When the state fails

2007-12-17 00:00

The return of “necklacing” to the Cape Flats coincides with the usual announcements that safety and security measures will be enhanced during the forthcoming holiday season. The question is how effective will such measures be — and if they are effective why can they not be implemented thoughout the year? Is the resurgence of vigilantism an indication that the state is failing to carry out one of its most fundamental duties — the duty to protect lives and property?

It is perhaps apposite to reflect upon the conditions in society which give rise to the levels of frustration, and indeed anger, permitting vigilantism to flourish. When the Constitutional Court decided that capital punishment is unconstitutional in our progressive democracy it spelt out what needs to be done. In his judgment Justice Arthur Chaskalson, then President of the Constitutional Court, later Chief Justice, held: “The high level of violent crime is a matter of common knowledge and is amply borne out by the statistics … The power of the state to impose sanctions on those who break the law cannot be doubted. It is of fundamental importance to the future of our country that respect for the law should be restored, and that dangerous criminals should be apprehended and dealt with firmly. Nothing in this judgment should be understood as detracting in any way from that proposition.”

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