Ramaphosa-administration’s stance on hard labour and death sentences for offenders, at odds with Constitution

Issued by Glynnis Breytenbach MP – DA Shadow Minister of Justice
02 Dec 2019 in News

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes with concern President Cyril Ramaphosa’s comments on Sunday at the funeral of the tragically slain Precious Ramabulana.  

The President is reported to have said that “government would work to change the justice system to ensure that people convicted of crimes against women and children remain behind bars for life and under the harshest conditions.”  He went on to state that “they should not be in jail and enjoy life there, they should be subjected to hard labour – the harshest of labour.”

He is further reported to have said: “we must now have an active record of all those who are either found guilty or who have had a brush with the law on crimes against women and children.”  Yet it is his party’s government who have taken since 2007 to get the National Register of Sex Offenders up and running, and there are still no guarantees that it is either complete or accurate. 

His comments follow similar utterances by the Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, who suggested that Cabinet would discuss the return of the death sentence, and later made outrageous suggestions regarding bail for sex offenders.

One wonders who advises the Minister to encourage him making such statements.  It also brings into question whether or not the President and the Minister have come to grips with a Constitutional democracy and just how it works. These types of statements are unfortunate, emotional and coming from the President of a Constitutional democracy, frankly deeply disappointing. It is cheap talk, speaking to placate the general population, but which can never be delivered.  The tragedy which befell Precious Ramabulana happens all too often in South Africa, and now, on an almost weekly basis. 

Gender based violence (GBV) is rampant, and we all need to work together to put an end to it.  It is a complex issue and will require a multi-faceted approach to begin to address this serious problem.  The DA is committed to do all in its power to deal with GBV and all its facets in the most effective way possible.

This will, unfortunately, require a much more comprehensive approach than the frankly unconstitutional suggestions offered by President Ramaphosa.  It will also require a lot of hard work and commitment, and the political will to address the problem. The South African prison system is severely compromised, again largely thanks to the ANC / Bosasa coalition.  There is no hope of rehabilitation for offenders of any nature and increasing sentences and then throwing away the key is no solution to what is largely a societal and socio-economic problem. To suggest that hard labour or the death sentence will solve the problem is to bury one’s head in the sand, and the President will have to do so much better if we are to begin to solve the problem of GBV. 

 The government will have to stop the looting, and then put the taxpayers’ money where their mouth is, and spend money on solving the problem, including recapacitating the entire criminal justice system. We can never begin to address the scourge of GBV when the President makes simplistic statements off the cuff with no regard for the Constitution or the real, underlying causes of this massive, complex problem.