Violent Crime in SA: A Dislocation of Our Society

2014-09-21 19:20

The release of the crime statistics by SAPS for this past year has left many South Africans recurrently looking over their shoulders (or considering emigration) once again. The stats which have raised the most eyebrows are the ones involving violent crimes and assault. I've been reading and following the various reports and comments from friends on my social media accounts since the release in attempts to forge my own ideas and opinions as to the reason we are such a violent society.

The murder of 17,068 people in a year is deplorable, as many would rightly agree. Murder rates five times higher than the global average are something which should not be taken lightly, given the country's dependence on tourism on foreign investment. Crime rates (and especially violent crimes) detract not only on our economic potential but also on our social capital (trust). The diversity which makes up our nation in ethnic, religious, cultural and other aspects does make us a rainbow nation, but at the same time, can also divide us, as perceptions rooted in these spheres can easily lend themselves to myopic sentiments and premature conclusions about one another.

Various causal factors have been pointed out in attempts to explain the culture of violence in this country, and many are valid. Dr. Chandre Gould of the International Security Institute discusses the respect for the rule of law in the country, and how contravening the criminal justice system was fundamental as an anti-Apartheid strategy. The culture of defiance now seems to be embedded in every South African's daily actions (driving etiquette, police bribery etc). Aided with the knowledge of the fallibility of officials working within, and presiding over the system only serves to lessen the respect & reverence for the law in our country.

Another aspect which I'm sure has been touched upon is violence in the home. Sisonke Msimang, while interviewed in an eNCA insert, questioned the culture of masculinity and the various forms of expression it takes in South Africa. Domestic violence was of course touched upon, but I failed to hear her mention the workplace as a cultivator of antagonism. The historical legacy of the previous regime has left many non-white men in this country degraded and downtrodden. The Marikana tragedy of two years ago is a strong example. Even if employment was somewhat better (and thats a guess on my part) in the previous regime, daily degradation and humiliation were (and still are) a constant accompaniment. The 'Faga-na-lo' (slang for construction/trade) industry has garnered many resentful employees who resort to [violent] crime purely for malevolent reasons, especially regarding their verbally abusive employers. Disputes between advocacy groups and certain business communities in KZN have recently cumulated to mandated cohesion panels initiated from the office of the Premier.

Race relations aside though, the large majority of these violent crimes have been committed by Africans against one another. This is something which warrants serious attention, not only for the sake of Africans themselves but for the country as a whole. Notions of 'Ubuntu' and forgiveness seem to have been whispers in the dark as far as their seepage into the national consciousness. The crime rates do seem to reflect this, and astoundingly so. Respect for life, one would suppose, would surely have been espoused in these social codes, but to no avail. Poverty as a breeding ground for crime, has become almost endemic, with education and entrepreneurial platforms that have largely failed as tools for socio-economic advancement.

The lack of concern for life and for one another is, I think, one of the major causes of violent crime. In a society where the cost of living has outgrown the recipient's salary, very little in the way of social welfare, and even casual concern has manifest. Gould also noted the role of  political elites and the effects their behaviour in the face of the law, has on citizens, especially the ones who are brash enough to commit heinous acts. Dodging the law recurrently, seems to come as second nature for 'our leaders', who casually grin and laugh in the face of serious allegations against their person and their conduct. The sanctity of constitution has increasingly come into question of late, especially with the recent scandals involving Jacob Zuma. This has led some to speculate we are in crisis. men and women in the seats of power cannot be held solely accountable, even though they have a notable influence on public perception for and of the law.

Gun laws in the country, despite being quite stringent, don't present a viable route to procurement in comparison to the flow of illicit arms trading on the streets. procuring firearms are surprisingly easy if one decides to forgo the formal route. Weapons caches from liberation movements have now come to be utilized by syndicates, many of whom have highly specialized training. The 200% increase in bank robbery rates lends some credence to this suggestion. Controlling the flow of guns in the country has to become one of the highest priorities of both SAPS and its presiding ministry.

Finally, it would seem that there's social dislocation between South Africans themselves. Stratification within the black communities has occurred, and has left quite a disparate gap between newly affluent suburban middle classes, townships and rural areas. Recent remarks by an African Bank CEO, have reaffirmed preconceived notions as to the extent of concern for the poor by the wealthy. This could only serve an every-man-for-himself ethos, exacerbating the problem. This is not to mention the distance between two of the most polarized groups in the country (black and white South Africans). The oppression and indignity suffered at he hands of a white regime may also lend to a sense of entitlement amongst criminals who commit violent crimes, some of whom could have been detainees at the hands of the state. Families which have tried to understand the daily lives of black South Africans should be commended.

The Hewitt family in Pretoria garnered much attention (praise and criticism) for their endeavour. Personally it may serve as a valuable stepping stone in attempts to know one another and the struggles we face as different groups in society.Crime may be the result springing from our social dislocation with one another. A multiracial/ethnic/religious society is one which needs to work harder in order to achieve cohesion, especially when its past is mired in segregation and oppression.

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