So fraud convict Schabir Shaik was spotted driving around Durban with his black BMW, buying balloons for his kid and probably getting some take-away pasta from Spiga d’Oro.
So what? Was he breaking any laws?
South Africans have a bizarre obsession with wanting to see criminals rot in jail. Although I understand the knee-jerk gatvolness with our obscene crime rate, I do, however, hope we can learn to move beyond this instinctive, emotional reaction and look at the facts.
Here are a few:
- Shaik was convicted of corruption and fraud by one judge of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court. His conviction was confirmed by five judges of appeal and eleven Constitutional Court judges refused his application for leave to appeal the Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling. In effect, 17 judges confirmed that he’s a big crook.
- The decision by three doctors to release him on medical parole was confirmed by an independent investigation of the Health Professions Council. If there’s any allegation that they overlooked impropriety, that should be probed. But I haven’t heard of such allegations.
- Shaik can’t leave Durban without the approval of the Department of Correctional Services and must report to his local parole office on a regular basis. In that regard he is not a “free man” who can do business as usual.
In my mind there’s absolutely no argument to be made that Shaik has not suffered as result of his conviction.
- He’s a crook and is being referred to as such in all media reports;
- He’s lost a massive amount of money and distinction by being convicted of bribing the [then] second most powerful politician in South Africa;
- He and his companies are blacklisted due to their conviction and can never again do business with the government, and
- He couldn’t attend the birth of his child and was deprived of being a father for two years.
Why this constant obsession with wanting to see criminals rot and be abused in prison?
I experienced the same emotional outburst with the conviction of the so-called Waterkloof Four, who brutally killed a homeless man in a drunken orgy of violence.
Sane, open-minded friends of mine were expressing their hope for these four young murderers to be assaulted and raped in prison.
For me the question is less about whether Shaik should be in prison or not, but more about the views we South Africans hold about our criminals.
Remember that they are not a bunch of aliens being dumped in the Karoo in the middle of the night, but people who grew up as kids in our neighbourhoods, schools and churches.
Why do we so desperately want Shaik to be back in prison? Is it not enough of a shame to have been convicted in arguably the most-publicised trial so far in South Africa? And, if not, isn’t that the real, hard question we as a nation must face?
If my arguments are not convincing enough, read respected prisons expert Lukas Muntingh’s brilliant paper Punishment and Deterrence — Don’t Expect Prisons To Reduce Crime here.
Prisons do not bring down crime. Not in South Africa and not in the world. And that is ultimately what we want, isn’t it?