Wind knocked out of the fight against crime


Johnny de Lange has always been able to throw a mean punch. Ask fellow MP Manie Schoeman, who was on the receiving end of De Lange's fistic rage in the national assembly a couple of years ago, during a lively parliamentary debate which no doubt got out of control.

The two MPs disrupted what was a quiet early evening and exchanged blows.

The punch-up took place when De Lange was chairperson of Parliament's Justice Committee. He has since been promoted to the rank of deputy minister, where he deputises for justice minister Brigitte Mabandla.

It was in this new capacity that De Lange threw a punch of a different kind this week. He not only jabbed, but threw a hell of a haymaker to flatten government and what it has stood for in the past 14 years.

At a media briefing De Lange said a lot of things.

Of course he rambled on about the achievements that the government, in particular the justice cluster on which he serves, had done very well in delivering justice to you and I.

He did, however, make a huge concession. And that concession is the killer punch from someone who would have been expected to do the opposite.

For years we have been told that the criminal justice system was working very well. We were told that there were problems in certain areas, that these problems were receiving the required attention and that very soon criminals would have no place to hide.

Enter De Lange on August 13, 2008.

The criminal justice system, he told journalists, was unacceptably dysfunctional and fragmented. De Lange said crime statistics, on which government spends millions so that we can measure whether crime is going up or down, were unreliable. He said the statistics do not reflect the true situation in our country.

Confidence

Wow! Can you believe this is coming from the mouth of a senior ANC member and not from the opposition ranks? Simply incredible.

De Lange said a huge number of crime cases went unreported because South Africans had lost confidence in the justice system.

He said most crimes were not resolved by, among other things, the inability by our police to manage crime scenes and execute proper forensic investigations.

I suspect that De Lange felt good, as everyone should when they tell the truth, when he shared his inner feelings with members of the public.

I also suspect he spent a big chunk of Thursday fielding calls from perplexed comrades who would want to understand why he could sit there and say that after trying for 14 years, the government had failed to deliver a credible criminal justice system to the people of South Africa.

I suspected De Lange would also blame the media. It is always easy to blame the hacks. I thought he would argue that he was quoted out of context or that the story was not balanced.

That is what politicians do. They say something in public and when the effect of what they said starts to hit home, they start looking for excuses.

There will be ordinary South Africans who will not only be amazed at De Lange's frankness, but also surprised that there is a politician who can call a spade a spade and not a garden tool.

These will be people who will not be pessimistic but hopeful that once the big admission has been made, the big punch thrown, a solution will be found. And it must be found soon.

To his credit, De Lange also mentioned that task teams have been formed to address the problems and transform the system. Billions of rands will be spent on the projects.

However, I bet this is not what he will be remembered for. We only remember then correctional services minister Sipho Mzimela because he shocked his fellow Inkatha Freedom Party MPs and said matter-of-factly that the ANC would rule forever.

There was laughter and applause from the ANC benches and surprise and shocked faces on the IFP benches.

Mzimela's statement was a blow, coming from someone whose job as an opposition MP, was to unseat the ANC.

What about former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy, who went to parliament and stated that the successes of the Scorpions, the elite unit whose existence is now threatened, were overstated?

As I said, De Lange has always been able to throw mean punches, but this time, he surpassed himself.

Perhaps it does not matter because the current government has less than nine months left in office.

Anyway, thanks Johnny for the truth.


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