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Justice delayed

 The best deterrent for criminals should be full knowledge, not only that crime will be punished accordingly, but that justice will be administered swiftly. An unruly mob of five men stormed a school in Mafeteng this past week and kidnapped a school girl. Thankfully, by the end of the week the five had already been sentenced to three years in jail each.

We applaud efforts by the judiciary to expedite cases and bring to justice those caught on the wrong side of the law. In Lesotho, the problem is not so much about lack of justice but it has always been that justice is delayed and justice delayed is justice denied. That there is a backlog of cases waiting to be heard in our courts has almost become legendary.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane recently expressed the same concern that he would want to see cases quickly resolved in our courts, to the extent that he suggested hiring more judges and even recalling retired ones. Thabane has come under fire from the main opposition Democratic Congress’ reading of his statement when he suggested that criminals are like dogs whose fate is either in jail or in death.

Of course no one would want to see the Mountain Kingdom becoming a police state. At the same time one can understand the frustration not only with the spate of crime in recent weeks, but also with the underlying impunity that runs through most of the cases. The cases of murders and mutilation of body parts for suspected ritual purposes stand out among crime statistics.

The murders are becoming more and more premeditated and cold blooded, that one can see where Thabane is coming from. Something just has to be done or we risk losing it. The more daring and callous the criminals, the tighter the methods of policing needed to keep pace with the changing style of crime.

We applaud a community of Matelile in Mafeteng for establishing their own primary policing system in the villages. Weary of marauding hoodlums who committed all manner of crime; from petty theft to murder, two years ago the community collaborated with the police to set up a functional and reliable neighbourhood policing system. Among some of the highlights from their system are the following: bars operate during designated hours and not around the clock as before, livestock is locked up by six in the evening while a “curfew” compels residents to be indoors by eight at night.

Of course this is not enforceable in urban areas, but in their country setting it works. Perhaps Maseru and the rest of the communities around the country should take a leaf from Matelile: bars just have to open and close at the hours stipulated by licensing authorities. It will not solve all crime but it is an important starting point. Many a time while driving in the dead of night, the car’s headlights catch a glimpse of clearly intoxicated pedestrians zigzagging dangerously close to a highway. In most cases, the late drinkers will be wobbling alone, unaccompanied.

This simply gives police unnecessary work in cases where the lone drunk pedestrian is run over by a motorist and there are no witnesses in the hit-and-run incident. Alcohol is a legal recreational drink but there are laws that go with its responsible intake. There are many cases in which drinking were a catalyst in many tragedies. Policing should always safeguard responsible drinking while curbing abuse. Closing bars earlier makes easiest sense because most crime is committed under the cover of darkness, in the wee hours.

Police are always overwhelmed by numbers or by challenges to do with transport and communication, therefore neighborhood watch committees can play a vital role in primary policing and then cases would be handed over to the police. In any case, most of the cases police crack, they do so with the assistance of communities since it is ordinary community members who stay with the criminals.

They are the ones who know the coming and going of wanted criminals. It is neighbours who are privy to the goings-on at suspect houses in their hood. Criminals almost always know that one day their game will be up. What motivates them to continue on their path of crime is usually the knowledge that the sometimes squeaky wheels of justice turn at a painstakingly slow pace, giving them a longer grace period to continue their life of impunity.

For this reason we encourage whatever legal means authorities will use to ensure crime is speedily punished lest our communities are taken hostage by criminals’ culture of impunity.

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