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By Marizka Coetzer

Journalist


Criminal justice ‘falling apart’

The criminal justice system is failing South Africa as serious cases are being ignored and it is on the brink of collapse.


AfriForum’s private prosecution unit hosted a conference on the decline of the criminal justice system, with advocate Gerrie Nel and Dr Llewellyn Curlewis as keynote speakers.

Nel discussed various cases unresolved by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that were still dragging on years later, citing former director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams’ withdrawal of the criminal matter against Nomgcobo Jiba, former deputy national director of public prosecutions.

Nel said the head of the NPA, advocate Shamila Batohi, was prosecuting suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, but not Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula (against whom AfriForum laid criminal charges for alleged corruption), or Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader Julius Malema for the On Point matter.

“These are merely two of the politically driven decisions that the NPA has taken regarding prosecution.

“This points to the fact that the NPA is either dancing to their masters’ voice or don’t have the capacity or knowledge to prosecute cases of corruption,” Nel said.

According to criminal law expert Curlewis, the South African legal system was no longer an exemplar of the rule of law.

“The public conscience should revolt against corrupt politicians. Those responsible should pay dearly at the next election,” Curlewis said.

He said the combination of a weak legal system and corruption was not only economically debilitating, but was a death blow to political health.

“In my opinion, things appear to have fallen apart in the criminal courtrooms.

“Criminal trials have become a farce. It has very little to do with arriving at the truth and dispensing justice, but more with playing a game of chess politics. It brings the entire legal system into disrepute,” he added.

Prof Koos Malan said it was a fact that the police were understaffed, undertrained and undercommitted to their duty to fight crime.

“They grapple with high levels of corruption in their top ranks. Moreover, the administration is in a very bad state and they lack leadership in their highest ranks,” Malan said.

He added that in the face of a failing state, the police were simply absent.

He cited the “construction mafia”, the “mining mafia” and the recent plundering in KwaZulu-Natal.

He said South Africa has per capita the fourth-largest private security industry in the world as a result of the absence of the police.

“Unless there is active and resourceful intervention, things will not change. The police, SA National Defence Force and the NPA have lost skills to such an extent that it cannot be remedied.

“Looking to the state for a solution is looking in the wrong direction. No help will come from there,” he said.

Malan said the state was measured by whether it could provide safety and security for citizens.

“What we perceive to be the constitution, from a practical point of view, has already lapsed,” he said.

But the NPA denied the allegations that the justice system in SA was depleted. NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said they were resolute in ensuring accountability and ending impunity by prosecuting cases in collaboration with law enforcement.

“In respect of the Zuma case, the prosecution has always been ready to proceed but the defence has brought in applications that have delayed proceedings.”

On Magashule’s case, he said the issue of legal representation would be resolved this week. “So it cannot be true the system has collapsed.”

marizkac@citizen.co.za