South Africa is a war zone declared by criminals, abusive husbands or partners and what one radio talk show host described as toxic masculinity.
We read regularly about the worst forms of violence meted out to the citizenry, who are at the mercy of criminal psychopaths and sadistic killers who are sometimes brazen enough to commit their acts in front of witnesses.
When the victims are female and the perpetrators men, these murders often make graphic headlines about gender-based violence.
However, we don’t yet have a specific term for the murder of helpless babies or toddlers – or for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
In our helplessness, we have become quite adept at coining acronyms and initialisms.
They come in handy during debates on our equally toxic media platforms – from talk radio to social media.
That is where people vent their anger, especially during this period of lockdown.
However, it is not only people in the groups mentioned above who are victims of violence.
Almost all South Africans, except those hiding behind gated communities, high walls or armies of bodyguards, are at risk.
This past Tuesday, a young man in the prime of his life was buried, having been a victim of a robbery.
David Weru, son of a work colleague and family friend, met his untimely death at the age of just 25 last weekend.
His only sin was that, after working late on Saturday afternoon, he’d stopped at a Galito’s restaurant in Midrand for takeout dinners as a surprise for his family.
His last message to his father on WhatsApp was: “I’m running late.”
While waiting for his order to be prepared, he went to the toilet, where he was robbed and strangled by unknown assailants.
The restaurant, oblivious to what had happened, subsequently closed for the night.
Since it does not open on Sundays, staffers only discovered his body on Monday morning when they reopened.
Meanwhile, the Weru family – who immigrated from Kenya about 20 years ago – had spent a harrowing weekend not knowing where he was and fearing the worst.
The incident illustrates the fact that South Africans of all sexual orientations, ages, races, backgrounds and financial status are potential victims of criminals who could even be their own relatives or members of their community.
In the rare event of perpetrators being identified and apprehended, they end up in a courtroom packed to the rafters.
Some of those attending court are grieving family members and friends.
The rest are inquisitive spectators, while, outside, members of political parties – and, as usual, the ANC Women’s League – are chanting slogans, waving banners and playing up to the TV cameras, demanding that the accused be refused bail.
The evening news then includes commentary from politicians, authorities like the police chief or even the president, as occurred during the recent surge of gender-based violence and child murders.
The condemnation of the crimes tends to focus on the external factors responsible for the offenders’ appalling acts.
In the lockdown era, we’ve also heard the unbanning of the sale of alcohol being blamed for the carnage.
My humble opinion is that all these pious and finger-pointing utterances are missing the mark.
The elephant in the room, which no politician dares mention, is our criminal justice system.
This is simple to extrapolate. When South Africans lived under the oppressive political regime of apartheid, we hardly ever heard of such repulsively violent acts.
Come Monday, after a weekend of partying in private houses or shebeens in townships and villages, we read in our dailies about isolated incidents of knifing or brawls at soccer stadiums between opposing fans.
Headline-grabbing murders were rare events.
Most killings were committed by the apartheid police forces, or later – during the 1980s and 1990s – they were politically motivated assassinations.
Once perpetrators were caught, they were sentenced to long prison terms with hard labour or to hanging.
Those were the days of retributive justice, when criminals were truly punished for their actions.
The cannibalistic behaviour we see today – which so often receives a light sentence – was virtually unknown back then.
The advent of our democracy in 1994 brought a complete overhaul of our criminal justice system, from retributive to correctional.
This was done with a mere stroke of a pen by so-called constitutional experts, who outlawed capital punishment on the grounds that it was cruel and unusual.
Our Constitution, which passed into supreme law, pledged to uphold the “right to life” and declared that government should not compete with murderers.
The fact that democratic governments, like those of the US, many Asian countries and most other African ones, had retained capital punishment as a deterrent to murder was completely ignored.
Our government did not even call a referendum on the matter.
Somehow it was implied that South Africans were too unsophisticated to understand the concepts in question.
Today our country is reaping the rewards of that liberal approach to criminals, including murderers, while their victims are left to fend for themselves.
Our lenient justice system is attracting killers in our subregion and the rest of our continent to flee down south, where our laws will protect them from being extradited to their own countries to face charges and possible execution.
We have been left holding the baby – often a viciously murdered one – and our agony will continue until our legislators understand that human beings can only be deterred by real punishment – not correction.
Maisela is a management consultant and author