Opinionista Herman Mashaba 20 April 2018

Killing of cops means the death of the rule of law

What kind of society have we become where those who would enforce our laws and keep our communities safe, are killed without so much as an ounce of outrage about it?

I have been mayor of the City of Johannesburg for 20 months now and, in that time, nothing has hurt me more than having to say goodbye to our men and women in uniform who were killed in the line of duty.

This year alone, we have lost five Johannesburg Metro Police Department officers.

These men and women were not merely officers tasked with enforcing the law. To their families, they were so much more. They were brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles.

They were friends and confidants.

They were upstanding members of the community who chose a career that entailed spending long hours away from their loved ones in order to keep the rest of us safe.

Many were breadwinners as well.

Their untimely departures are a tragic reminder that somewhere in the City of Johannesburg, and elsewhere in our province and country, there are families who are staring hunger and uncertainty in the face as a result of the actions of a few criminal elements.

It is not lost on me that many of our law enforcement officers throughout South Africa, including JMPD officers, sometimes have to conduct their work in the most dangerous of situations.

Since the inception of the JMPD in 2001, the city has lost 47 officers. In that time, the only year we did not lose an officer was 2009.

How I wish we could have more years like 2009.

Sadly, we are forced to gather again and again in remembrance of dedicated law enforcement officers who are brutally murdered by criminals whose thirst for mayhem seemingly knows no bounds.

When tragedies like this happen, I am often forced to reflect on the environment we work in.

What kind of society have we become where those who would enforce our laws and keep our communities safe, are killed in such a manner?

What kind of society have we become to tolerate such terrible crimes without so much as an ounce of outrage?

Across South Africa, reports of officers losing their lives while protecting residents are commonplace.

The reality of our situation, both in South Africa and this city, is that we have become numb; we have become numb and tolerant of the lawlessness we witness daily throughout our city and the rest of South Africa.

So far this year, five of our colleagues in the JMPD have been slaughtered without as much as a word of outrage.

I ask myself, where are the protests on the streets?

Where are the angry callers to the many morning radio talk shows?

Where are the threats of court action, the calls for commissions of inquiry as well as the parliamentary probes we have become so accustomed to?

It is sad that the tragic death last week of Inspector Ayanda Zulu, a wife and mother to four children as well as those of her fellow JMPD officers who died early this year, was met with complete silence.

I often wonder whether, as a nation, we truly understand the implications of the ongoing killings of our law enforcement officers on the psyche of our country as well as its people.

We are a people held captive by fear; fear of being attacked in our homes, our workplaces and even our churches.

We fear criminals and they, in turn, fear nothing and no one.

How do I know this, you may ask? Well, they kill our police with gay abandon but we say and do nothing.

Yes, law enforcement is a calling but it is also a career option; a vital one at that for any country. So if we allow these killings to continue unabated, are we not running the risk of turning away future generations of law enforcement officers from pursuing this option and keeping us safe, in the process?

Our officers are the first line of defence when we are under attack from criminals. If they can be killed as senselessly as they are currently, without any meaningful action on our behalf as authorities and society at large, that can only mean that we are next in line to be slaughtered.

One could be mistaken for thinking that South Africans no longer recognise the sanctity of human life.

I am concerned for my country.

I am very concerned about the complete, and possibly irreparable, breakdown of the rule of law in South Africa.

Experts in matters of statehood and their continued success frequently warn that one of the best indicators of a state’s ongoing viability is the maintenance of the rule of law.

These experts tell us that if you want to destroy a country and render it completely unviable and set it on a path to the ranks of a failed state, destroy the rule of law.

While South Africa is far from being a failed state, it is not entirely impossible that we could one day find ourselves fitting the description of such a state, particularly at the rate at which we are going.

It may seem alarmist and overly dramatic to suggest this but what conclusion is one expected to arrive at when men can walk up to an officer of the law, not under the cover of darkness but in broad morning light, and brazenly snatch away her life in so violent a manner?

These are the signs of a nation that is fast being overrun with people who have lost appreciation for the value of life and the African value of uBuntu-Botho.

Forgive me but I must drive this point home.

I have read extensively on this matter and every bit of literature on this subject instructs us that if we are to avoid falling into the ranks of failed states, the rule of law must prevail.

The rule of law is the difference between prosperous nations and those that frequently teeter on the brink of collapse. These are the countries in which every democratic institution has been run down to serve the interests of corrupt politicians.

We must not be that country. DM

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