Is the law implemented differently when the accused is a politician?

Grace Mugabe. Picture: Khaled el-Fiqi/EPA
Grace Mugabe. Picture: Khaled el-Fiqi/EPA

What has changed in our criminal justice system?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself in the last two weeks, in which South Africans have had to deal with two high-profile assault cases.

First, it was Mduduzi Manana who faced assault charges.

Despite having members of the police with him at the time when he allegedly assaulted Mandisa Duma at Fourways’ Cubana nightclub, the higher education and training deputy minister was not arrested.

Did his bodyguards forget the oath of office – to uphold the law and arrest criminals when they commit crimes in their presence?

As custodians of the law, should they not have acted immediately and arrested the perpetrator of the crime and taken him to the nearest police station where he would have to be formally charged?

Instead, I’m certain they drove him off after the assault, which they witnessed, and never bothered to record it in their pocket diaries, which is given to all police officers as a record keeping mechanism for everything that happens during their shift – and even outside their shift.

After all, you are an officer of the law 24/7, right?

The second assault was that of Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe, who allegedly decided to assault a young woman whom she had found in the company of her sons at a Johannesburg hotel.

What led to the injuries inflicted on Gabriella Engels is immaterial, but once the crime was committed it became a police matter that required the urgent attention of law enforcement agencies.

Yet Engels and her mother were turned away by police officers at Sandton Police Station, because the victim needed to get a medical report of the assault. Really? I’ve never heard of that.

Where I come from, police will record the alleged crime and then ensure that the victim receives the medical attention required for the injuries sustained in an assault.

So, I asked myself what would have changed for the police officers to not take her statement at once and then direct her, or drive her, to a doctor or hospital for the wounds to be examined by an expert – who would fill out a J88 form that would then be part of the evidence.

The delays did not help and the alleged criminal, Mugabe, could have, by then, be thinking of an exit plan.

By Tuesday, Police Minister Fikile Mbalula told the nation this: “Grace Mugabe will appear in the Wynberg Magistrates’ Court for all she is accused of and the law will take its course. The diplomatic immunity is the matter that should be answered by Dirco [Department of International Relations and Cooperation]. My responsibility is that [when people] commit crime in the borders of South Africa, we react in the way we do because the law is about ensuring everybody is protected.”

National police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo had this to add: “Investigations are still ongoing and as I did mention earlier on, we had started to negotiate the handover issue with the suspect and she was supposed to arrive at 10am. This did not materialise. In the meantime, we expect to finalise the investigation in the very near future and follow due process from then on.”

If these statements don’t baffle any of us as citizens, then I don’t know what will.

The questions that need serious answering from our law enforcement agencies are:

• Are the criminal laws implemented differently when the person accused is a politician or well known?

• Why is it that both Manana and Mugabe were not arrested, and then spent time in a police holding cell until they were able to see the magistrate who could grant them bail?

• Why were both asked to hand themselves over to the police? What happened to the police vans that are paid for by taxpayers to fight crime? If a crime was committed, the van should have been dispatched to arrest the alleged criminal and bring him or her to book as soon as possible.

• Do police only act swiftly (and sometimes with a little violence) when dealing with those who do not have any position in society, unknown, illiterate, who do not know their rights?

• Why are law enforcement agencies continuing to perpetuate the stereotypes that the laws apply differently for those who commit crime within the borders of the country?

In 2017, we need to spare a thought for all South Africans who dispense justice and enforce the law equally to strengthen our collective confidence in the justice system.

Lubisi is executive editor at City Press

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