By Rhoda Kadalie
South Africa's criminal justice system is deeply flawed. In fact it stinks. To get a view close up, just sit in Cape Town's courts for two hours as I did last week and you will suddenly understand why people are robbed and killed daily.
A guy with ten previous convictions and a suspended sentence was given another 9-month suspended sentence and a warning that "that this is your last chance but if you commit another crime, you will sit."
Another serial offender, because of a botched investigation, gets off the hook and makes the sign of the cross as the magistrate dismisses him. Two African foreign nationals cannot be helped because the court translator speaks Swahili, even though that is not their language!
Bail is dished out right left and centre to fill the coffers of the justice department and to keep the already overflowing prisons from overflowing even more. Why not use this money to compensate victims? For magistrates crime prevention and crime control are of least importance.
Getting rid of the problem is the issue and this is made easy if there is no public scrutiny. And so those who rub shoulders with us in our daily lives are criminals on the loose. Conviction rates are low and recidivism rates high because offenders do not fear the law and thousands of those who commit crime are serial offenders.
So how did I come to be in court? On Wednesday 26th September between 6 and 8pm my laptop and additional computer equipment were stolen from my car parked in the underground secure parking in the Waterfront. There was no forced entry and I discovered this only when I got home.
Back at the police station in Table Bay Harbour, the police accompanied me to the scene of crime, next to the revolving entrance door in the parking lot. Above my car were two surveillance cameras but the police told me they could only view the footage the next day, as the cameras are the property of the Waterfront management. If they had they would have caught the offenders and retrieved my laptop.
The next day, the police viewed the footage and reported that they clearly saw a man and a woman in a taxi, who had obviously followed me, deactivated my alarm and removed the goods from my car.
While the police arrested the suspects the next day, the surveillance cameras in the Waterfront, one of Cape Town's premier tourist destinations, are obviously not manned because if they were they would have caught the suspects red-handed.
Secondly, the police station is not even linked to the Waterfront's security systems. Thirdly, the Waterfront's Security personnel on their bicycles are useless because little gangs operate in the Waterfront regularly preying on tourists.
I have subsequently heard countless stories from businesses in the Waterfront of how they are the perennial victims of crime. They obviously keep quiet about it so as not to scare shoppers from their businesses, but many are clearly unhappy. Surely, as a citizen I pay for security given that parking on that side of the Waterfront is the most expensive.
Although the Waterfront management apologised for the theft they do nothing to compensate, they don't even answer their information line. The worst thing about my case is that one of the suspects allegedly has several previous cases of theft against her name but was released on bail. The other suspect is still in custody pending a bail application.
But this is not just about my case. It points to a deeper malaise. Most of our murderers and rapists have prior criminal records and it is here where the media fails to hold the criminal justice system accountable.
We remain ignorant because we lack crime reporters as we had in the old days to keep a microscope on the findings of the courts and on the conviction rates. When judges, magistrates, prosecutors, investigating officers and detectives know their work is hidden from public gaze, they too become a law unto themselves and unaccountable as I witnessed in court.
This gross dereliction of duty has tragic consequences. The Claremont mother of a two-year old, Anzunette Du Plessis, aged 33, was brutally killed on Thursday by three men who wanted her belongings. They killed her because they wanted laptops, television sets, and cell phones - often viewed as petty crime. Olwyn Cowley, aged 21, was brutally killed by men who wanted his BMW. One of the suspects had a previous conviction but was out on parole. I rest my case!
This article first appeared in Die Burger. - (See Afrikaans article: Straf nie meer reg uitgedeel)
Sourced from Politics Web