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South Africa’s demise is enabled by rot from the top,...

Defend Truth


The full slight of the law: South Africa’s demise is enabled by rot from the top, police inertia and ceaseless tides of violence


Judith February is executive officer: Freedom Under Law. She writes in her personal capacity.

What do we all do with this gaping wound of violence oozing its toxins into our communities?

we carry death
in a thousand cleaving spectres
we carry death

it latches its mouth to our heart
it sucks groaningly
how averse lures the light on our skin
it knows
our people carry death
it resembles ourselves
our stomachs wash black with it
a pouch of ink
we carry death into the houses
and a language without mercy
suddenly everything smells of violence

death snaps its relentless valves in our language
yes, indefatigable meticulous death – Country of grief and grace by Antjie Krog

On Tuesday morning, a security guard is filmed writhing in the parking lot of a Philippi school. He is wailing and gurgling. It is the guttural sound of deep grief.

It is barely 8am and he has witnessed a teacher at Heinz Park Primary, Philippi, Mr Thulani Manqoyi, being shot dead in the school parking lot. 

There were children in the school playground at the time and teachers reporting for duty as they would on any ordinary Tuesday morning. On this day, however, two armed men overpowered the security guard, calmly walked into the parking lot, and shot the teacher while he was still in his car. They left the scene of the crime, the report says. Did they run; one wonders? Or did they wander off casually, confident that they would not be caught? 

Western Cape Education MEC, Debbie Schafer called it a “senseless tragedy”. A local community activist described the community’s shock and distress. He called on government to act. We are inured to these words. The government rarely acts and ‘senseless tragedies’ are forgotten all too soon for ‘we carry death in a thousand cleaving spectres’ in this country. 

The school remains closed and no one has been arrested at the time of writing. 

Screeds have been written about the reform needed within the Police Service, the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele himself is big on talk but mostly a parody of a minister whom no one takes seriously. 

When the latest crime statistics were released in August, there was a debate about whether crime had decreased or increased and whether one could draw meaningful comparisons between 2020 and 2021, given the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Statistics are obviously important but really one is splitting hairs given that South Africa’s murder rate is about six times the global average. Simply put, no one is safe anywhere. 

Recent Afrobarometer findings show trust in public institutions is at an all-time low. Around 24% of those surveyed said they had to pay a bribe to avoid trouble with the police and 15% said they had to pay a bribe to obtain police assistance. The system is rotten to its very core. In a country that values human life, any police minister would have been shown the door by now. Instead, Cele retains his position. The President needs Cele’s support, we are told. And so our safety becomes another casualty of internal ANC factionalism and dysfunction. 

The antecedents to violence in South Africa are many. Violence has always marked the landscape. It stalks the land, in townships, hostels, and suburbs. It finds expression in the violence the state visits on people daily through poverty and a lack of care and respect. Michael Komape’s parents can bear witness as their son drowned in his own faeces in a pit latrine toilet. The families of the Life Esidimeni victims understand this violence too as they wait for justice from a cruel and heartless state. 

But the violence also finds expression in the lack of accountability by those in power. 

This week we heard former president Jacob Zuma contend that his human rights have been violated following his prison sentence for contempt of court. Despite allegedly wanting his ‘day in court’, Zuma has engaged in all manner of “litigious skulduggery” to evade accountability. The ANC itself has enabled and facilitated Jacob Zuma’s assault on our constitutional democracy repeatedly. Is it any wonder that Zuma, now on medical parole, believes that he is above the law? Releasing Zuma was a cynical act by the National Commissioner of Correctional Services, Arthur Fraser whose contract is due to end in a matter of days now. 

South Africans may therefore be justified in thinking that if one ensures enough violence and mayhem, eventually one’s political friends will find a way out of the sticky legal situation. Given that Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was released on medical parole and seen on the golf course not long thereafter, it is unsurprising that South Africans are sceptical of Zuma’s sudden and possibly “terminal illness”.  

In the same vein, the Speaker of Parliament, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has escaped the scrutiny of a Parliamentary inquiry into allegations that she received bribes and other benefits worth more than R5-million via defence contracts. Former health minister, Zweli Mkhize has been the subject of an SIU investigation in the Digital Vibes matter at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. President Ramaphosa has been seized with the SIU Report since July. 

The governing ANC is imploding; it is incapable of registering candidates for the local government election on time and cannot pay its staff. The party, adrift from its ethical moorings, deeply divided and cannibalising itself, can provide neither leadership nor ethical and capable government. To the ANC accountability means shifting someone like Mapisa-Nqakula from cabinet to the powerful position of Speaker. 

Recently, when speaking of the July “insurrectionists” (his lexicon), Ramaphosa told us “we know who they are”. Yet, those who planned the insurrection still walk freely amongst us. During the frightening violence of July we understood too that we are entirely alone as police either enabled the looting and mayhem or stood watching passively as billions were wiped off the economy and infrastructure was destroyed. This is a society where criminals wander around unfettered and where words like “full might of the law” are rendered meaningless by a compromised, weak and incapable state 

There is a direct linkage between the lack of accountability by the powerful and those who exploit the broken state to loot or commit murder in broad daylight. 

