidence, religious sentiment and logic, the ‘perpetually indignant’ (as someone so elegantly described them) continue to rant their opinions on local news sites ‘Rabid Dogs and the IDIOTS in government won't bring back the death penalty!’ Thank goodness for that.
If judicially sanctioned killings are not the answer to South Africa’s high crime rate, what is then? In his judgement in the 1995 Makwanyane case (which declared the death penalty unconstitutional), Mr Justice Arthur Chaskalson argues that there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to serious crime:
‘We would be deluding ourselves if we were to believe that the execution of the few people sentenced to death during this period [1990–95], and of a comparatively few other people each year from now onwards will provide the solution to the unacceptably high rate of crime … The greatest deterrent to crime is the likelihood that offenders will be apprehended, convicted and punished. It is that which is presently lacking in our criminal justice system; and it is at this level and through addressing the causes of crime that the state must seek to combat lawlessness.’
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