An army of drunk drivers on our roads know they face very limited, if any, consequences when they kill others, says Robin Carlisle.
Cape Town - There are many reasons for the appalling acts of violence that flood our media on a daily basis.
The break-up of the family is one of the most compelling, with its roots in slavery, the hut tax, migrant labour, and the devastating effects of 40 years of apartheid. With it goes what is now the near institution of alcoholism and drug addiction.
The results are: an appalling rate of murder, among the highest global fatality rates of death on the roads, and above all, the constant and increasing savagery against females, be they seven weeks or 70 years old. Social mitigation will be a long and costly business, assuming that the politicians and the churches have the will to take up the challenge.
However, there is a way to rein in the carnage while the more profound healing processes gather momentum, and that is to get our criminal justice system operating as it should.
The extent of the collapse of criminal justice almost beggars description. More than 600 000 citizens have been murdered or killed on the roads since 1994, and over 200 000 murderers have either never been arrested or convicted, and walk free in our society. Of the motorists who have perpetrated 7 000 deaths in our province since 2009, only one has gone to jail.
None of those charged or implicated in four horrendous bus crashes in the province, over the past five years, have even had their critical day in court.
Twenty-nine members of the taxi industry have been murdered in the last 15 months. None of the alleged murderers are currently in custody and none have been convicted, even where there is eyewitness identification.
Even this horror story pales into insignificance when compared to violent crimes against women and children, where charges laid and convictions obtained are of a much lower order.
Simply expressed, people commit violent crimes at an unprecedented rate because they know they are unlikely to be punished.
The failure of the criminal justice system contrasts sharply with tax collection management in SA since 1994. At that time, tax evasion was of a very high order, and other related tax crimes, such as VAT refund fraud, were rife.
Today, South Africa has one of the highest tax recovery rates in the world, if not the highest. In addition, it has developed an “easy to use” tax return system, increasingly being adopted elsewhere on the globe. If we could do it for tax, why not for crime and other forms of violence?
We must look to the successes of the tax regime to understand the utter failure of the criminal justice system. Firstly, SARS has been managed from the outset by outstanding candidates of the highest probity. No whiff of political scandal has attached to them, and they have applied their systems without fear or favour, and without regard to influence, wealth, race or colour. They have turned their staff into a mighty force for compliance.
They have set up teams of investigators; created special courts; and ensured swift and appropriate justice. Unlike the criminal justice system, they recruit on merit, and pay well for results.
The criminal justice system has been the very opposite. Inappropriate and incompetent managers have been appointed as a matter of course, and too often, at all levels.
Two heads of police have gone to jail for crimes that indicate clearly that they were on the side of the criminals and not there to protect innocent citizens.
Political interference in appointments and dismissals in the police, the NPA and the Department of Justice has been massive, not only at leadership levels, but in some cases down to the lowest levels.
The selection of the judiciary has been mired in bitter controversy, and has too often not taken merit into account.
The refusal to appoint Budlender and Plaskitt, two outstanding candidates, both with long and honourable Struggle credentials, says it all.
All the institutions of the criminal justice system are desperately short of manpower, facilities, and resources.
Too many of their depleted staff are completely incapable of doing their jobs.
Undertrained detectives labour under impossible case loads. When charges are laid, they are often not investigated. When they are, cases can go on for years, sometimes for decades. This, of course, ensures that defending legal representatives can drive holes through inadequately researched and prepared criminal cases.
When criminals, particularly those who kill on the roads, are convicted, their sentences are often laughable. Magistrates will often express concern that jail sentences will affect the accused’s family, apparently forgetting the families of those that were killed or maimed.
In my own field of responsibility, I had three weapons against drunken drivers: road block alcohol testing; speedy breathalyser legal confirmation that the driver was over the limit; and the “Name and Shame” publication that ensures that the affected community will know of the convictions. Over the last two years, both the breathalyser and “Name and Shame’ have been taken out of usage by the ANC’s criminal justice bosses. They assure that they will be back “one day”.
Blood samples are never easy to get because of the pressure that health staff are under, and in any event, take up to a year to be processed. Increasingly, defence counsel have been successful in challenging the veracity of blood samples, even where they are processed and presented in court by experts.
In the meantime, the number of drunks we apprehend in our roadblocks is rising massively. All road users must know that they are now exposed to an army of lethal drunken drivers on our roads, who know they face very limited, if any, consequences when they kill others.
This intolerable situation is faced by all my provincial colleagues, but they are afraid to speak up.
I cannot understand why the criminal justice system, under the Ministers of Justice and Police, fails to do what it must to end the reign of terror under which all South Africans live.
I dare not believe that the actions they have taken to render road safety enforcement powerless is a way of punishing the DA-run Western Cape, which has, by far, the best road safety record in the country.
Whatever the reason, they have a graveyard 10 times the size of those South Africans killed in World Wars I and II, Korea, the Bush War in Nambia/Angola, and the Struggle combined to answer to.
Ministers Radebe and Mthethwa could begin to change all of this today.
They could make the necessary undertakings that will hugely benefit the lives of all South Africans.
I and every caring South African pray to God that they will do just that.
* Robin Carlisle is Western Cape Minister of Transport and Public Works.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.