This country of no consequence demands much from those who live in it. What do the school children, teachers and Mitchells Plain community do with the collective trauma of losing their colleague in a cold-blooded murder? What does the family of the murdered man do with their trauma after the platitudes have been spoken? 

What do we all do with this gaping wound of violence oozing its toxins into our communities? What do we do with the wailing security guard, and how can we say tomorrow will be different? DM


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  • Thank you for putting into words how the average citizen of this country feels.
    You ask the question “what can we do?”
    We can vote for a political party who can regain our once proud reputation and enlist support, encouragement and expertise from the civilized world. A party who has the long term interests for all South Africans not just the short term opportunity to steal and plunder. A party who can actually deliver on its promises. A party who will employ those with experience and knowledge not just based on the colour of ones skin nor because he or she is a family member or friend. A party who shows empathy, kindness and truly desires the upliftment of the previously disadvantaged. A party that sees education as vital in this endeavor. A party that is Democratic and understands the benefits of Capitalism as a way to afford social benefits for all. It is our only option……

      • But the black masses will vote ANC, not because they trust or believe in them, but they mistrust being ruled by a white dominated party, because of the racial outpourings of people like Malema, Zuma, Magushule, and other black politicians whose only relevance is based solely on their racial outpourings and untruths. Sadly, there is no other “democratic” black political party big or strong enough to compete with the ANC. The Democratic Party have really missed a trick by not reviewing and changing their public image. Great administrators they may be, but as long as they are viewed by the masses as a “white party” they will forever just be “the opposition.”

    • Given politics and governance systems globally, and their systemic entanglement with capitalism (NOT a proper noun), it seems we’re doomed unless (just maybe) we work with civil society whilst always holding it accountable.

    • Which party is that? The party which abandoned any attempt to appeal to black voters, dismissing the Maimane years as an ‘experiment’? The party that was once centrist, driven to the right by a woman who would sooner destroy SA’s only viable opposition than admit she was wrong? The party filled with matriculants posing as experts? The party funded and controlled by wealthy elites who prioritise their interests above the future viability of SA? The DA is the NP is the past, clinging on and refusing to accept reality. The DA is the party for people who call grown adults ‘garden boys’ and ‘maids’. The party for those who fail to see how their atrophied apartheid era racism diminishes them, as apartheid diminished all of us.

      You capitalise capitalism, and call the colonial masters ‘civilised’, so I guess you don’t see any of that.

        • I concur with some of what Jeremy espouses but certainly not all. However, the DA has been a disappointment in recent times and, as long as it continues to give licence to Ms Zille to do/say as she pleases, more and more voters will look elsewhere.
          Just my opinion!!

          • Agreed there are faults all round but let it be said that anything at this stage is better than the ANC/EFF. Unfortunately the ANC can’t be kicked out because this country would be in flames from one end to the other.

  • We are all drowning in the rot and sadly there is no bottom. We can turn a blind eye to it, totally ignore it, endure it or escape it – but changing it, for now at least, appears beyond comprehension.

  • Ms February puts so eloquently the totality of the totally abased, corrupt, self-serving, venality of the ANC in power. Yet there cannot be a sentient, thinking South African who is NOT aware of this, yet somehow, the same self-serving corrupt, amoral and contemptuous lot get elected back into power.

    Are South Africans so cowed and afraid of stepping out of this ANC-induced miasma, that they just like lemmings, mindlessly tick the ANC box come election time?

    I know that our “education” has been dumbed down to a level that positively discourages thinking, but surely even sheep know when they are being led to the abattoir?

  • We all know that our President ducked the issue of holding the insurrectionists to account for the orgy of destruction and violence that occurred in July, however the full analysis of what this means for our country has either been glossed over or plain ignored. Our President put the holding of the ANC together, unity, above arresting the culprits. We need to think deeply what this means for the upcoming elections.

    If the country can be ripped to shreds when a section of the ANC – and it is a mistake to think the insurrectionists were exclusively Zulu – can so easily resort to terrible violence when they might not just be arrested, but kept away from the ANC-cadre feeding trough, imagine the orgy of nihilist total destruction that would result from THE WHOLE of the ANC being denied access to the corruption?

    By totally failing in their constitutional, legal and moral responsibility to hold the looters to account (echoed of course in the farce of the Zuma “health” debacle that is making a mockery of justice and accountability), our Government would have us believe that they would all just walk away from the levers of power?

    No; what they are in effect saying is vote for the same corrupt ANC, or see our country REALLY go up in flames.

    • Agree 100%. CR can’t do anything about the insurrectionists without destroying the ANC, and that he won’t do at any cost. I one said to someone that CR is like a black John Vorster – led around by the nose and unable to think for himself.

  • But the black masses will vote ANC, not because they trust or believe in them, but they mistrust being ruled by a white dominated party, because of the racial outpourings of people like Malema, Zuma, Magushule, and other black politicians whose only relevance is based solely on their racial outpourings and untruths. Sadly, there is no other “democratic” black political party big or strong enough to compete with the ANC. The Democratic Party have really missed a trick by not reviewing and changing their public image. Great administrators they may be, but as long as they are viewed by the masses as a “white party” they will forever just be “the opposition.”

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