Narend Singh.

Opinion - At the onset, one might think that the debate on capital punishment - better known as the death penalty in South Africa - has been laid to rest. Let sleeping dogs lie they say.

However, as a political party, it is our duty to bring to the fore the issues and discussions of our constituents, those we represent, to Parliament. The IFP, in true representative form, believes that engaging the public on this pertinent matter would bear fruit.

It has just been over 23 years since the death penalty was abolished in South Africa by the Constitutional Court in its unanimous judgment handed down in the matter of State v Makwanyane and Mchunu in 1995. 

At the time of the judgment, South Africa had just emerged from its brutal apartheid past into a new democracy with a Constitution and Bill of Rights applicable to all.

In his judgment, Justice Chaskalson stated that “It would no doubt have been better if the framers of the Constitution had stated specifically, either that the death sentence is not a competent penalty, or that it is permissible in circumstances sanctioned by law. 

"This, however, was not done and it has been left to this Court to decide whether the penalty is consistent with the provisions of the Constitution. That is the extent and limit of the Court’s power in this case”.

Note must also be taken that the court in its judgment did not invalidate the death penalty for the crime of treason during wartime.

We are now 24 years into our democracy and whilst there may be some debate in respect of actual crime statistics in respect of murder, rape and aggravated robbery and those that are reported by the SAPS, I think we can all agree that violent crime remains out of control in South Africa and that current deterrents to such crime are ineffective.

South Africans do not feel safe, and one must look at the burgeoning private security industry in this country to confirm the truth of this fact.

Given that circumstances change and that our Constitution, which is referred to as a “living document” and should therefore be capable of adapting to changes and developments in the country, and given that the Constitutional Court itself has stated in the above seminal case on the death penalty that the Constitution has not expressly declared itself on the issue of “whether the death sentence is permissible in circumstances sanctioned by law”.

The IFP requested that this matter be placed before the Constitutional Review Committee for further public consultation as to whether or not the death penalty should be reinstated in our country.

All South Africans are extremely concerned about crime and how it affects our livelihood, our families and our personal safety. We are also concerned about foreign direct investment, conducting business in an unsafe society and corporate crimes. 

In respect of current punishment handed down by our courts that do not seem to be strong enough deterrents to criminal activity - we are of the view, and so are many South Africans that the punishment should fit the crime.

The levels of violent crimes in our country have sky-rocketed. Heinous acts of murder, attempted murder, rape, assault with intent to do serious bodily harm, common and indecent assault, street muggings, car hijackings and house break-ins, aggravated robberies and the likes, characterise public perception about crime.

There is an ever-growing fear of crime and perceptions of the increased vulnerability of our citizens. What are we doing to address these fears and perceptions?

Polling data and focus group research in our country shows that a considerable percentage of South Africans want the death penalty brought back.

Opposition research and counter arguments would generally say it is not a deterrent to crime. However, what is most effective then? As a representative political party, we are duty-bound to raise matters of national public importance. We are focused on finding solutions, and South Africans are good at finding alternatives together.

It is widely accepted that there should be consequences for criminal wrongdoing and that most convicted persons should have a sanction imposed on them. The nature of this sanction is, however, a complex issue that requires careful consideration.

As the IFP, we are saying to South Africans, let’s have a discussion on this issue and through the process of discourse on the matter, determine a way forward. We cannot ignore our people when they clearly have a strong opinion on a matter. Just as significant as the Land issue, crime is a societal problem which must be addressed by the people.

No amount of police-speak or hard talk, or even calling on the South African Defence Force to be deployed to crime and gangster-ridden areas will address the issue. Society must be allowed to air their views, and be heard. Solutions are found in this way. The more we debate the merits of an argument or the demerits thereof, we will conclude with a sensible solution.

The effectiveness of imprisonment as a sanction has always been the subject of debate. Let’s debate the polar opposite too.

The country has been marred by violent attacks on women in recent months. The most notable one is that of Karabo Mokoena, who was killed and burnt by her boyfriend, Sandile Mantsoe. He is currently serving 32 years behind bars after admitting to putting petrol on Mokoena’s body and setting it alight. In a case like this, should the sentence not be more befitting of the crime?

Are we doing enough to stop or at least deter criminals, thugs and murderers from these crimes?

When society speaks - political parties, policy makers, lawyers, experts and analysts should listen. Let us not ignore the sentiments of our people in the hope of some miraculous solution, let’s talk about what is currently on the table and what has not been thought about yet. The IFP will ensure that this matter is, therefore, brought before the national discourse for public debate.

I have been fielding a number of interviews, debates and receiving comments on this issue. Let’s get South Africa talking

* Narend Singh MP is the Chief Whip of the Inkatha Freedom Party in Parliament.