Calls to fight crime with death

76.5 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by research firm Plus 94 Research recently said they wanted an urgent referendum to decide whether or not to bring back the outlawed death penalty to solve the country’s mammoth crime problem.

Of these, the researchers said, 69 percent said they would definitely vote for the reinstatement of the death penalty because the situation had become “severe and out of control”.

Recent crime figures released by the government confirm that South Africa still has one of the highest crime levels in the world despite a slight decline in levels of criminal activity.

While the government emphasised on the decline, concerns were still raised by the public over the violent nature of criminal activities that have left many victims either dead or seriously wounded.

Plus 94 said it had surveyed 3 000 people in all of the country’s nine provinces where many respondents said they were living in constant fear of being attacked or robbed.

The researchers said the majority of interviewees believed the government’s current policies on fighting crime were failing, and that more drastic measures needed to be taken.

“This (crime) is no longer just a problem. Whatever has been done in the past is obviously not enough because there is still a lot of violent criminal activity out there.

“Maybe if we bring back the death penalty it will act as a deterrent (to criminals),” 27-year-old Tshegofatso Mooki said.

Plus 94 chief executive Sifiso Falala said the study pointed to the lack of a clear direction regarding the criminal justice system as well as measures for reducing crime.

“Given the current loopholes in the system as viewed by the public, the death penalty appears mandatory as an apparatus for deterring violent crimes rather than one for punishment,” he said.

Since the release of the government’s statistics on crime, debate has swirled over the possibility of resorting to capital punishment, though civil society organisations have been vehemently opposed to the suggestion.

“South Africa has already dealt with the death penalty with wisdom and compassion,” Institute for Security Studies director Peter Gastrow said recently.

Barbara Holtmann, project manager of the Crime Prevention Centre at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, told a local weekly recently that calling for the death penalty was “the most appalling response in our society ‘ to say we will kill people when we’re angry with them”.

“People may call for it, but are they prepared to be hangmen? To implement it requires human beings to do the killing on their behalf. It’s horrible and disgusting. It’s not better than murder itself,” she said.

According to human rights experts, the restoration of capital punishment would also be difficult because it would be unconstitutional in terms of the country’s laws, and would require a degree of constitutional manoeuvring to effect.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said: “The Constitution states that everyone shall have the right to life, and the death penalty would be inconsistent with that.”

SAHRC chairman Jody Kollapen said the only way to amend the constitution to bring back the death penalty would through petitioning the country’s Constitutional Review Committee, after which the government would order a referendum.

Capital punishment was outlawed when South Africa renewed its constitution in 1996, amid criticism over the unfair apartheid implementation of the penalty that saw mainly blacks and coloureds being given the death sentence.

According to Plus 94’s survey, 64 percent of blacks polled said they would vote for the reintroduction of capital punishment, while 93 percent of whites interviewed, 87 percent of coloureds and 88 percent of Indians said they would also do likewise.

The research firm said its race breakdown had shown that 57 percent of blacks felt that the decision to reintroduce capital punishment was long overdue, compared with 90 percent of white respondents, 84 percent of coloureds and 80 percent of Indian interviewees.

Presenting a judgment last month, High Court Judge Gerhardus Hattingh said the government needed to take severe measures to stem the wave of violent crime.

“Government must take responsibility for ending the rampant crime wave engulfing our country . . . and it’s now time something drastic was done about crime. Just like South Africa was freed from the yoke of apartheid, South Africa must be freed from the yoke of crime,” he said.

November 2006
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