For a constitutional democracy like ours it is expected that the criminal justice system is applied equally among citizens.
After all, the Constitution guarantees that “everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law”.
But recently the justice system appears to have been abused. Some accused people, it seems, are more equal than others.
They have been given preferential treatment in court.
Sometimes these alleged criminals get special treatment because they have political connections or because they have money and money talks.
The more access to cash, the better the treatment from officials and inmates.
A head of state may exercise his right to consider pardon applications. But such decisions are not taken lightly and this power should not be abused for narrow self-interest.
This week Justice Minister Michael Masutha handed a report to President Cyril Ramaphosa to consider the early release of abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, who is serving time for assault, kidnapping and arson.
The eagerness to free Dalindyebo seems to be driven by the ANC’s fear of losing votes in the Eastern Cape, where traditional leaders have threatened to mobilise against the party in the elections if the king’s incarceration is not cut short.
Throughout his trial and after sentencing, Dalindyebo maintained his innocence and insisted that he, as king, had the right to dispense harsh justice to his subjects.
This is contradictory to the Constitution and the rule of law. His appeal against the conviction and sentencing were rejected by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Dalindyebo’s argument that the country’s laws should not apply to him since he’s a king is no different from the flawed assertion of protesters who say they should not be arrested and tried for acts of public violence because their struggles are legitimate.
If Dalindyebo is to receive this type of treatment, then this privilege must be extended also to #FeesMustFall students and community protesters who have either been convicted or are facing trial for destroying property.
And to poor people who commit crimes because it is the only way to put food on the table.
We cannot have different sets of rights for different categories of South Africans.