Inequality before the law – Is South Africa’s criminal justice system punitive to the poor?

Picture2“Luckily for the Blade Runner, his fame and wealth mean he will probably inhabit a privileged and protected parallel prison universe, removed from that of ordinary inmates. If the “trial of the century” emphasised one thing, it was that South Africa’s justice system operates very differently if you are poor, black, male and without fame or notoriety …

Three years after Fakude’s initial incarceration in Bloemfontein’s Grootvlei prison, his trial is far from over, while Pistorius’ trial was done and dusted in less than seven months. Over 2,000 South Africans have been awaiting trial for over two years …

SA’s longest-serving remand detainee, Victor Nkomo, awaited his trial for nearly eight years in Johannesburg’s notorious Sun City prison, while repeatedly attempting to challenge his unconstitutional lengthy incarceration …

Or take the case of David Mkhwanazi, who, when late for work and running for his train, was arrested, supposedly sprinting away from the scene of a recent murder. After six years behind bars (where he contracted TB), Mkhwanazi was finally released when the judge deemed the evidence against him non-existent …

Thuba Sithole is currently doing time in Leeuwkop prison. His crime? The fact that his girlfriend’s name is Ayanda …

Former Kgosi Mampuru inmate Eric Viljoen, who has a prosthesis after losing a leg in a train accident, told the WJP how he was forced to navigate 56 steps five or six times a day in the prison’s E section, where he spent the last ten months in an over-crowded communal cell …

Those citizens who cannot afford to pay to uphold their human dignity are faced with a criminal justice system that is punitive towards the poor …”

Read WJP’s latest Op-Ed as it appeared in the Daily Maverick – written by Hopkins, Leslie, and Raphaely – looking at the disparities in treatment of the rich and poor by the South African criminal justice system here. Also read the article as it appeared in The Star‘s print and online edition.


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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