READER LETTERS | Certainty, not severity of punishment, is a deterrent
A call to bring back the death sentence in SA (DD Feb 5) refers.
Professor Mncedisi Jordan quotes from Exodus 21 ("An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life"). Read in context, it is a call for restorative justice, not for retribution.
Humans are known for overreacting and thus creating an increasingly vicious cycle of vengeance and retribution.
When impartial courts allow plaintiffs no more than restoration to their previous situation, this cycle is stopped before it starts.
Plaintiffs are also restricted to claiming restoration from the person(s) who have wronged them. Whether the offence is trivial or serious, the punishment must fit the crime and only the perpetrator(s) held liable.
Strictly applying an eye for an eye, we also do away with the abominable practice of allowing victims or their families to have a say in whether or not a convict is allowed parole.
With the best will in the world, they can never be impartial. Only when all legal matters are decided, without fear or favour, by impartial jurists can we speak of justice. Everything else is vengeance.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 – 7) Jesus is teaching His followers to return to the justice and mercy that is the spirit of the Law of Moses.
Then, as now, people tried to follow the letter of the law without understanding the noble purpose of the law. Before we change the law, we need to change the people.
It is not the severity of the sentence that is the deterrent, but the certainty.
Anybody contemplating any criminal act must know that they will be arrested, tried and convicted. To this end we need a change of mindset in the general population. I am shocked that the photograph accompanying Professor Jordan’s article shows “Christian” clergy behaving like a lynch mob. When the people who are shepherds to more than 70% of South Africans professing the Christian faith are no better than thugs, what hope for their flocks?
When people live in a civilised manner and when the people charged with upholding the law are beyond reproach, crime becomes an aberration instead of the norm.
For all our many present and historical challenges, SA’s courts have long been internationally acknowledged for their fearless adherence to rule of law. That is why the ANC government, like the National Party government before it, keep trying to subvert the power and impartiality of the courts.
There is a place in the penal code for the death penalty, but only when everything else is in place. Sentence of death must be used only when it is the fitting punishment, never for revenge. — Dave Rankin, via e-mail