Johannesburg – What kind of message are we sending out when two drivers who were as high as kites on a mix of drugs and alcohol when they crashed while racing on a public road and killed four children get out of jail after four years?
That’s the question being asked by Justice Project South Africa chairman Howard Dembovsky, after the release of Molemo 'Jub Jub' Maarohanye and Themba Tshabalala on parole after serving four years and one month of their respective eight-year sentences for killing four schoolchildren and injuring another two in 2010.
Especially as these two high-profile offenders were originally convicted of murder, before those convictions were reduced to culpable homicide on appeal, further diluting the deterrent value of even the eight-year terms to which to which they were finally sentenced.
It sends out ‘unfortunate’ message from the point of view of road safety, he says, given that very few drivers who kill other road users while drunk or high are ever convicted in a court of law.
That’s largely due to unjustifiable delays in blood-alcohol test results from the department of health. And rightly so – the courts can’t convict a driver of being ‘over the limit’ in the absence of timeous and reliable evidence of just what his blood-alcohol content was at the time.
Dembovsky said Justice Project South Africa and fellow organisations such as South Africans Against Drunk Driving were encouraged by the large numbers of drivers arrested for drunk driving over the holiday season – but unless those arrested were prosecuted with greater emphasis and a higher degree of professionalism, the efforts of the officials on the grounds would be wasted.
“The proposed reintroduction of evidential breath alcohol testing in the Western Cape can’t come soon enough,” Dembovsky said. “For as long as as drivers think that the chances of them being caught and convicted are minimal, they’ll carry on drinking and driving.”
It is to the eternal credit that two of the three families of the victims that they reportedly agreed to Maarohanye’s and Tshabalala’s parole, if they apologised to them first for the enormous human suffering had they caused, and for accepting that the two were ‘first-time offenders’.