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The dawning of the age of entitlement, impunity and arrogance.

The “reluctant” president of SA, accused of being “missing in action” in the midst of escalating femicide, violent xenophobic outbreaks and abuse of children, promised a “new dawn” when he replaced his predecessor.

Welcome to the new dawn of the age of entitlement, impunity and arrogance. (EIA).

Why is it that so many men feel free, wantonly and wickedly, to kill, rape, maim or abuse women? What prompts angry crowds to turn on foreigners living in their midst in order to engage in an orgy of looting, arson and murder? Why are family murders and abuse of children so commonplace in SA? How do the perpetrators of these crimes all think they can get away with their criminal abuse of other human beings? Could it possibly be that EIA have reached the alarming proportions that they have reached as a “celebration” of the levels of poor governance that inevitably accompany the state capture phenomenon that is still with us and still affects the thinking of those who transgress?

The “I do it because I can” feeling of entitlement that prompts much of the criminality springs from a basic misunderstanding of the hard won freedom and the tenets of constitutional democracy in place in SA for a quarter of a century. Freedom is a right, certainly, but it is also a responsibility. Far too many of us concentrate our attention on the rights the state is obliged to “respect, protect, promote and fulfil” in terms of our celebrated Bill of Rights, and far too few of us take cognisance of the responsibilities that we have as freed persons. These responsibilities start at home and in our neighbourhoods, communities, cities, towns and rural settlements. The right of all of us to our bodily and psychological integrity ought to rise above the malfeasance and the calls for the death penalty to be reintroduced. We have set out to establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights in which we “heal the divisions of the past”. EIA is not the way to go.  

The inherent dignity of all of us is diminished whenever and wherever we do not “do as we would be done by”. Othering, unfair discrimination, intolerance, hate speech and irresponsibly corrupt politicking are at the root of our societal failure to respect the human dignity of our fellows, whether they were born here or not, whether they look and speak like us or not, whether they have a better work ethic than us or not, whether they embrace the pipedreams of the national democratic revolution in preference to the values and principles of the Constitution or not.

According to Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies, in the period since Jacob Zuma first rose to lead SA, the criminal justice administration has been hollowed out to such an extent that the rule of law is under threat. He points out that:

“Five areas of action are needed to reinforce the rule of law. First, the Treasury must exempt the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) from planned austerity measures. These institutions must operate at full capacity as they are the bedrock of the rule of law and if they weaken further, organised crime, corruption and public violence will continue to increase.

Second, a dedicated plan is required to build public trust in the police. A National Police Board is needed to ensure that all of the 230 police generals are highly experienced, skilled persons of unquestionable integrity. Greater resources must be given to the SAPS Integrity Management component and Anti-Corruption Units to root out police involved in crime and corruption. Crime intelligence must be overhauled and a focus given to strengthening the detective service and Public Order Policing Units.

Third, the country’s leadership must speak with one voice to dispel the myths that foreign nationals are the cause of various social ills in South Africa. The focus should be to acknowledge the important contribution they make to our economy, and our diverse and vibrant culture.

Fourth, in the medium term, the country needs to re-establish the peacebuilding networks that existed in the run-up to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. At the time political violence risked breaking the country apart and peace committees were established across the country in high-violence localities. They played an important role in preventing violence and encouraging constructive civic activism and engagement. This is one way to change mindsets that contribute to high levels of public violence.

Fifth, we need a scale-up of evidence-based violence prevention projects, particularly those that protect children and women. Most violent behaviour is learnt in the home and in communities. Children who are victims of, or are exposed to, violence are far more likely to behave violently as adults. Violence prevention work by civil society, government and some private companies needs to be prioritised and rolled out to scale.

In 2008 South Africa witnessed wide-scale public violence during which 69 people were killed and many thousands displaced. After three days of chaos the military had to be called in to quell the destruction. While the violence primarily targeted foreign nationals, one third of those who died were South Africans. Recent events show we are again heading in this direction unless clear action is taken.”

Elsewhere in the same article Newham points to the rise of disorder since 2008:

“The violence is driven by a toxic mix of increasing unemployment and inequality, deteriorating trust in government and especially the police, and growing desperation among the poor and jobless.

