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Opinion: Government does not know how to restore the rule of law

File Picture: IOL

File Picture: IOL

Published Sep 17, 2019


What is happening to South Africa? A country that prides itself on its liberal democratic Constitution, guaranteeing our rights and freedoms, seems to be turning its back on the rule of law.

Shocking scenes of people, legally in the country, panicking and leaving in fear of their lives, are reminiscent of the disgraceful way in which some were forced to flee from other African countries in the past. 

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South Africa needs foreigners legally here, who are skilled, who pay tax, who contribute towards our economy and create jobs. We do not need illegal immigrants, many of whom become part of the underworld. Saying that is not xenophobic. 

Our borders are too porous. Home Affairs is not effective. Our policing is poor, shot through with untrained policemen and some corrupt officers, while police intelligence seems to be failing at every turn.

The rule of law demands proper policing, effective law enforcement, swift justice processes, fair trials and punishment for those found guilty.

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The xenophobia cry is misleading. Those who loot, complain about being cheated by foreign businesses and violently chase people, are themselves criminals, using “foreigners” as a weak excuse to disguise their criminality. No one has to buy from a foreign-owned business. There are hundreds of competing businesses; support them.

The recent appalling looting spree in Johannesburg damaged South Africa’s reputation, wrecking our investment drive, our quest for foreign tourists and our economic prospects. 

While many criminals appear to be immune, they wage a crime war against citizens. The government seems not to know how to regain control and restore the rule of law. Crime statistics reveal that last year the number of murders was 21022: nearly 58 of our citizens are murdered every day. Thousands of women and children are brutally savaged. How many result in arrests? How many are convicted? How many are punished?

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People read the damning details of the vulgar, excessive lifestyle of EFF leader Julius Malema, funded, according to amaBhungane, by money stolen from the poor who invested in VBS Bank. One waits for criminal charges. If none follow, it will indicate one law for the political elite and another for the poor - the antithesis of the rule of law.

We see the undermining of our justice system by endless, fruitless appeals (often publicly funded) by people who should know better; we see failed wannabe aspirant judges of no particular merit and aspiring politicians smearing the judiciary without any hard facts, assisted by journalists in fact-free attacks against judges.

Top business people and professionals transgress and never seem to pay the price. Public officials and people at senior levels in state-owned enterprises steal, lie and loot and yet are never jailed. A former president who ought long ago to have been in jail, is funded by the government with our money, and carries on his storytelling about “spies” whom he appointed to his cabinet. The list is endless.

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We need the government to announce (again) that enough is enough - and mean it this time. It needs to commit itself, the country and every state agency to restoring the rule of law and then deliver on that commitment. Failure to do this will condemn our country to a slow slide towards a failed state like so many others in the Third World.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is

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