I spent Monday going through social media with an increasing sense of horror, reading unvarnished accounts of terror outside FNB Stadium in the south of Joburg - ironically just after the Global Citizen Concert celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.
People were mugged, had their cellphones stolen. Some were stabbed. Many ran to a fuel station where the mob followed them and robbed them.
There were apparently very few police visible. Those who were there allegedly stood by. Afterwards there were reports of cops being almost deliberately obstructive as the victims tried to make statements.
What was particularly galling, though, and I’m sure for many other South Africans, was the blame-dodging and hand-wringing afterwards, followed by the usual inane (and immensely dangerous) bluster.
I saw a tweet by the Minister of Police triumphantly declaring that one of (many) thugs had been caught. Nothing, though, on whether any action would be taken on allegations that his officers were guilty of dereliction of duty. Then I saw a headline about an appeal by an anti-crime activist calling for prison sentences of 300 years. It was unrelated to the mayhem outside the stadium, but my despair deepened.
It’s so typically South African. We want harsher laws, we want the death penalty, but we never actually want to prevent the crime. I’d far rather not be the victim of crime than have the assurance that my attackers will rot in jail.
But even if that were enough of a sop for whatever injuries I’d suffered to life, limb or property, you and I both know it’s a promise that’s not even worth the energy it took to beat that drum.
Getting a criminal behind bars requires police who will take down your statement, detectives who will actually investigate, forensic techs who will dust for fingerprints and other evidence, which prosecutors need to prepare the docket and then go to trial. That’s a lot of dots to join - as opposed to just writing out a docket number to present to insurance and make your claim.
Even then, if a criminal is sent down, they could be back out after serving only a third of their sentence - but now equipped with a Master’s in applied criminality from the university of life.
We don’t need more laws, we certainly don’t need infantile calls for sentences that are tantamount to street justice, devoid of any jurisprudential rationality. We just need our laws applied and those that we pay to uphold law and order to do their jobs.
This wasn’t the first major event at FNB Stadium, not by a long stretch. We had the World Cup finals there, countless big-name concerts and other sports fixtures - we even had Madiba’s memorial, with scores of world leaders past and present and several US presidents, and the only thing we had to worry about was a sign language interpreter who lost the plot.
So, what went wrong? What made this one different? Those are the questions we should be asking.
Those who are guilty should be punished, because then we’ll start getting serious about fighting crime in this country.
* Ritchie is a media consultant. He is a former journalist and newspaper editor.
The Saturday Star