Senekal last week had nothing to do with solutions. It was all about politicians’ testosterone. It was all about politicians’ egos. What useful idea came out of all that heat and noise generated by all those politicians in Senekal last week? There is nothing. Nothing that makes SA a better place. Nothing that leads us to a better understanding of race relations in SA after 1994. Nothing that is a solution to farm murders – many of whose victims are poorly paid, desperate black people – or a solution to the incredibly horrendous murder and crime problem in this country.
It is my view that the challenge now is to begin to understand that minimum sentencing legislation is not the panacea for our crime problem. Rather, it is the certainty of punishment that is far more of a deterrent. Also, that sustained change will require substantial investment in the development of sound social policy on issues such as education, health and poverty alleviation.
I cannot agree more. But punishment is not only about deterrence. Punishment in criminal cases should also reflect, to some degree, the seriousness with which a society views different crimes. Punishment therefore has a strong symbolic function. When the criminal justice system fails to adequately punish even those few perpetrators convicted of rape and other violent crimes against women, it sends a signal that the system does not value women equally with men.
We will not stop rape by forcing judges to impose minimum sentences for rapists. But such laws will make judicial officers think again about their views on rape and will send a signal that as a society we abhor violence against women. Such a signal will be far more potent than the pious statements of politicians during the sixteen days of activism because it says we are prepared to put the power and the money of the state behind this effort to stop rape.