Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Crime in South Africa
Following on from my recent raft of posts on South Africa, I'd thought I'd offer one more, with some thoughts on crime in South Africa.
As the World Cup approaches at a pace and the world's largest sporting event arrives in Africa, it brings with it an infernal and clumsy media spotlight, seeking soundbites, summations and easy cliche. There is no doubt that crime in South Africa is one of the basic lenses that the country is viewed through, with over-eager, spittle-flecked pointing to the terrible murder rate (2nd worst in the world with 0.49 murders per 1,000 people; compare the UK at 0.014 per 1,000), top of the per capita rape league and 10th in the world league of crime (below the UK and US though...).
The crime problem in South Africa is fed on by racists as an example of blacks being incapable of looking after themselves and that Apartheid should be brought back as speedily as possible, plus, the successes of a majority rule South Africa are actually down to the white folks that used to rule the roost...happily ignoring their hypocrisy that the current crime problem can only be a result of ineffectual black leadership. Typical racist cherry picking.
The truth is far more complex than that, as anyone with a modicum of intelligence will understand, what follows is a very brief summation.
The key factor, as it is with all crime, is poverty. The gap between the haves and have-nots, inadequate educational resources, the desperation of existence in poverty making acts of crime acts of survival, the acts of those with nothing to lose. What compounds this though is that Apartheid was an exceptional device of social engineering, a device of such repressive power, of such brutality and violence; that it kept this key factor in check. It did so with barbarity but also with institutionalised repression and psychological degradation of non-whites. It divided and ruled between Africans and Coloureds, keeping the majority oppressed and turned in on itself.
So imagine what occurred when that evil, repressive device was removed?
Now add to that the police and judiciary needing a total overhaul, from a racist weapon of the state, to a trusted and essential part of the new democracy. Now add to this a new found ability to accurately report crime and people turning to the police and the judiciary for support, so crime, previously hidden, starts to spike. Now add to this a nation free of previous racial barriers and a wider access to modern goods and trappings of success, which always encourages acts of crime.
Now compact these key factors into a country in transition from what it was, to what it could be and you are going some way to explain the high levels of crime that blight South Africa.
If these are the overarching causes then are two more elements I want to touch on, one a by-product of the hegemony and the other, more controversial.
Crime breeds crime, so in a crime epidemic it begins to seep into elements of society that it would not normally. South Africa suffers from this particularly badly with high population density in its urban conurbations, so much so that crime is no longer really isolated to certain areas but has a wide spread (although let us be clear, the main victims of crime are still the poor). It is harder to resist becoming involved in criminal activity the more your community turns to it and with such a high unemployment rate and the clamour of poverty, you have a perfect breeding ground for spiralling, self-perpetuating crime.
The final insight into South Africa's high crime levels is a controversial one and is posited by Antony Altbeker in his excellent book: "A Country At War With Itself".
To paraphrase, he believes that South Africa has become inherently violent, that South Africans are, both as an outcome of Apartheid but also the ensuing crime wave, transforming into people with a greater willingness to be criminal, to be violent, to take matters to extreme ends.
It is if via exposure to brutality, tolerance has hardened and bred altered social mores and values.
I find this hypothesis interesting, if not a little worrying and most definitely very upsetting; it brings to mind an image of the entire nation of South Africa as damaged individuals and that Apartheid has so much more to answer for as a recurrent and perhaps eternal abuser.