Our thick blue line

“Why are they killing? Why?”

This was the question posed by 16-year-old Mmathapelo Malapane, a Grade 10 Mabuya Secondary School pupil representing the children of Daveyton, at the memorial of slain Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia. (Daveyton police were filmed dragging Macia behind their vehicle for the 500m to the police station, where he died of his injuries).

Malapane said: “What is it that Mido Macia did that he was killed like a dog? Is it because he is a foreigner?”

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said: “If you are a foreigner and are killed in our country, it is xenophobic.”

A Futurefact survey finds that about 60% of South Africans across the board believe that “in general, people from South Africa are superior to those from other parts of Africa”, with 45% agreeing South Africa is “more like America or Europe than Africa”.

Almost 60% say they regard themselves as South African but not African (this decreases to just more than 50% among black South Africans). It is against this sense of superiority and separateness that we need to review South Africans’ attitudes to foreigners.

When it comes to foreigners, South Africans’ fears are twofold: economic, 80% believe foreigners get jobs in preference to South Africans because they are prepared to work for less money; and crime, 55% believe “most criminals in South Africa are foreigners”.

South Africans recall riots that spread through the country in May 2008 when at least 62 people died. They fear a resurgence of such xenophobia.

In the case of Macia, Futurefact finds that if there is any xenophobia, it is within the police force and not among Daveyton residents.

Malapane said: “If I am attacked, where must I run to? We do not know which police station is safe. While the police are supposed to be against crime, they kill our mothers and fathers. They kill and harm. They hijack.?We thought the killing and harming was over. No, we were wrong.”

Mantashe said: “This is not just a family matter?.?.?.?it has the potential to affect many. The rising level of violence by police must be addressed. It is just as equally bad when South Africans are killed by police, especially as the police are the very ones meant to be protecting people, not killing them.”

Only 23% of South Africans interviewed by Futurefact last year said they have complete confidence in the police, while 35% admitted to being “scared of the police”.

This was particularly true of lower socioeconomic groups where this went up to as high as 40%. Reinforcing the level of fear, distrust and, at best, lack of confidence in the police, almost 30% say they “would never go to a police station on my own to report a crime”.

Perhaps the greatest indictment of the SA Police Service, whose code of conduct starts with “I commit myself to creating a safe and secure environment for all people in South Africa”, is that two-thirds of South Africans believe “a lot of police are criminals”.

Futurefact commented that Daveyton residents have come out against perceived police brutality and police xenophobia and there appear to have been no xenophobic comments against foreigners from the residents who have, in fact, mobilised against the police.

Mantashe said: “What is happening is worrying?.?.?.?it is a sign that we are a very angry nation.”

Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, agrees: “South Africa is an angry nation. We are on the precipice of something very dangerous.”

Futurefact finds that 94% of South Africans feel they belong in South Africa and feel a strong sense of commitment to the country.

Findings confirm what Mantashe and Machel say about anger in South Africa. At least 37% of South Africans admit they “often feel angry these days”, particularly those in lower socioeconomic groups. A similar percentage feels they have “no power or control over my own life”.

At least 42% say they often feel depressed, again particularly in lower socioeconomic segments, and 61% say: “I have dreams but I feel as though I never achieve them.”

Anger and depression, combined with feelings of hopelessness and lack of control, can be powerful forces for social change that could easily tip over into violence if not addressed with urgency.

»?Futurefact has been surveying the attitudes and beliefs of South Africans since 1998. The findings presented above are from Futurefact 2012, based on a probability sample of 2?946 persons aged 15 and above, living in communities of more than 500 people across South Africa and representing 21.6?million adults. For more on Futurefact’s attitudinal databases, visit www.futurefact.co.za

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