Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Mpumelelo Mkhabela: Morally corrupt, unaccountable bail and parole systems must be overhauled

2020-03-12 13:18
Tazne van Wyk's funeral. The rotten parole system continues to fail the most vulnerable, says the writer. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

Tazne van Wyk's funeral. The rotten parole system continues to fail the most vulnerable, says the writer. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

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Where the state is directly complicit in unwarranted loss of life, it can only be just for it to incur all the funeral costs and compensate families for emotional trauma, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Sociologist Max Weber defined the state as "a form of human organisation that successfully lays claim to the monopoly of legitimate use of violence within a particular territory". 

The key words in Weber's lecture Politics as a vocation: successful, monopoly and legitimate. 

The apartheid state used its monopoly claim to violence and succeeded for decades to mount violent oppression of the majority of citizens.

But it lacked legitimacy. 

Although the military wings of the liberation movements could not match the apartheid state’s capabilities, they laid claim to legitimacy on behalf of a bigger population. 

Lacking in legitimacy, the apartheid state's violent capabilities were bound to crumble.

The nature of that crumbling, which more likely would have taken the form of a civil war, was averted by fear of mutual destruction among the political elites. 

The democratic state ticks the boxes of constitutional legitimacy and monopoly, but its success is being challenged.

The massacre in a tavern in Khayelitsha is the latest in violent crimes that pose a challenge to the state's ability to fulfill its obligation to maintain law and order. 

The fact that the state is aware that in poor communities in the Western Cape kids have to be escorted to schools, but doesn't seem to be able to eliminate gang violence, means it is being challenged by illegitimate holders of violent capabilities. 

This situation motivates those who have the means to arm themselves legally and otherwise to protect their families.

Police Minister Bheki Cele's call for a gun-free society rings hollow in the face of the state's incapacity to deal with gangs.

These gangs fight wars over drug markets.  

It is concerning that the state’s deployment of its semi-last resort capability, the army, in some parts of the Western Cape has not sent the necessary shivers down the spines of gang leaders.

It was a semi-last resort because there was no state of emergency declared in the area. 

Radical measures within constitutional limits are required to deal decisively with what is increasingly looking like a direct challenge to the democratic state's powers.  

Despite the fact that there was nothing radical in the deployment of the army, some people complained about it.

During peace time, some argued, the army should stay in the barracks.  

Such concerns are understandable when one considers the human rights abuses at the hands of state security agencies during apartheid.

But it’s easy to complain from the comfort zones when we should be imagining ourselves wearing bullet proof vests to escort children to school.  

These are some of the external threats President Cyril Ramaphosa’s newly reconstituted National Security Council should tackle with the necessary urgency.  

Equally urgent are the internal threats that have risen over the years that have crippled the state’s ability to fulfill its constitutional obligation to citizens.

These include corruption within the police, and the rot within intelligence structures and the army.

We have suffered the embarrassment of theft of property and weapons supposedly in the safe keeping of our state security agencies.  

The state will also have to urgently review the morally corrupt and unaccountable bail and parole systems that recycle hardened criminals between police cells, courts, prisons and society.

These systems discourage dedicated law enforcement personnel who risk life and limb to beef up state capacity to enforce the rule of law. 

Speaking of a rotten and unaccountable parole system, you have to have a heart made of stone not to be touched when communities bury innocent victims of convicted criminals.

Seven-year-old Reagan Gertse from Tulbagh in the Western Cape was raped and killed allegedly by a parolee.  

Conspicuous in their absence at Gertse’s funeral were high-ranking government officials.

It’s easy to guess where they would have been had there been a state funeral of a high-profile person on the same day.

Politicians spew all kinds of rhetoric about inequalities which they are purportedly eradicating.

Yet, inequality is enforced even in death. 

Gertse's death was not an isolated incident.

He was not the only one and probably not the last.

As it was reported in various media platforms, 12-year-old Michaela Williams from Pelican Park and eight-year-old Tazne Van Wyk from Elsies River were also allegedly murdered by men who were out on parole.  

Good luck to Justice Minister Ronald Lamola who has correctly prioritised fixing the parole system.

But he must be careful not to be hoodwinked into motivating for presidential pardons of #FeesMustFall convicts who pleaded guilty for public violence and destroying state property.

They will rob him of the much-needed moral high-ground to deal with criminals regardless of their political connections or status. 

Here is another point to consider.

If the state is remorseful of the death it caused by unleashing violent parolees and criminal suspects on bail, it should offer victims state funerals.

I can almost hear the response about the prohibitive rules of government.  

Let's change the rules.

Where the state is directly complicit in unwarranted loss of life, it can only be just for it to incur all the funeral costs and compensate families for emotional trauma.

Of course, some among us might justifiably protest against the creation of opportunities for "state funeralpreneurs".

It would be a fair concern.

If thugs inside and outside of the state can pick-pocket President Nelson Mandela from his grave, by stealing money meant for his funeral, then nothing is impossible.

As if to glorify the theft, some of the thieves are ensconced in positions of public trust.

Leaders in government can say whatever they like about "capable state", "caring state", "entrepreneurial state", "developmental state" and so on.

But if the state has difficulty in doing what Standard Bank chief executive Sim Tshabalala calls "robust enforcement of the rule of law", its foundation is shaken.

- Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.

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