South Africa’s asset forfeiture unit, is beginning to look a lot like the organised crime it was supposed to stop, with suspected criminals losing their assets without a trial, and forced to hand-over property without even being found guilty by a court of law. A recent precedent awarded the unit, the proceeds of a “crime” deemed to be such, merely by an act of parliament, and without so much as a hearing on the matter.
The case of a shabeen owner now forced to hand over assets before a court case,or a trial in which innocence is presumed before a verdict of guilt, is a dangerous erosion of the principle of habeous corpus, and the right of citizens to contest their convictions. Some South African citizens are now being “deemed” to have engaged in criminal activity without so much as a trial. The unit was formed to fight organised crime, but is now being used on small-time criminals, like “illegal” shabeen owners and even parties selling alchohol in the townships.