In the landmark case of the State vs Makwanyane – which effectively abolished the death penalty in South Africa – the court referred to section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act and warned that if the state was no longer permitted to take a life in punishment of a convicted criminal, then how could the law allow anyone to take the life of a person they are trying to arrest.
Parliament passed a new section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act in 1998. The old section provided that killing someone suspected of committing a Schedule One Offence – which includes treason, sedition, public violence, murder, culpable homicide, and rape – would constitute justifiable homicide if the person could not be arrested or prevented from fleeing in any other way. “Force must always be reasonably necessary and proportional in the circumstances, and deadly force, including shooting, may in addition be used only if the suspect poses a threat of serious violence to the arrester or another person or persons.
The principle is simple: the life of the attacker can only be taken in order to protect your or someone else’s life or to prevent serious bodily harm. It is unlawful to use lethal force in any other circumstances. In other words, your property is not worth the life of the person that is stealing it from you!