WSM nails SA’s crime: A system plagued by incompetence, no consequences

SA’s longest-serving political columnist, William Saunderson-Meyer, expands on his recent op-ed where he argued that Eskom-related power cuts are a sideshow compared with his homeland’s ever-escalating crime rate. The reason for surging malfeasance, he believes, is obvious: the criminal justice system – from policing to the courts through to prisons – is an ocean of incompetence with zero consequences. Fixing it will be a long-term project, and a lot more difficult than simply replicating the Western Cape LEAP system (as Gauteng has been discovering of late….). WSM spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.


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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:38 – William Saunderson-Meyer on his recent op-ed Eskom’s a sideshow compared to collapse of SAPS and NPA
  • 04:31 – WSM on the consequences of reliance on private policing
  • 10:32 – On the failures of the National Prosecuting Authority
  • 15:17 – On Shamila Batohi failing to meet expectations
  • 17:52 – On Markus Jooste’s probable lack of concern over being prosecuted
  • 18:46 – On whether or not the criminal justice system can be fixed

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Excerpts from the interview

William Saunderson-Meyer on the Western Cape’s LEAP system and Gauteng’s efforts to replicate it

Premier Panyaza Lesufi has launched his own version of LEAP, [the Gauteng Crime Prevention Wardens who are] rather sinisterly now being referred to in the media as the Amapanyaza: which basically [means] Panyaza’s men, Panyaza’s gang [or] Panyaza’s warriors. Community policing, experts agree is essential. And one of the failures, apart from the crime intelligence failure of the South African police services, has been its inability to provide community services. [This] is why one has vigilante groups going around and meting out swift and brutal justice which almost unanimously meets with approval on social media. It’s an indication of the state of siege that many people live in, especially in the poorer communities where they don’t have [the] 24 hour electricity that is provided to cabinet ministers, they don’t have blue light brigades looking after them, and they don’t have private security looking after them. So LEAP is a great idea, but it really does depend [on] how it’s implemented and we don’t know yet how the Amapanyaza are going to operate.

Read more: Eskom pales in comparison to downfall of SAPS and NPA – Saunderson-Meyer

What does Lesufi want? Is this just a vanity project or is it a step forward? It’d be really great if he manages to reduce crime, but it’s not a solution. There needs to be oversight. Whatever happens on the ground, we need to have a functioning police service. And not only a functioning police service, [because] it’s absolutely pointless having the police arrest people and then the prosecutors are unable to jail them. And then, of course, when they are jailed, they they can stick a corpse in the bed and disappear without anyone noticing. It’s a structural decay that moves right from the policing to [the] prisoning point.

Read more: One can only be amused by Gauteng’s new ‘crime prevention’ wardens – Ivo Vegter

WSM on the failures of the National Prosecuting Authority to put criminals behind bars

When you have [13 or 14%] successful prosecutions, how can Shamila Batohi sit in that job and not walk out the door and say to the President, I’m sorry, I have failed abysmally. And she has failed abysmally! She’s been given five years to sort out what she called the house burning down. So far, her contribution to the house burning down is to throw a cup of tea on it. She has nine key prosecutions, seminal she calls them. – I think of them as nominal rather than seminal. [So] she has nine key prosecutions: the first one was dismissed two weeks ago, but the judge called it a comedy of errors [and] she was scathing in her assessment of it. Now, [the] NPA is going to appeal that, and they are appealing it entirely out of vanity, not because there’s a hope in hell of them succeeding in the appeal court. But [at] every stage, the failures are tied to lack of responsibility. No society can operate without people taking responsibility for what they are supposed to be doing and [being] punished in some form for failing to do so. And we’re a country where there’s no responsibility. That’s why we have vigilantes. That’s why we have such a lawless society. [It] is because there is never any responsibility. 

Read more: Ian Cameron – Expecting SAPS success is like believing a donkey can win Durban July

On if the failing criminal justice system can be rectified

It becomes more and more difficult to reverse [the failing criminal justice system] because there are more and more things to reverse. So where one has a rot initially at either the lower end or the top end of an organisation, one now has a pervasive rot. How do how does a police officer not even be embarrassed to be sitting in a car with a gang leader and not worry about what the consequences of that would be? They have no worry because the corruption [and] the destruction of the fibre and the spine of those organisations is almost complete. So it’s like any medical problem: the longer we delay the treatment, the less likely the success and the more traumatic the treatment. So, yes, it can be turned around. Societies can survive. Zimbabwe survives [for example], there are many people in Zimbabwe who live good lives. But can a society flourish? Can we flourish? Not in the immediate term. So we’re looking at 5 to 10 years to pick up the pieces.

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