Self-defence killings divide SA

South African police and legal experts have reassured citizens that under certain circumstances they have the right to kill criminals, following an outcry over the arrest of a couple who repeatedly stabbed a man who broke into their caravan.

The couple from Carletonville, near Soweto, are in jail facing murder charges after killing an intruder who tried to rape the woman. It is the latest in a spate of killings considered excessive force by the police but seen as justifiable self-defence by vocal members of the public.

Paula Nothnagel, a police representative, said people had the right to defend themselves using reasonable force and that the police were not carrying out a witch-hunt to arrest innocent people.

“People need to employ the ‘reasonable man’ principle when protecting themselves. Would a reasonable man stab another person several times?”

According to radio phone-ins and newspaper letters pages, a reasonable man was entitled to stab an attacker many, many times, then bash him with the nearest heavy object before reaching for a revolver.

“If my girlfriend was about to be raped before me, I would also stab the perpetrator repeatedly ...
Actually, I’d keep going until he stopped moving. I would not stab him once and then nicely ask him if he would like to fight some more,” one letter in the Johannesburg daily Star said.

South Africa’s annual 21 000 murders and 55 000 rapes gives it one of the highest crime rates in the world, but even those figures are seen as an understatement. The police claim crime has stabilised but the perception that thieves and rapists act with impunity is widespread and there are calls for capital punishment, abolished after apartheid, to be brought back.

A 16-year-old boy who beat a man to death with a cricket bat after the family farm near Pretoria was attacked by a gang armed with spades and knives, leaving eight people wounded, may be charged with murder.

The police are also reportedly considering charging a woman who squeezed the testicles of a man who allegedly tried to rape her; he then lost consciousness and reportedly died of complications. Over Christmas, several shopkeepers were arrested for murder after shooting would-be robbers.

An armed robber holding up a factory in Krugersdorp, near Johannesburg, was surrounded by 18 women workers and battered to death with broomsticks and hosepipes. Three women, aged between 35 and 47, could be charged.

“Laws will not deter a father from trying to stab to death an attempted rapist of his daughter or wife. I agree that repetitive stabbing ... is definitely excessive. With adequate training, one could learn to kill the bastard with just one knife thrust,” said Allan Kayle, another letter writer to the Star, who said notions of ‘reasonable force’ ignored the terror and rage of those threatened in their homes.

Kevin Hopkins, a law lecturer at Johannesburg’s Wits university, was criticised for suggesting that householders had no right to kill. Yesterday he set the record straight: “The law will allow a victim to use whatever force is necessary to ward off attack from the assailant—but only with a view to making him stop. If it takes multiple stabbings to achieve this, then stabbing the assailant multiple times would in fact be reasonable.” - Guardian Unlimited Â

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