As the number of people arrested in Gauteng for looting increases, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has warned that they would face the full brunt of the law.
Prosecutors experienced in these types of cases have been tasked to prioritise the prosecutions.
NPA spokesperson, advocate Mthunzi Mhaga, said that although no special courts had been established to deal with the cases, they would be prioritised.
“The head of the National Prosecution Service has advised directors of public prosecutions in affected divisions to prioritise these matters, and to refer the cases to prosecutors with the requisite experience, who must work with and guide police in their investigations.
“Should any special arrangements need to be made with regard to courts, this will be discussed with the relevant stakeholders,” Mhaga said.
He warned that those who choose lawlessness to destroy the country and its people must expect to face the full force of the law.
“As South Africans, we have the right to voice our opinions and express our discontent through various lawful channels, including peaceful protest action.
“However, violent protests and criminal looting undermine the rule of law, and will damage our country’s economy and development prospects, at a very difficult time when we are in the grips of a debilitating third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Mhaga said that the violence was not only criminal, it also destroyed the livelihoods of many people, in particular the poor and most vulnerable.
It would disproportionately affect women and children.
“The National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi, and the leadership strongly condemn this lawlessness and criminality ravaging our country and are monitoring developments to better organise the NPA to respond appropriately.”
Mhaga added that the NPA was co-ordinating closely with relevant government departments, in particular the SAPS, to ensure full and transparent accountability for anyone accused of committing crimes linked to these violent protests and looting.
He said law enforcement authorities had to do what was necessary to prevent further violence and acts of criminality.
In particular, the focus would be on bringing to justice those responsible for incitement to commit acts of violence and other forms of criminal conduct.
“As lawyers for the people of South Africa, the NPA will uphold the rule of law by ensuring that justice is delivered without fear, favour or prejudice.
“We urge our fellow South Africans to utilise lawful means to protest and make your voices heard; otherwise, nobody wins,” Mhaga said.
The Centre for Child Law has called on the SAPS to treat any children (under 18) arrested for looting and acts of violence during this time under the law applicable to them.
“We urge law enforcement officials to enforce and comply with the standards set out in the Child Justice Act when dealing with a child alleged to be in conflict with the law. They need to be mindful that a child need not be detained unless it is a matter of last resort,” Karabo Ozah, of the centre, said.
She said that where release from detention was impossible, detention must be for the shortest period. While in detention, children must be separated from adults and girls must be separated from boys.
“Pragmatic steps must be taken in order to ensure the safe release of a child from detention into the care and custody of the caregiver, pending appearance in the appropriate forum.”
The centre in particular condemned the voluntary or encouraged participation of children in the unlawful conducts.
“Children are amongst the most vulnerable groups in society. Their human rights are prone to be affected by the actions and decisions of their caregivers, parents or guardians,” Ozah said.
Her warning comes in the wake of video footage showing the involvement of children in some of the looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
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