Guest Column

Why Zille's crime rhetoric is ignorant and offensive

2017-03-08 13:54
Helen Zille. (News24)

Helen Zille. (News24)

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Yonela Diko

Her statement at the Western Cape Legislature that most murders and assaults in the province are “not perpetrated by white people against black people” is meant to excuse white people from any responsibility in breeding and causing crime across communities in the province. 

Her statement carries the message that black people are to blame for the crime that afflicts this province – white people are spared any responsibility in the cause or the cure. She seeks to imply that most black people are unable to discern the greatest ills afflicting communities in this province. 

It turns out, the cornerstone of these sentiments (since she claimed to be hypothesising) is that black people who are murdered (and white and Coloured and Indians) are murdered by other black people. It is inconsequential to her that all other races are most likely to be killed by people of the same race and/or people they know.

Black people are not, by dint of their melanin content, deserving of a colour categorisation on crime. In most instances of murder the offender is never identified. All South Africans must reject this crude tendency that seeks to be blind to history, economics, politics, privilege, disadvantage, systemic bias and institutional exclusion. 

For too long now Helen Zille has been on a tirade about how the shiftless black people are ruining the Western Cape. From South Africans from the Eastern Cape whom she claims are refugees flooding the Western Cape and squeezing her resources; to asking for black students to have their funding suspended because they are ruining the precious, white UCT.

Helen Zille has over time deliberately and consistently chosen to be blind to the violence that is part of a vicious cycle of inequality and institutionalised race categorisation which reflects the existing social inequalities – a reality which makes it even more challenging for black people to escape poverty. 

Zille, however, continues to isolate herself daily because most white South Africans, who want to contribute to nation building know that the work has to begin with the white community challenging itself and its own most racist elements. 

In fact, almost every study ever done shows that crime is a socio-economic phenomenon. So, to our unmelanated friends, the question should be: Why are so many more black people poor? Could it be because of the systemic discrimination in financing, unequal employment, disparities in home loans, segregation in education, and the fact that many of our laws speak to the future rather than correcting the past?

The DA swings from blaming black people for crime and blaming black police officers for not preventing it. Here are the facts. There are a lot of things that influence the total crime rate, and it is complex enough that it is doubtful that a single factor can be the only or key cause in it going up or down. 

In New York, for example, a team of skeptical researchers questioned politicians' unproven tactics to solve crime by pointing to some of the things like a rise in New York Yankees baseball championships as having real influence in the decrease in murders.

There is wide agreement among real criminology experts that we do not yet fully know what causes crime rates to drop. Theories are abound, from an aging population to reducing lead in the air. A jumble of data and theories makes it hard to sort out this big, if unhappy, mystery. And it has been especially difficult to pin down the role of such things as growing incarceration or increasing police as reasons in crime drops. 
Jeffrey Fagan, co-director of the Center for Crime, Community and Law at the Columbia Law School in New York puts it this way: "It's hard to imagine policing, no matter how smart and effective it is, giving the kind of leverage ... to move a macro force like crime." 

The only thing criminal experts seem to agree on is that childhood lead exposure can lead to psychological deficits that are strongly associated with aggressive and criminal behaviour. In the late 1970s in the United States, lead was removed from gasoline under the Clean Air Act. Using the sharp, state-specific reductions in lead exposure resulting from this removal, the reduction in childhood lead exposure in the late 1970s and early 1980s is responsible for significant declines in violent crime in the 1990s, and may cause further declines in future. 

Environmental lead exposure in Africa has been a big topic in the last few years. Of course, it is not a useful political tool because it does not fit into the 'blame game' of politics and therefore may not get the traction it deserves. Over all, there is a lot more research into the real causes of crime that must be done before we can push and shove each other over political games.

What remains true is that black people hate crime. What is more disturbing to them is the crime categorisation which, over the last 8 years, has sought to maintain the status quo. This status quo is the set of power relations that has white people at the top and black people (especially poor black people) at the bottom. 

With the existing power dynamics in the Western Cape, the maintenance of this status quo has been relatively easy to achieve. As a result, Helen Zille is proving daily to be a white premier, not a South African premier.

- Yonela Diko is an ANC spokesperson in the Western Cape.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    helen zille  |  crime


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