liberals have lost the plot

HE ISSUE of violent crime and punishment in South Africa is vexed. Vicious, violent criminals are perennially with us, while their punishment, if any at all and if visible, is typical of that of a Sissy State.

It amounts to nothing. There is not even a life sentence in South Africa, despite the magisterial tones of judges proclaiming the same.

In fact, South Africa has more rehabilitation, reformation and correction than retribution. Hence our so-called correctional centres.

Our penal code (and its enforcers) seem to hold the view that violent and vicious murderers can and will be redeemed to live normal lives as good citizens after serving out their sentences. This view is prevalent in officialdom despite evidence to the contrary.

Our Sissy State continues merrily in its self-delusion regardless of the absence of facts to support its viewpoint. Luminaries such as Ngconde Balfour, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngcakula, Kader Asmal and a host of their pusillanimous peers - let alone several bleeding-heart liberals - continue to give the lie to this silly penal code born of sillier constitutional clauses.

These sentimentalists continue to praise our Constitution as if it is an infallible document, which it is not. Our rulers, having listened attentively to our sages Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, George Bizos and other starry-eyed European liberals, now denounce the concept of retribution in judicial decisions, especially with regard to capital punishment.

This past December we witnessed, as we often do, an orgy of cold-blooded killings of innocents in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, North West and so on.

The dead included a three-year-old child, whose mutilated body was found dumped in a toilet. The ritual murderers had ripped off her body parts and removed some to pursue their diabolical "culture" of muti practice to make them wealthy.

Shouldn't the death penalty be appropriate court sentences for premeditated killing?

I can hear a howl of protests from the bleeding hearts, constitutionalists and other protesters bruiting "NO, NO, NO! Capital punishment is barbaric, uncivilised and is state-sanctioned murder!"

Well, I have a few questions for our sob-masters and sob-mistresses:

If the death penalty for vicious murderers is "state-sanctioned murder, then isn't state imprisonment for murderers, rapists, child molesters, drug-dealers and hijackers state-sanctioned kidnapping? Is state taxation on consumer goods not state-sanctioned theft?

Biblicists, such as the good Arch, would say "Thou shalt not kill". But "Thou shalt not kill" obviously means "Thou shalt not murder".

Indeed, a few passages after that commandment is given, there is a verse affirming that a murderer forfeits his own right to life!

We all know that some killings are morally and legally justified, even by a state such as ours. For instance, in a just war or in self-defence nearly all agree to it.

If the state has the moral right to authorise its citizens to wage war against, say, Hitler, then the state also has the moral right to authorise the judicial execution of the sadistic murderers that abound in our country today.

By the way: why arm SAPS and SANDF officers with lethal weapons instead of rose petals? "Constitutionalists" who say the death penalty is unconstitutional are simply begging the question. Of course they felt bolstered by the Constitutional Court when it ruled that some section of the Criminal Procedure Act violates Chapter 2, especially Sections 10 and 11 of our basic law, and was thus unconstitutional. Section 10 refers to "human dignity", while Section 11 says "Everyone has the right to life".

But clearly this is not a self-contained, elastic right immune from the implications of the clauses of the constitution such as the "Limitation of rights" - Section 36 (1). Let us examine the "everyone has the right to life" stuff. This is a trite statement. The right to life is overridden virtually every day. For instance:

lViolent criminals regularly reduce the lives of others to nothingness;

lPolice regularly shoot dead armed, violent criminals ;

lSoldiers go to war and shoot dead their enemies; and

lA person committing suicide by himself illustrates the triteness of that right. (Incidentally, you do not kill someone trying to commit suicide. If you are a lunatic and you do shoot him you would be helping him accomplish his desire, while you get arrested for murder!)

When life itself is limited how can that right be unlimited? To suggest that this right is sacred or absolute is as ridiculous as to say, for instance, that Section 16 (1) "everyone has the right to freedom of expression" is absolute.

Try yelling "Fire!" in a crowded cinema when there is no fire, or during an airplane flight, that you are carrying a bomb when you are not, and see what happens.

If you think the "right to freedom of movement" granted by Section 21 (1) is unlimited please test the unlimitedness of that right by walking straight into the president's office or the file room of the inspector-general of intelligence or a banker's vault. A reality check will expose the limitations of those rights. The point is that all these rights are limited.

When someone rapes and murders a child, which happens often, these murderers have relinquished their right to live. They have no rights that a reasonable person is constrained to respect.

The death penalty in such a case is a justifiable act of retribution and demonstrates that society and the legal system are genuinely dedicated to preserving and protecting the rights and the safety of the people.

My sympathies would be with death-penalty opponents who argue that the criminal justice system is so incompetent and dysfunctional that we are likely to execute an innocent person. But stringent and rigorous measures can and should be taken to minimise miscarriages of justice.

Nowhere in this piece have I used the word "deterrence" in advocating the death sentence, because deterrence is not the issue. Retribution is. Retribution in itself is deterrence. The executed monster has been permanently precluded from committing further depredations. Anyone deliberately following in the footsteps of the monster would suffer the same fate.

We need such a penal code.

lThe writer is a member of the Graduate School of Business Leadership (Unisa)