Report blames apartheid for violence

2010-11-09 14:42

Cape Town - A long-awaited report on the violent nature of crime in South Africa, released on Tuesday, found that the country's history of colonisation and apartheid created a culture where people see resorting to force as normal.

The study was commissioned by the government in 2007 and conducted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR). It lists poverty, a weak criminal justice system, the availability of firearms and poor socialisation of the youth as factors that sustain a culture of violence.

It states that 31% of murder suspects in cases where the crime was carried out with criminal intent were 19 years old or younger. In cases where arguments led to murder, 21% of suspects fell into this age group.

Briefing MPs on the report, the CSVR's executive director Adele Kirsten, said South Africans could not ignore the way in which apartheid still influenced all aspects of life, long after the advent of democracy.

'Apartheid remains present'

"(The report) does not imply that a group of people or the nation as a whole is inherently violent. What it wants to say is that, given our history, given our experience of violence... we have begun to see violence as normative. We see it as acceptable to use violence... we see it as legitimate.

"This is what makes us unique. Our migrant labour system of apartheid fundamentally destroyed families. We are living with the legacy of that. I know that often in the public discourse people want to say apartheid is 15 years gone.

"It is not, it remains in our day-to-day interactions. It remains present in where we live, and it remains present in who is most vulnerable to crime."

The report singles out mines as places were violence was learnt and taken into the townships. Police harassment, imprisonment and state sponsorship of violence in townships further contributed to create "a culture of violence that has reproduced itself ever since", the report states.

Its authors said the violence associated with strikes was therefore not surprising and called on politicians to refrain from rhetoric inciting violence.

MPs sceptical

MPs on Parliament's portfolio committee on police appeared sceptical about the value of the research, saying it failed to answer the fundamental question of why South Africa was so afflicted by violence.

"But what is it that is unique about South Africa?" chairperson Sindi Chikunga said, noting that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had little street crime, though it recently emerged from years of war.

Police secretary Jenni Irish-Quobosheane said the ministry shared the same concern.

"It is not as though there was something incredibly new and striking that hit us in the face. (But) it does pull a lot of information together and from that point of view it is quite useful."

The chief author of the report, Dave Bruce, countered that it was unrealistic to expect the 700-page report, which cost R3.5m to produce, to deliver new truths.

"The business of explaining violence is an international industry which is carried out in universities around the world. The international investment in explaining violence... what would it be? Possibly hundreds of millions. To expect this R3.5m to develop a new explanation would be incredibly unrealistic."

He suggested that delving for the causes of crime would only go a certain extent toward providing a solution to the problem.

"One can talk about all kinds of causes and that, but to some extent violence is simply based on the fact that people think it is okay to be violent."