This situation is exacerbated by a decade of State Capture and high-level corruption during which law enforcement agencies were hollowed out to enable the large-scale theft of many hundreds of billions of rand meant for public upliftment. While attempts to rebuild parts of the intelligence service and criminal justice system are under way, the going is slow and inadequate resources are proving to be a major stumbling block.

The general frustration among the population is evidenced by the growth in incidents of public disruption or violence. The annual count at which the Public Order Policing Units have had to intervene in such incidents has increased by 376% in the past decade. This is almost 10 incidents every day on average, up from two per day in 2008/09.”

When the president eventually responded to the crises of gender based violence, looting and murder by xenophobes, all caused, at least in part, by EIA running rampant, he was not able or willing to address any of the issues raised by Newham, who is an acknowledged expert in the field of security studies. Those wishing to jot down the relevant facts and figures (in the state’s plan to deal with these issues) when the president spoke on television came away with blank sheets. Bland and meaningless platitudes are no way to address the crises born of poverty, unemployment and inequality and overlaid with EIA.

The culture of impunity abroad in SA is a manifestation of the dysfunction in the criminal justice administration. The Minister of Police, selected by the president, was found to be “dishonest and incompetent” by a board in inquiry that looked into his fitness for office as national commissioner of police. He militarised the police, turning the “service” envisaged by the Constitution into a “force” of which those in charge of authoritarian regimes would be proud. Police are not generally respected and appreciated by ordinary folk. They are feared, hated and despised. It ought not to be so. However, when police are violent, arrogant, overbearing and disengaged from community issues, it is small wonder that they are distrusted. When they stand idly by during looting they are failing in their duty.

The demilitarization of the police is part of the National Development Plan, it is an accepted recommendation of the Farlam Commission into the violent massacre at Marikana and it is easy to do. Nothing happens. Pleas to the Police Portfolio Committee in both the fifth and sixth parliaments fall on deaf ears. A militarized police force is preferred to the people-friendly service envisaged in the Constitution. The management of the police is infested with incompetent deployed cadres of the national democratic revolution. The revolution does not concern itself with the implementation of the values of the Constitution.

No wonder the president looks tired and dejected; he is trying to hold together the revolutionaries and the constitutionalists in his own party. This is an impossible task, yet he puts it ahead of the interests of the country.

Jobs will not fall from the sky when the ANC is united; jobs will be created when direct foreign investment (and also local investment) is stimulated and attracted by the atmosphere of trust and confidence the leadership of the country is able to foster through demonstrably fealty to the rule of law.

Since March the president has been mulling the idea of establishing a new Integrity Commission to deal with grand corruption, state capture and kleptocracy. Here is a link to the letter he was sent: https://accountabilitynow.org.za/email-to-the-president-dated-25-march-2019-concerning-the-establishment-of-an-integrity-commission-under-chapter-nine-of-the-constitution/

It is to be hoped that this small but significant innovation will show the world that he is serious about his “new dawn” and that he wants an atmosphere in which the EIA is ameliorated and the confidence in the rule of law is enhanced. Until the impunity of the corrupt in SA is seen to be dealt with aggressively and pro-actively the much needed new investment that will address joblessness will not be forthcoming and the EIA of the desperate poor will continue.

The ball is in the president’s court. It is surely time for him to take a stance that is pro-active, impressive, anti-EIA and likely to unlock the much needed new investment in the country. As John Dear put it when he wrote commemorating Hiroshima Day in 2005 we need a leader:

“…who disarms our hearts of our inner violence and transforms us into people of … nonviolence and then sends us on a mission of disarming love and creative nonviolence”

We all need to realise that entitlement is a false notion among responsible citizens. Instead we must respect the dignity of all people by responsibly enjoying our freedoms in the manner envisaged in the Constitution.

We all need to work hard to end the culture of impunity for criminality and corruption by acknowledging and securing the notion that all of us are entitled to equal protection and benefit of the law. The envisaged Integrity Commission is not only the best practice way of doing so; its establishment will sidestep the dysfunction currently harming all institutions in the criminal justice administration.

Arrogance of the kind that impels men to femicide, gender based violence and abuse of children is usually a cover for the insecurity of the perpetrators. Arrogance has no place in a country dedicated to the advancement of human rights and freedoms, to the achievement of equality and to respect for the inherent human dignity of everyone.

Paul Hoffman is a director of Accountability Now.

9 September 2019.

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