Crime? What crime?

2014-09-30 06:45

Have you ever seen a senior politician or leader ride or walk? It is quite something.

President Jacob Zuma rides in a convoy of 12 vehicles and, the last time I counted, when he walks he has a phalanx of at least six bodyguards around him.

This even in his domain of Nkandla, as pictured when he arrived at his nephew Khulubuse’s sumptuous nuptials two weeks ago.

Ministers have details and are always surrounded by advisers. Their homes are protected day and night. The practice of VIP protection percolates through every sphere.

Each premier and member of their executive council have drivers, details and guards. Mayors of large metros and dorpies have the same.

So, it’s fair to say our leaders live in a bubble and can get divorced from reality. And so it’s hardly surprising that last week’s crime statistics have disappeared off the political agenda, because if you don’t have to live with eyes in the back of your head, crime is not top of mind.

But it is to us, the ordinary folk.

Upon reading the crime statistics, it struck me that the architecture of our lives is crime determined. I would rather walk than drive, but it’s not safe. For people who don’t have cars, the rapid escalation in street robberies makes them sitting ducks.

Where and how we choose to live, when you commute and how you feel is increasingly determined by crime. And this sets up a sad commonality.

We might be a divided bunch, but we are united in one thing: every person you know will have a crime story. It’s an obscene new normal we’ve assimilated and largely accepted.

If you want an answer to why business is truculent and sitting on billions (some say trillions) in investment rands, look at the business robberies section of the crime stats.

Crime is way up wherever there are commercial centres, ditto truck-jackings, although ATM bombings are down thanks to the work of the banks’ risk protection service called Sabric.

Anyone with an asset is in trouble: the trio of property-related crime is also up across most of the country except in two provinces. Murder, the crime of greatest certainty because bodies can largely not be hidden or understated, is significantly higher.

As a citizen, I feel scared after last Friday but I’ve found no succour from our political leaders and police service to whom our safety is entrusted.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega tries to maintain the charade that the long-term trend is down – it may be, but two consecutive years of an arrow pointing north suggests the trend is turning.

The other truism that has become an excuse is the shoulder-shrug explanation: “Most crime happens at shebeens between people who know each other.”

That accounts for about half, but it is still a failure in governance. Why? A substantial chunk of our national budget goes to social services and the high rate of interpersonal crime suggests a lack of impact and efficiency because it is not yielding societal change.

But as political leaders retreat further into their bubbles, crime reduction is far less of a political imperative than it once was when clever cops brought it down through effective intelligence gathering and good old police work.

I try hard not to blame every travail on our rather harried-looking president. But on this score, it’s difficult to look elsewhere.

President Zuma has encouraged and cosseted lieutenant-general Richard Mdluli, the former head of crime intelligence who ransacked and looted the unit.

Last week’s statistics show the extent of the damage. Crime intelligence reports and analyses are down 60% and 30%, respectively.

Mdluli is currently on suspension but he continues to hold sway over police intelligence. Without a base of evidence and a foundation of good detective work, things are going to get worse.

And as much as one respects Phiyega for her many skills, she is flailing at the police service. The numbers reveal that.

The ‘B’ doesn’t stand for ‘ban’

On a dark midwinter night in a spooky school at the Grahamstown Arts Festival a couple of years ago, I saw Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B and loved it. It kept me awake.

The performance piece features human models in intricate dioramas to symbolise slavery, the treatment of the Nama by their German colonial masters to the more contemporary horrors of how the world treats asylum seekers.

Two pieces setting up the deaths on two aeroplanes of two asylum seekers resisting deportation shocked me because the models are “alive”. The pieces also inspired me to take on a more humane approach in covering migration and asylum. Good art has the power to change, and how you like or interpret or choose to view, or be transformed, are personal decisions.

That’s why I think it’s dismaying that a baying mob of supposedly liberal people have campaigned loudly enough to get the work censored and banned in London this week. What’s even more dismaying is that a crew of South Africans who claim free speech stripes have joined the campaign.

What an odd habit: to ban something you don’t like.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s new ‘Ferrari’

That puppet, Chester Missing, had this to say when Tina Joemat-Pettersson was moved from the agriculture, forestry and fisheries portfolio to that of energy: “It’s like giving someone a Ferrari when they’ve crashed a bakkie.”

I didn’t make the minister’s acquaintance in her old portfolio except for a few conversations about the Masibambisane plans.

These plans have been wiped from the state’s slates after being vetoed by the ANC’s chief farmer and secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, who saw right through it after a City Press exposé.

It involved this: Masibambisane is an NGO chaired by President Jacob Zuma and run by his cousin Deebo Mzobe.

Until Mantashe called time, the state, via Joemat-Pettersson, was going to funnel R1?billion (yes, that’s correct) into Masibambisane and basically outsource rural food security to a provincial NGO chaired by our president.

I’m not sure how much was finally splurged but I’m sure Mzobe made many millions. It gained traction through branded tractors and farmer gear. JZ and Joemat-Pettersson were seen at launch after launch in ridiculous hats, hanging on to Masibambisane tractors.

So it’s clear why she was handed the energy portfolio. This week, she pliantly moved along the effort to gift President Zuma’s new bestie, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a huge contract to build eight nuclear reactors in South Africa.

I hope her efforts are as unsuccessful as Masibambisane was and that wiser souls prevail in the ANC.

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