Editorial: When the law is lawless

South Africa is a beautiful country – dynamic and diverse. But it can also be an extremely dangerous place, and the authorities are increasingly failing to rein in the rampant crime.

As a result, South Africans are forced to be vigilant every waking hour – aware of the real possibility of being a victim of crime.

Considering this, it is devastating that those who are entrusted with the right and means to protect the country’s citizens – the SA Police Service – are themselves implicated in illegal activity.

Corruption Watch’s latest report – titled Corruption in Uniform: When cops become criminals – is a damning indictment and highlights the failure of law enforcement to uphold the principle of protect and serve.

Corruption Watch captured 1 440 reports of police officers failing to do their duty, and allegedly being active in a number of corrupt and criminal activities.

The complaints of corruption vary from bribery, which accounts for 33%, abuse of power (23%) and failure to act (18%), to abuse of resources (5%), threats of violence (4%), employment irregularities (4%) and irregularities in procurement (3%), with “other” complaints accounting for 10%.

What is truly alarming is that the accused include detectives, captains and station commanders – the very leaders who are meant to guide the enforcement of the law and protect the country’s citizens.

When bribery and other forms of illegal activity allow murderers, rapists, thieves and other criminals to walk free, society is forced into a continuing spiral of crime.

Citizens must feel compelled to report the failure of police to do their duty to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and to nongovernmental organisations such as Corruption Watch.

We must ensure that our society is one in which the rule of law, and the enforcement of it by our men and women in blue, is paramount. They must protect our rights as enshrined in the Constitution.

If this is not demanded and nurtured, the country will descend further into criminal anarchy, and we risk becoming a failed state where tourists and investors fear to tread and citizens live in a state of permanent fear. An upright police service is not a nice-to-have, it is integral to our national wellbeing and developmental prospects.

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August 2020

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