Jovial Rantau, deputy editor of the Star. 131106. Picture: Chris Collingridge

Two major unrelated events in the criminal justice system should give us hope and confidence in the system, writes Jovial Rantao.

 

Two major unrelated events in the criminal justice system – both of them involving prominent personalities – should give us hope and confidence in the system.

The unrelated events involve major decisions taken in relation to international athletics superstar Oscar Pistorius and national police commissioner Riah Phiyega.

Pistorius was sensationally acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14 last year. Pistorius was convicted on a lesser charge of culpable homicide. His biggest battle now is how he stays out of prison because, while he has been convicted of a charge inferior to murder, it carries a prison sentence.

Phiyega, on the other, has been under criminal investigations for the past few months. The National Prosecutions Authority(NPA) has announced that it has decided not to charge Phiyega, the police boss, following serious allegations that she had defeated the ends of justice.

Let’s deal with Pistorius first.

Interest in his matter has been unprecedented. A major part of the interest was sparked by curiosity on whether or not Pistorius would be treated by our courts, as he should, like other ordinary South Africans who find themselves in conflict with the law.

The interest in the matter was higher than normal because we have seen, far too many times how people with connections and resources dubiously escape the wrath of the law or buy their way out of trouble.

Debate has been raging, since Thursday, throughout South Africa and the world, over the verdict reached by Judge Thokozile Masipa and her two assessors.

However, what should give all us hope is that Pistorius, who had committed a major crime, was arrested, brought to court and made to account for his actions. The correctness or the lack thereof, of the decision by the courts is a separate matter which should be debated by all.

What should be a source of hope and confidence is that when a crime happened at dawn on Valentine’s Day 2013, the police and the rest of the criminal justice system swung into action, in pursuit of justice

It did not matter to them that the suspect in the criminal act was a famous athlete and idol to many.

It would have been easy for the local cops, who were first on the scene, to do their famous neighbour a favour and allow him to get away with murder. But they didn’t. Questions have been asked about the conduct of the original investigating officer Hilton Botha, who has now resigned, but the officers subsequently attached to this case have executed their tasks professionally and diligently.

While the SAPS officers were busy in court, helping the NPA to prosecute Pistorius, their own boss, Phiyega, was the subject of an investigation.

Again, it would have been easy for the officers who originally investigated the national police commissioner to be intimidated or to be inclined to do unsolicited favours.

They didn’t.

To her credit, the national police commissioner did not attempt to kill the investigation or intimidate her subordinates. There’s everything right with our system when a police boss can be investigated by her underlings and the matter reaches conclusion without an attempt to interfere, in any manner.

Phiyega was probed as part of an investigation into fraud and racketeering activities involving four top cops in the Western Cape and a local businessman.

Her subordinates, who include Western Cape police commissioner Lieutenant-General Arno Lamoer, are expected to face charges of fraud and racketeering. It is important to note that these top cops are not guilty of any crime and that they will get a chance, like Oscar, to disprove the prosecution’s case against them.

Phiyega drew the interest of detectives when she, in a recorded conversation, appeared to tip off Lamoer about the investigation into his alleged activities.

After the police sleuths had completed their investigations into Phiyega, the docket was then referred to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

This institution, now headed by Robert McBride, conducted their own investigations and referred the matter to the NPA for a decision. The NPA declined to prosecute. That decision, I’m sure, will also spark a fair amount of debate.

These developments are quite important because they drive home the crucial principle that all South Africans, irrespective of their profile and positions that they hold, are equal before the law.

 

* Rantao is the editor of the Sunday Independent

Sunday Independent