Since one of the main duties of the South African Police Service is to provide protection to South Africans, can the police be held accountable for crimes committed against each and every citizen?
This is the vexed question that singularly preoccupies Krugersdorp businessman Byron Gerber, a crime victim who unsuccessfully sued the Minister of Safety and Security for R5,6 million damages last week.
Gerber sought relief after he was seriously injured in an armed robbery at his home. He claimed in court papers that the police had neglected their duty in terms of the Constitution and Police Act to protect the life, limb and property of every citizen
.Dismissing his claim, Judge Ntsikelelo Poswa conceded there was rampant crime in the country but ruled that Gerber had not cited any specific police officials in his claim.
We respect that ruling.
But the question arises: when should police be held liable for failing to protect life, limb and property?
Other than in specific cases, such as a death in police custody, can victims hold police accountable - in terms of the Constitution - for crimes where no particular officer could be fingered for negligence or omission?
These are the questions that many a crime victim would have grappled with - and might still do - while contemplating redress to their situation.
Surely it is not unreasonable for South African citizens to expect the police to carry out their duties of protecting life and limb without fail. But is the right to security for every citizen enforceable without limitations?
While Gerber vows to continue seeking relief from the courts to resolve these questions, the floodgates stand in readiness in case he finally succeeds in testing the limits of our Constitution.
If victorious, a precedent will surely have been set to encourage other victims of crime to claim for damages from the upholders of law and order.
Most importantly, the defining moment would definitively force the tide to turn against crime.