In the new South Africa, “The Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act demand that, in the course of adjudicating cases of ‘private defense,’ in South Africa, the right to life (the aggressor’s) and the right to property (the non-aggressor’s) be properly balanced. ‘Before you can act in self-defense,’ remonstrates Anton du Plessis of the Institute for Security Studies, ‘the attack against you should have commenced, or at least be imminent. For example, if the thief pulls out a firearm and aims in your direction, [only] then you would be justified in using lethal force to protect your life.”
One example among many given in “Into the Cannibal’s Pot” is of an “elderly couple—he seventy-seven, she seventy-three—who may spend the rest of their days in jail for attempted murder. The plucky pair had overpowered and pummeled an intruder who had grabbed their pistol and was poised to pounce.
Since “Into the Cannibal’s Pot” juxtaposes the almost-overnight deconstruction of South Africa to the more incremental transformation underway in the USA, the premise of the discussion about eroding gun rights in South Africa was that the constitutionally fortified American Castle Laws had yet to be undermined completely.
As a number of landmark cases would suggest, America’s “Make My Day Laws”—a favored American sobriquet for Castle Laws inspired by the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry character—might even be getting stronger. Belatedly, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Heller vs. The District of Columbia, had even reaffirmed the Second Amendment to the American Constitution as a natural right to self-defense.
But are the impediments to the defense of life and property enacted by South Africa’s dominant-party-in-perpetuity so different from the decisions issuing from American courts?
A world away from South Africa, Dr. Jerome Ersland was recently condemned to life in prison for defending his property and his employees from a gang of armed robbers.
As abcnews.com reports, “Ersland, 59, had been hailed as a hero for protecting two co-workers during the May 19, 2009, robbery attempt at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City. Dramatic surveillance video of the attempted burglary shows 16 year-old Antwun Parker and an accomplice running into the pharmacy in the crime-ridden neighborhood and pointing a gun directly at Ersland. The video then shows Ersland, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel, firing a pistol at the two men, hitting Parker with one shot that knocked him to the ground. After chasing Parker’s accomplice out of the store, Ersland retrieved a second gun and returned to shoot Parker five more times, 46 seconds after firing the first shot.”
Ersland was accused of hastening the descent into hell of “Parker” with excess zeal.
According to CBS.com, the “Oklahoma City pharmacist was sentenced on Monday, July 11, to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the shooting death. …” On May 26, a jury (clearly not of his peers) had convicted him of first-degree murder. Although they had the discretion “of finding Ersland guilty of first-degree manslaughter instead of murder, or of acquitting him,” they chose not to exercise it.
Ditto Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott. The Justice rejected pleas for clemency, having opted to side with the prosecution throughout the trial and exclude extenuating testimony.
According to a site collecting donations for Dr. Ersland, who is now broke and will likely die in jail, the disabled veteran, who had retired from the United States Air Force, “joined the military and became a pharmacist because he wanted to serve … In spite of his disability, Jerome still worked full time and continued to serve his community in various charitable capacities including as vice president of his church and as an advisor for the Boy Scouts.”
We understand, some better than others, that a man’s home is not mere property—it is his castle. In defending his home, an individual is defending a safe haven for his most cherished belongings: his person and his beloved. Someone eager to violate another’s inner sanctum will be more than willing to violate the occupant. But can the same not be said about a man’s place of business?
In the 1980s, Oklahoma legislators certainly thought so; they extended Oklahoma’s “Make My Day Law” to the automobiles and workplaces of their residents. Besides, how is a proud man to afford a home and a haven if he can’t work in safety?
As I document in “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons For America From Post-Apartheid South Africa,” not only can self-defense be an offense in South Africa’s new “constitutional” democracy, but it may be considered racist when practiced by whites. COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, under whose auspices, presumably, private property invaders fall, has accused many a South African hero in the mold of Dr. Ersland of racism.
The agitators-in-chief against Dr. Ersland were COSATU’s indigenous equals, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP urged the state to show no mercy for this authentic American hero. “It’s politically motivated,” confirmed defense attorney Irven Box.
Make that racially motivated.
©2011 By ILANA MERCER