In time, Parliament will be asked to pass a ridiculous amendment to the Stock Theft Act. The crime, we are told, will attract a minimum mandatory sentence of 14years imprisonment. It may, in fact, be worse. One newspaper publication says 15.
That is how government hopes to fix the country’s crime situation in so far as stock theft is concerned. When cattle thieves are threatened with the envisaged obscenity, so goes the theory, the farmer’s nightmare will end. Farmers will have velvet dreams and live happily ever after. WRONG WAY!
For the avoidance of doubt, I am a farmer. As such, I am not impervious to the miseries wreaked upon the population by cattle theft. But I know that stock theft is not rampant because of under-punishment. The offence carries a minimum mandatory sentence of five years imprisonment where extenuating circumstances do not exist. Stealing a cow is punished with equal severity as stealing a motor vehicle one hundred times its value. Stock theft is rampant because it is hardly ever punished and where it is, it takes forever to be. I travel the length and breadth of the country defending all kinds of charges, stock theft inclusive. Complainants grieve about trial delays, not the brevity of sentences. They say that it takes too long for trials to be finalised and that Courts, prosecutors, accused persons and their lawyers pervert justice through delays. They do have a point. If government is truly desirous of bringing stock theft under control, more resources should be devoted to that effort. More lawyers, magistrates, and police should be assigned to stock theft cases. Cattle rustlers must be safely in the slammer before the exhibit dies, before the magistrate resigns and before witnesses are struck by lightning with catastrophic consequences. The degree of enthusiasm visible in the war against poaching, of which I am an unwavering supporter, must be evident in the approach to stock theft.
Quite apart from that, the simple morality of the envisaged law is questionable. In fact, I dare say that it is populistic, sadistic and downright hypocritical. Consider this; there is no minimum mandatory sentence for the offence of murder. If this legislative obscenity passes, 15 years imprisonment – the sentence most murderers get for their crime - will become the minimum for stock theft. Someone stealing a donkey for restorative soap’s sake will be sent to prison until 2031.
Meanwhile, the Rolls Royce and Martini crowds at the government enclave and the CBD can virtually raid state coffers and get two years imprisonment wholly suspended for donkey years on condition that they are not seen in court again. We do not need a populistic and sadistic sentencing regime. We need one that punishes crimes according to their gravity. If stock theft punishments
Of course many Batswana will support the envisaged legislation. On this point, I stand as a man might stand at the ocean trying to sweep back the tide. We are dealing with an emotional subject and understandably so. I know that when emotions enter a subject, reason vacates. We cannot, however, base laws on emotions. Bus rank mobs would kill a man for cellphone theft and feel justified to have done it. My neighbors would vote that burglars be shot on the scene, any day. Tripling the minimum mandatory sentence, without dealing with the reasons why present efforts are failing distracts from the fundamental problem; a paralytic justice system.
I accept that many Batswana rely on cattle for their livelihood. I do not seek to downplay their misery. I simply refuse to accept that stock theft is the worst crime in the statute books. There must not only be substantive and procedural justice. There must be comparative justice, as well. Parliament must not go hard on a crime under the pretext of answering the public outcry when it is in fact on an electioneering campaign. More money is stolen from Batswana through corruption than, probably, all cattle combined. Corruption ensures that Batswana die because there are no drugs in hospitals or wrong drugs are purchased in needless quantities. Corruption ensures that less children are sponsored for tertiary education and that deserving citizens do not get a fair shot at economic opportunities created by their hard earned tax money. Corruption is comparatively, more ruinous than any crime of which I am aware treason, murder and rape being, according to me, the most notable exceptions.
It is when a nation sends high profile people to jail that the deterrence message stands to fall upon a wider and more attentive audience, an FBI instructor once said to me. But then, corruption is the politician and the rich man’s offence. As such, it makes sense for Parliament to pretend that it is a lesser evil. Yet, for me, that is where the primary emphasis should be. It would be hypocritical for parliament to show outrage on stock theft of which the primary accused are illiterate herd-boys and to be willfully blind to a comparatively weak sentencing regime on rampant corruption. I want to throw parliament a curve ball. Start off by allocating the fourteen years to your own crime; corruption.