Fear of the law has disappeared, and if not returned urgently, anarchy will reign
Johannesburg - The group of armed robbers will go down either as the boldest thugs or history will record them as the dumbest of all criminals in South Africa.
In broad daylight, they stormed an armoured car transporting cash right outside the Dobsonville police station. The thugs peppered the SBV truck with AK-47 bullets. The police officers responded in kind, and a shoot-out ensued. The police officers prevailed, the thugs took off, leaving one of them injured and in police custody.
The fact that the armed robbers were not deterred by the physical presence of a police station – a symbol of law and order in any country – points to a growing problem in South Africa.
Increasingly, people are not scared of the law, and the country of Nelson Mandela is slowly sliding towards anarchy.
The Dobsonville armed robbers are not the only actors in this sad and unfolding reality. South African national roads are today another stage on which the debilitating drama is playing itself out.
Several trucks, worth millions and carrying goods worth even more, have been torched by South African criminals who claim that these trucks are driven by foreigners who are stealing jobs from them.
Despite the promises from the government that there will be a crackdown and the criminals will be forced to face the wrath of the law, nothing has happened.
What has continued to happen is the rampant lawlessness which, quite frankly, threatens our democracy and our very being.
The arson attacks on trucks started in KwaZulu-Natal a few months ago and have continued because the perpetrators are sure that there will be no consequences for their criminal acts. They do not have any fear of the law in their hearts.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has issued a statement bemoaning the attacks and promising action.
The voice of the president on these matters is important but is meaningless. The communication that South Africa and the rest of Africa expect is one that provides proof that the government – through its law enforcement agencies – has acted forcefully, without fear or favour and implemented the law.
Criminals in shackles, in the dock, in court and in jail as a result of their unlawful acts is the only message that citizens want to hear. It is the only message that will drive the fear of the law into the hearts and minds of criminals. It is the only act that will stop the slow but definite slide towards anarchy.
Ramaphosa recently said the country he leads is facing the twin pandemics of Covid-19 and gender-based violence (GBV). He needs to redraft that line. This country faces the triple pandemics – Covid-19, GBV and lawlessness.
The arson attack on trucks is not the start of this anarchy but a continuance.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, known for his frankness, has spoken about the need for the government to stop the lawlessness that has crept into our society.
“People are breaking the law, and are doing so with impunity.
And here we’re not only talking about the high-profile criminal cases. It happens every day, and no one seems to be afraid of any kind of consequences.
The fear of the law has disappeared, and if not returned urgently, anarchy will reign.
Mboweni expressed concern about an extortion gang that operates in parts of South Africa, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. This gang has wreaked havoc in the construction industry. They just pitch at a construction site and demand that they be given a slice – anything up to 40% – of the contract. Just like that!
As a result of this criminal activity, many construction projects have come to a standstill, costing the economy millions and leading to loss of jobs in an economy that can ill-afford that.
The sad part is that this extortion gang has been in operation for well over two years, and the law enforcement agencies have done nothing. Zilch!
A few months ago, students at a University in KwaZulu-Natal, unhappy over some issues at the institution, set buildings on fire, causing damage that ran into millions of rand. It was not the first time they resorted to criminal acts to drive their grievances home. Nothing happened to the perpetrators.
Almost every protest witnessed in our country is accompanied by some form of violence, some kind of criminality.
The lawlessness in the trucking industry started a few months ago. Then local unemployed drivers, unhappy at being at home, demanded that long-haul truck drivers from neighbouring African countries must not be allowed to drive in this country so that they can get jobs.
In order to drive the point home, they illegally barricaded roads and set several trucks on fire. Again, damage running into millions was caused, and again, no one has been charged for these crimes.
A few weeks ago, a trucking company lost its contract to deliver coal to a mine, and the drivers blocked a major intersection in Mpumalanga in protest.
Taxi owners and drivers know that if they want to vent their anger towards the government, they can block our freeways and clog our cities, and there will be no consequences.
Some sections of the uMkhonto we Sizwe veterans have joined in on the act. They blocked roads in Johannesburg and Durban. Again, nothing happened.
Our trade unions are not exempt from this bad behaviour. Every time there is a strike – to highlight legitimate labour demands – it is accompanied by bold criminality.
Workers have driven rubbish trucks and municipal buses to block roads and cause mayhem. Ordinary people have been violently attacked on the streets. And nothing, if anything, has happened to those behind the violence.
Truth is these ugly scenes which were witnessed in South Africa are the culmination of a culture of no consequences that has been building for years. And it is not about to stop.
The destruction of property and the attacks on human beings are the direct consequences of a series of unconnected events, all sponsored by the abject and almost criminal failure by the law enforcement agencies to act against lawlessness.
This failure by the law enforcement agencies to act is partly because of corruption, and inability to do their jobs because of a lack of, among other things, training, as well fear that acting harshly, as they should under the law, would lead to political consequences.
When the police fail to act, that leads to the loss of credibility, the end of respect for the uniform and the beginning of anarchy.
So, the Finance Minister has given the law enforcement agencies a new set of teeth worth R2.4-billion to help them stop this culture of lawlessness dead in its tracks.
Fighting lawlessness in our streets, coupled with bringing to the courts the kingpins of state capture and those who looted the VBS Bank will go a long way in getting our economy to grow at the rate we dream of, so that it can create jobs and improve the lives of the poorest of the poor.
* Jovial Rantao is editor of The African Mirror.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.