Two-headed monster

WALKING FROM CAPE Town station to college the other morning, I noticed that a man was trailing me. I could never shake him off – even when I raced over intersecting roads. Panicking, I sought refuge in a café. My follower swaggered past the large windows overlooking the street with a look that seemed to say: “I’ll get you next time, buddy!”

Fast-forward to Friday’s opening of Parliament. I arrived too late to listen to the State of the Nation address but was in time to see gleaming Mercedes limos glide out of the precinct on their way to lunch at the Groote Schuur estate. Protecting the VIPs hidden behind the black glass was a veritable battalion of police. Drizzly Church Square was crawling with little blue men in bulletproof vests – I have never felt so safe in my life. The scene was a reminder of the high-level protection government officials receive in sharp contrast to the highly vulnerable situation I was in just a few days before.

We live in fear; South Africa is paralysed by paranoia. My follower the other day could have been an honest, harmless man on his way to work – but how was I to know? Like every other South African, my ears are constantly inundated with horror stories about crime. Each story – whether it be about a burglary or a rape – strikes terror into our hearts because we know that we could so easily be the next.

It is cold comfort to be told by government that violent crime levels have come down. Even if that is true, the statistics are calculated on reported crimes – which is, in our anarchic and increasingly barbaric society, just the tip of the iceberg. Crime remains eight times higher than the international average.

Crime is a two-headed monster and it would be unfair to lay the blame entirely on government. It has morphed out of control because, yes, the police and justice system is woefully inefficient and overstressed but also because South Africa is experiencing sweeping moral decay. This is something which has its origins in the dehumanising nature of apartheid and the chaotic, violent upheavals that attended that wicked system’s demise.

Added to our historic turmoil, we also have large numbers of young, very poor people whose hopes in life are often dismal. Stealing and mugging just to survive is common – especially amongst jobless migrants who have moved from impoverished rural areas such as the former Transkei to squatter camps on the edge of our cities. These sprawling settlements, which grow larger every year, are in many cases virtual no-go areas to our oversubscribed police and points to there being a very real correlation between poverty and crime.

But government also has a hand in moral degeneracy: it exacerbates the problem by brazenly sweeping highly-publicised corruption scandals under the carpet. The fact, too, that so often criminals – whether they wear suits or balaclavas – are not being punished for their crimes also contributes to the climate of lawlessness that now exists. If criminals knew their actions would have grievous consequences to themselves, perhaps they would be more reluctant to commit criminal acts.

To conquer crime before it holds us forever in its anarchic grip, we need a strong, wise government – a government that will take the threat seriously and purge it amongst its own ranks. The time for empty rhetoric needs to end. The State of the Nation speech (I read it later online) was blurry and equivocal on crime. Undeniably, Mbeki admitted that crime was a problem and that it needed to be resolved. He did, too, make a halfhearted call to action. But calls to action aren’t enough and they don’t necessarily translate into reduced crime rates. Only time will tell whether his words have been the catalyst for decisive and effective deeds. I fear that they are not.

“Blind lead the blind through a moral wasteland” by Rhoda Kadalie –

“State of the nation address” by President Thabo Mbeki –


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