October 10, 2017

#lionmama – A Hero

A popular plot in crime novels and TV shows involves someone committing a murder under circumstances where the reader or viewer sympathises with the murderer. There are variations on the theme; the deceased could be an abusive partner or someone who is abusing the murderer’s child, or the murder could be an act of vengeance.

A similar, but real-life, drama unfolded in Port Elizabeth over the past few days.

A woman, whom the press has christened LionMama (her identity cannot be revealed to protect her daughter’s identity) came upon 3 men raping her daughter. She took them on to try and protect her daughter and they turned on her. In the ensuing struggle she stabbed one to death and injured the other 2. She appeared in court on Monday morning, where the senior public prosecutor declined to prosecute her.

What I find shocking is that some plod got it into his head that it would be a good idea to arrest her and charge her with one count of murder and two of attempted murder.

Unlawfully and intentionally causing someone’s death is murder. As Oscar discovered, that intent can be indirect. However, if you take the unlawful aspect off the table, the act is not murder and is not punishable. In South African law, the presence of “grounds for justification” constitutes a defence that makes the otherwise criminal act lawful. When the charge is murder or assault, the obvious and most common ground for justification is defence. This can be self-defence, or the defence of another. It could even be defence of property.

Of course, there has to be reasonableness and proportion. If the act of defence is disproportionate to the act or conduct that the defence is employed against or the value of the interest that is being defended, the defence will fail and, even if you were acting in defence, you would still be guilty of a crime.

Killing someone to prevent them stealing something will never be justified.  The amount of force you use against someone who is attacking or assaulting you depends on the severity of the threat against you.  If a 1,5m tall 50kg weakling has enough tequila to convince him that he can take on the first team rugby hooker, the hooker will be guilty of assault GBH if he beats the weakling to a pulp.

But you don’t need a degree in criminal law to figure out that one woman was justified in using a knife against 3 rapists, even if one of them ended up rather stiffer than he intended.

I certainly don’t condone vigilantism, but I find it disgusting that a woman who bravely acted to protect her daughter against brutal violation is subjected to the trauma of being treated like a criminal by a policeman who should really have known better.

Author: Robin Twaddle

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