Opinionista Michael Fridjhon 4 October 2017

South Africa: The Rambo Nation

The collapse of the criminal justice system has turned us into the Rambo Nation. There’s little reason to be compliant when there’s growing evidence that fewer and fewer of our fellow citizens feel any compelling need to engage in this essential social contract.

A few mornings ago I watched four vehicles – of which only one was a minibus taxi – turn left into an intersection after the traffic light had changed to red. The other three cars were driven by citizens who until recently would have decried the way taxis hijack the roads without any care for other users – drivers or pedestrians. Not very long ago I watched a municipal bus driver barrel down a lane reserved for oncoming traffic, a strategy frequently used by taxi drivers in the morning rush hour. I assumed he was a former taxi driver who had taken up a position with Metrobus because he wanted more regular hours. (Incidentally, I sent a photograph of this interesting traffic infringement to the DA councillor responsible for traffic management. I am waiting – though hardly with bated breath – for news that the driver has been fired and prosecuted).

There are some roads – mainly major arterials – which I drive regularly in early morning rush hour. Just after the traffic has peaked the JMPD arrives and hangs around. Sometimes a few officers try their luck at directing traffic – which usually makes matters worse. Generally they stand about ignoring vehicles (in this case mainly taxis) running a red light next to a slip road. I’ve never seen them stop anyone for this kind of infringement – which is rather more dangerous than whatever they mount their often illegal roadblocks for – and I’ve never seen them pull anyone over for blocking an intersection once the lights have turned red, leaving all the roads gridlocked.

Gauteng drivers must have noticed that the lawlessness on the roads has become more widespread in the past year. This may be a function of the roadworks on the M1 – which has pushed an extraordinary traffic burden onto suburban roads which were never designed to manage these volumes. It might also be because the JMPD is predictably absent from places where they might have to get involved. Their distinctively marked cars are generally to be found tucked around the corner at an off-ramp while a couple of out-of-condition cops lurk trying to catch motorists talking on their cellphones. There’s certainly no risk of coming across a JMPD officer in the vicinity of a broken traffic light – or anywhere else where a little management would usefully ease congestion.

Nothing much has changed when it comes to measuring the inactivity of the SAPS – and this poses the question of why things are markedly worse now than a few years back? It may very well be the result of the culture of impunity which has contaminated our country through the example of Zuma and his cronies. Whether it’s lies about the “fire-pool” at Nkandla, Stalingrad tactics over the 783 corruption charges or the ringing silence which followed the revelations of the #GuptaLeaks, it’s clear that the law is an ass at the taxidermist.

The NPA and the Hawks sit on their hands when it comes to the big business of the day, but even lesser cops conveniently managed to “lose” the documentation around the collision in which Duduzane Zuma’s Porsche crashed into a minibus taxi, leading to the death of two of the passengers. A get-out-of-jail pass is freely available for patrons of the Saxonwold Shebeen; others must simply dig a little into their pockets to make things go away.

The Rolex gang still roams the streets – and a recent video showing them in action at an Illovo filling station has sparked outrage – but it has also not produced any arrests. Someone I know who was a bystander at one of their robberies and recorded the vehicle details and then shared this information with the investigating officer (together with a Google Earth picture of the address of its registered owner) was visited at home one evening by the cop in charge of the case and left in no doubt that amateur detective work was not to be encouraged. Our hitmen – as a recently released book by Mark Shaw explains – enjoy richly deserved notoriety: it’s one of the growth professions in the current recession.

The collapse of the criminal justice system has turned us into the Rambo Nation. There’s little reason to be compliant when there’s growing evidence that fewer and fewer of our fellow citizens feel any compelling need to engage in this essentially social contract. Without much fear of criminal prosecution, the only real motivation to avoid the charms of lawlessness is the recognition that once this social code is breached, we’ve reneged on a centuries-old deal which is part of the warp and the weft of what we call civilisation. This is not a “your culture/my culture” debate – it’s about whether or not the bonds which determine that we are a society (rather than a Blade-runneresque dystopia) can hold in the midst of the centrifugal maelstrom in which we find ourselves.

Given the rate at which things are falling apart, it’s evident we are running out of time. Forget about downgrades, #GuptaLeaks and elective conferences. If we don’t address what is happening, it’s only a matter of time before the kind of widespread looting which follows a natural disaster will become a norm. If the law cannot hold, lawlessness followed by martial law (replete with its own abuses) is what awaits us – and it’s just around the corner. DM


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