By Herman Mashaba
South African citizens are bombarded daily with news of horrific crimes, which are committed with impunity despite the serious impact these crimes have on our lives. Our news channels are full of stories of how lawlessness reigns in every aspect of our society, and there seems to be absolutely no plan, or political will, to change the status quo.
Unfortunately, the result is that “smaller” crimes are ignored as society and the media have become more desensitized.
To demonstrate this point, I refer to a case that ActionSA was made aware of in January this year – the case of a building hijacker in Primrose, Ekurhuleni. This case exposed the pervasive systematic failures of our criminal justice system and the breakdown of the rule of law. At first we thought it was a matter of intimidation and harassment against an upset resident whose pleas to the SAPS fell on deaf ears. However, our investigation uncovered a much larger web of criminality.
The issue began with the illegal hijacking of at least three properties in Primrose by an undocumented foreigner. The perpetrator had several cases of intimidation and harassment filed against him, is possibly complicit in a murder that took place at one of the properties, and is further charged with drug dealing. The properties under this criminal kingpin’s control were apparently even illegally connected to the city’s power grid, completing the extreme criminality of this individual’s contribution to our society. Despite the SAPS being aware of these issues, no significant action was taken against him.
After our intervention, at the behest of the resident, the offender was arrested. But absurdly enough, with his arrest he opened a case of intimidation and property damage against the woman who brought the matter to our attention. She was also quickly arrested, even though there were no substantial grounds for the case. The sad irony is that she – a law-abiding citizen – was quickly arrested without investigation, while he has continued his activities with impunity for over a year despite the serious allegations against him.
Fortunately, ActionSA’s legal team could have thrown this matter out of court, but one can only imagine the fate of someone in a similar case who did not have proper legal support. What does this tell law-abiding citizens about the ulterior motives and impartiality of our justice system?
While her treatment alone should give us cause for concern, the hijacker was released on bail just two weeks after his arrest – despite the seriousness of the allegations against him and his immigration status. I find it inexplicable that someone who is in the country illegally, and who is also accused of a host of serious crimes, can be released so easily. Yet the case has received limited attention from the media or those directly affected.
Taken as a whole, the Primrose heist is a case study of the collapse of the rule of law and how accustomed we have become to criminality. I was struck by this case because it so succinctly highlights how broken our justice system really is: Home Affairs is unable to enforce our immigration laws, the SAPS continually fails to protect our communities from criminals, and our courts let criminals back on the street, despite prima facie evidence of wrongdoing.
What infuriates me is that this is not an isolated event or a unique story. It simply demonstrates a pattern of lawlessness that has become pervasive in the mafia state in which we live.
This was recently illustrated by the prison escape of the “Facebook rapist” and murderer, Thabo Bester, who subsequently lived just a street from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s private residence in Johannesburg. It is becoming increasingly clear that correctional services have failed to fulfill their most basic mandate, to keep criminals behind bars. Moreover, Bester had several opportunities to manipulate, bribe and corrupt those supposed to maintain order. The fact that all this happened at a private prison only further illustrates how this lawlessness permeates all levels of society.
Meanwhile, those who try to maintain law and order and fight crime and corruption become easy targets in a country where the cost of living is cheap. Earlier this month, Cloete and Thomas Murray were shot dead in a brutal assassination. The duo oversaw a series of high-profile liquidations, including BOSASA, Gupta-linked Trillian, and Tubular Construction Projects, a company implicated in major corruption at Kusile Power Station. These killings come about 18 months after the assassination of well-known whistleblower Babita Deokaran.
How can we expect citizens to stand up against crime when there is a very real risk that they will be killed for their efforts? How can we expect them to trust law enforcement agencies when there is little hope for protection against the system that must exist purely to maintain law and order?
While some may argue that the Primrose case is insignificant in this larger scheme of criminality, for the victims involved it is no less devastating to their lives. We cannot allow our society to become complacent about serious crimes because they are overshadowed by even more heinous crimes. This is the same attitude that the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, took when he noted a few days after the gang-rape of eight women in Krugersdorp in August 2022 – some by as many as 10 men – that “the one 19-year-old was happy to [net] to be raped by one man”.
The cases above are just four cases out of thousands. However, they are all inextricably linked by systematic erosion of the rule of law by the ANC government which has enabled crime to flourish and the corrupt to grow rich, while law abiding citizens are left to fend for themselves.
It is clear that addressing these issues is not just about allocating more budget to the SAPS or empowering the NPA.
These are certainly important aspects of the solution, but the systematic erosion of the rule of law can only be addressed through a holistic, systematic response. Policing cannot be seen in isolation from Correctional Services, the prosecution functions of the NPA, or social services and economic policies that offer our people alternatives to crime to make a living. These functions – investigation, prosecution, imprisonment (where applicable) and rehabilitation – must work in lockstep to put criminals behind bars and uphold the rule of law, enabling the economy to thrive.
Finally, these reforms must be driven by ethical leaders with the political will to fight crime. If there is one thing in which the ANC is consistent, it is that they are not only unwilling to provide South Africa with ethical leadership, but fundamentally unable to do so. This is what happens when a criminal organization simply poses as a political party to loot the state.
That is why I maintain that any efforts to fix South Africa must begin with the removal of the failed ANC government in 2024. We can fix our country, but to do so we must unite against those who selfishly descend us into lawlessness drove.
- Herman Mashaba is that president of ActionSA.
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