Destruction of essential infrastructure now a criminal offence

July 1st, 2016

By Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele

The Criminal Matters Amendment Act 18 of 2015 (the Act) is now operational, it commenced on 1 June.

According to the Government Gazette, the Act amends the –

  • Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, so as to regulate bail in respect of essential infrastructure-related offences;
  • Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997, so as to regulate the imposition of discretionary minimum sentences for essential infrastructure-related offences and create a new offence relating to essential infrastructure; and
  • Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998, so as to insert a new offence in sch 1 to the Act and to provide for matters connected therewith.

The Act ensures that there are stricter conditions for the granting of bail in respect of essential infrastructure-related offences, there is also imposition of harsher sentences to perpetrators. The Act is viewed by most as a timely tool to deal with increasing acts of vandalism and theft of infrastructure.

Speaking on offences relating to essential infrastructure, s 3 of the Act states:

‘(1) Any person who unlawfully and intentionally –

(a) tampers with, damages or destroys essential infrastructure; or

(b) colludes with or assists another person in the commission, performance or carrying out of an activity referred to in paragraph (a),

and who knows or ought reasonably to have known or suspected that it is essential infrastructure, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a period of imprisonment not exceeding 30 years or, in the case of a corporate body as contemplated in section 332(2) of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977, a fine not exceeding R100 million.’

De Rebus asked a few members of the public what they thought of the amendment.

Voxpops_1Venice Sedibeng: ‘Crimes such as murder, rape and robbery are criminal offences yet people still commit them daily. We do not need a law. The problem is in the influence people get to commit these acts. Target their influence (leaders) to change their solutions approach and their people will follow. The amendment means nothing.’

Voxpops_2Nicole Tobias: ‘I did not realise that dangerous criminal groups were becoming involved in these incidents often, I must be honest. I believe this is an interesting and important Act, considering some of the recent events we have experienced in South Africa. The incidents that have led to schools and schooling being affected, need action. I see improved schooling as the best way to empower people, because you are giving your learners the information and power they need to raise themselves out of poverty. But then, I do understand that there is a balancing act involved, because some other infrastructure damage can affect the whole country and economy in what might feel like a more immediate way. Neither are good for South Africa in the long term though, which makes the focus on this Act important.’

Voxpops_3Philip Sergeant: ‘With the recent public displays of damage inflicted on schools in the Vuwani District costing in the region of R 500 million, many of these already cash strapped institutions have been placed on life support.

The victims of these violent acts of damage to property are those scholars living in these very communities who have had their basic right to an education infringed.

It is long overdue that harsher penalties than those previously provided for by the common law offence of malicious damage to property are imposed as a means to deter this continued and senseless destruction of infrastructure during protests.’

Voxpops_4Stevland Marney: ‘This Act is a direct defensive to compress the voices of the protesting students at the various universities. Instead of creating meaningful platforms for engagement and to seek genuine resolutions to a fundamental problem, our law makers have introduced the stick when the carrot should suffice. This is abhorrent and distasteful. I would have hoped that our law makers are above this. I sincerely hope that a retraction of this law is imminent, and more meaningful proposals are put forth. Also, the irony that the government is criminalising the very acts that won us the war against Apartheid, is not lost on the general populous.’

Voxpops_5 Ntombi Twala: ‘I think the New Criminal Matters Amendment Act is a good idea because it will limit, if not prevent people from burning down important and essential infrastructure during protests. This type of vandalism not only makes the country go backwards with regards to progress but it ends up costing the government millions to rebuild schools, libraries and universities, etcetera. People need to know that there are serious consequences for such behaviour, surely there are other channels that can be used to express their anger and disappointment at the government other than burning down and destroying the very same infrastructures that are meant to create a better future (schools, libraries, universities) and make lives easier for the people of South Africa.’


Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele NDip Journ (DUT) BTech Journ (TUT) is the news editor at De Rebus.

 This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (July) DR 14.


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