South Africa’s unjust laws: Calls for reform to prioritise real crime prevention – Woode-Smith

Nicholas Woode-Smith unveils a shocking truth about South Africa’s legal landscape, revealing that 83% of criminal offences are unjust or excessively punitive. With a Criminalisation Index scrutinising 169 offenses, FMF advocates for the overhaul of laws that oppress citizens and divert law enforcement from tackling actual crime. The report highlights absurdities like fines for trivial acts and restrictions hindering economic growth. FMF urges for decriminalisation and police reform to address the nation’s lawlessness and prioritise genuine crime prevention.

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By Nicholas Woode-Smith*

South Africa is plagued by a cavalcade of terrible laws, harsh enforcement, and arbitrary legislation that not only oppresses citizens but distracts law enforcement from going after real criminals.

The Free Market Foundation (FMF) has released a Criminalisation Index, which lists every criminal offence in the country. By using the rule of law, analysing the Constitution, and utilising common sense, the Index rates each alleged offence by its reasonability – and if it should be a crime in the first place.

Of 169 criminal offences, the Index finds that 64 are completely unreasonable, 29 are somewhat unreasonable, and that 50 are somewhat reasonable. Only 26 of the criminal offences were worthy of being considered completely reasonable in their verdict and just in their punishment. Only a shocking 17% of criminal offences are actually legitimate in the eyes of the rule of law.

Some of these unjust laws include a fine of up to R100 000 for having employees be exposed to an area where smoking has occurred; the personal agreements of employer and employee don’t matter.

Evicting a squatter without a court order is considered a crime, giving more legal rights to the squatter, who requires no legal rights to illegally occupy someone’s land.

Vaguely “Inconveniencing” fellow passengers on public transport can land you in prison for 3 months or be punished with a fine of up to R100 000.

Distributing or displaying a film or game that hasn’t been registered with the petty Film and Publications board is punishable by a fine of up to R150 000 or prison for up to 6 months.

Many of these laws also enable government officials to violate the rights of South African citizens, with refusal to cooperate with such violations punishable by fines, prison sentences and other consequences. For instance, a mining company must allow officials access to any mining facility without the need for a warrant. This is despite the danger of individuals impersonating officials, or the damaging corruption that this enables.

These unreasonable criminal offences distract from the very real violent crime that plagues this nation. Violent crime, especially involving sexual violence, is rampant. Yet, a policeman may miss a call-out to stop an assault because they’re too busy fining someone for distributing a video game that they produced.

These fake crimes put a strain on the police, while oppressing non-violent offenders who, for most of these laws, aren’t really committing a crime. And if they are harming someone, a civil court case would be far more appropriate than criminal justice.

On top of this oppression and waste of resources while real criminals run rampant, many of these bad policies inhibit economic growth.

Policies like BEE and the Employment Equity Act, just to name a few damaging labour laws, stifle employers and disincentivise them from growing their businesses. This is in addition to being racist, arbitrary laws that attempt to micromanage human behaviour rather than letting individuals make their own choices.

These bad policies further exacerbate crime by increasing unemployment and pushing more and more desperate individuals into a life of crime. Positive economic growth would also lead to an increase in tax revenue, allowing SAPS to increase its resources and tackle genuine crimes far more efficiently.

These unreasonable criminal offences need to be stricken from the books, with common law taking precedence where possible. SAPS needs to be allowed to focus on genuine crimes that harm people, and not enforce bad laws that accomplish nothing but stifling freedom and prosperity. Where an offence is reasonably criminal, but not sufficiently heinous, the crime needs to be recategorized under civil law.

Decriminalisation, alongside police reform, will go a long way to solving South Africa’s lawlessness, and finally ridding this country of the scourge of crime.

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*Nicholas Woode-Smith is an Associate at the Free Market Foundation.