Thou Shalt Not Kill. Anyone. Ever.

2015-04-30 06:53

Lately I have felt immobilized. It has been difficult to write about anything. This is in part due to my personal circumstances – I am still in mourning after my husband’s sudden and fatal heart attack of last year. I’m getting used to being a widow. It’s painful. I miss the life I took for granted.

But there is another reason I haven’t written for a long time. I have been asking myself ‘What is the point in writing on and on about crime and what is wrong with this country? What does it achieve?’ This country is fucked, I’ve been thinking. And tragedy, I’ve been convincing myself, happens everywhere. It happens every day. I have been fatalistic in my approach: like every place else in the world, South Africa has her problems; yes, we have crime, but at least we don’t have a full-scale War, or insidious terrorism, or earthquakes, or… the list goes on.

But apathy doesn’t sit well with me. It’s time to speak up - in particular to voice disgust at murder, and to voice distress at what can be considered a basic break-down of the Rule of Law.

In my own stomping ground I’ve passed the crime scenes of two murders that have happened in the last few weeks. The first was of armed response officer Bandile Qayiyana, who, attending to a complaint, was stabbed by a criminal making off with stolen goods. His carotid artery severed, he bled to death on the pavement in the early hours of 01 April. His service pistol was stolen. I stopped at the scene after his body had been removed; all that was left as evidence of murder was a pile of sand soaking up a pool of blood, and a spill of purple powder from one or another forensic test.

The second, the body discovered on 20 April, was of an elderly woman who lived in a nearby apartment, a Scot of 74-years-old whose demise has already been reported in overseas newspapers. Her body was dismembered and binned. Whether the killer was a random criminal, a drugged-up tik-head gone wild, or someone the woman knew who cancelled her life in the most callous and cruel of ways, remains to be seen. The police are mum after collecting forensic evidence, but it’s agreed the nature of the crime was horrific.

It is equally horrific that ‘foreigners’ running local businesses become the targets of Xenophobia, that indiscriminant gang shootings take innocent lives, that children are snatched outside their homes only to end up dead and decomposing in the dunes or the veld.  It is horrific that a flagrant disrespect for the sanctity of life results in so much unabated killing.

Paradoxically, South Africa has one of the most lauded, sophisticated and progressive Constitutions of the world, as it indisputably promises protection to citizens and non-citizens alike. The rule of law, states the constitution, will be supreme. Yet it takes just a quick check of the news to realize that the rule of law has eroded to the point of ridicule.

Our leaders seem unable or unwilling to face the fact that crime is rampant; that killing seems to be a way of life. Criminals know they can get away with just about anything. Residents are vulnerable in the streets, and in their homes. There is no ‘safe’ place. No place considered beyond the reaches of the cowardly criminal who has no fear of reprisal. There is no visible police force; and leadership is on the whole too weak and self-absorbed to deliver the unequivocal message: whatever the motivation, however seemingly justified is ‘anger’ (at each other, at the past), Thou Shalt Not Kill.

The government fails to reinforce, as stated in the constitution, that all people are equal before the law. Limp-wristed leaders do not take seriously the promises set down in writing in the Constitution.

It seems clear that the less effectual government is seen to be, the more brazenly will people take the law into their own hands. If government can’t be trusted to deal effectively with immigration, with development, with increasing dissatisfaction, if the rule of law is flagrantly ignored when it suits government (corruption, nepotism, cronyism) - then people will take the law into their own hands. ‘Mob action’ (as we’ve seen with Xenophobia) will prevail, which further erodes the rule of law.

Last week’s brutalization and murder of the 28-year-old Jayde Panayiotou - a young Port Elizabeth teacher who gave her energy to sharing knowledge and to changing the lives of children - is another, though different, case in point.

With a following so far of 15 k, the Justice for Jayde Panayiotou – Bring Back Death Penalty Facebook page, is fueled by outrage. It is disconcerting, although understandable, that followers call for her ‘murderous bastard killers’ to be tortured. (One wonders how the followers of this page might feel now with the breaking news that Jayde's husband has been arrested in connection with her murder?)

Whoever it is that does the murder, and for whatevever motivation, ANC government’s inability to maintain the consistent application of the rule of law, and the failure to inspire residents and citizenry to understand the value of living by the rule of law, sees many an incidence of ‘people doing it for themselves’  - bot killing and seeking justice.

The reality is that the death penalty does exist; in the shacklands, mobs, despairing of official justice, regularly stone alleged thieves and rapists to death. If government can’t lead properly, can’t begin to sort out the societal mess, if government clearly does not deliver on the promise of protection, safety and justice, then life becomes a free for all.

When it comes to ‘an eye for an eye’ there is an alternative to the lynch mob. If every family member of murder victim – whether of Xenophobic violence or of random crime - joined hands in bringing a Class Action Suit against Government for failing to protect the People, such a suit would hit government where it hurts. Make Government pay for broken bodies, and broken promises of protection.

This piece is, in a sense, a litany of murder. And why not? Why should this not be a hard-hitting complaint? Indeed, it is an abhorrent shame that I can make a list of people I knew personally who’ve been murdered- stabbed, shot, strangled, and raped to death.

A return to the rule of law is the only way to keep our nation, and our sanity, intact. We have to stand up and voice our outrage.

I'm on twitter @joannehichens

(Please note, the name of the Justice for Jayde facebook page will be changed to 'Justice for Jayde Panayiotou – Change for South Africa', in order to encompass more positive means of change apart from petitioning for a reinstatement of the Death Penalty.)

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