Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Can South Africa stop the crime?

Charles and Joey Botha, who were found murdered on their farm. He had been hamstrung and her face was crushed with a brick. Photo: News24
It seems as though crime in South Africa is on a rapid rise again.

This is not a negative post. I remain committed to this country. Part of that commitment is being concerned about the negative things that jeopardise its future.

Every day we read horrendous stories of crime in the news. Many stories tell of sheer brutality on behalf of the perpetrators.

We have seen the unbelievable stories of:

I am a realist. We live in a miracle transformation of a country. We are lucky that the vast majority of poor disenfranchised people are as patient and peaceful as they are. We are a developing country with one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. Other countries with similar issues have similar crime problems (e.g. Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico).

I am an optimist too. I have convinced friends to move back to South Africa - the latest moves to Johannesburg from London in a few weeks time. Our economic growth is fantastic and holds the possible solution to many of our problems. I even thought that perhaps it was possibly acceptable for the government to hide crime statistics from the public - so as to improve confidence in the country as a precursor to economic growth.

But while I am a realist and an optimist, I don't believe in excuses for unacceptable behaviour or performance (ask anyone who has worked for me!). There is no excuse for crime. Ask the guy at the traffic light who is trying to make a buck by washing windscreens. Or a hawker who sells less than a hundred rands worth of sweets each day.

There is also no excuse for the shoddy police work and corruption that sees criminals evade capture or go free. There is no excuse for underspending budgets and then blaming massive court backlogs on lack of funds (imagine if you were an awaiting trial prisoner - possibly innocent - for two years). There is no excuse for overcrowded jails that sees 100 prisoners in a cell and early releases for dangerous offenders.

Crime is threatening to ruin the miracle of South Africa's transformation.

I don't doubt that the problems our criminal justice system faces are difficult. But progress needs to be seen to be occurring. Preparedness to consider new alternatives is critical.

What about:
  • "three strikes and you're out" - the Californian legislation that enforces an automatic life sentence with no parole after three (any three) convictions

  • reevaluating the death penalty

  • involving the army to support increased numbers of police raids and roadblocks

  • intolerance of poor performance and crime in the police force

Of course there are problems with every possible solution - witness the problems with the three strikes legislation in the US. However, progress starts with an intolerance of the status quo.

I am in a position where I am considering my next job. There are many overseas opportunities. I am committed to this country and unlikely to move at this stage. But if I woke up with an intruder in my bedroom and shot him (hypothetically - I don't own a gun) to defend my family, as my cousin did, I would have to consider leaving - as my cousin did. I do not blame anybody for seeking greater security when they or their family are haunted by crime. When your kids wake up from crime-induced nightmares, I believe your perspective changes.

Perhaps most sadly, I am fortunate in that I have choices and I am fairly well protected in a security village. Most of South Africa live in townships and are subject to daily crime - being robbed of their wages or pensions by taunting youths or even their own families. You can be sure that if the wealthy are seeing increased crime, life for the majority of our population is becoming more difficult too.


kyknoord said...

And yet - and yet - you are still an optimist? Holy shit, Batman! What are you on and where can I get some?

It is the question said...

I'm an optimist because I see the shop assistant or the cripple at the traffic lights who jokes with me.

I'm an optimist because of what's happened since 1992.

I'm an optimist because I have worked in Zimbabwe and seen how much further we've come than they have - despite the longer time they've had.

I'm an optimist because I work with amazingly talented people of all races.

I'm an optimist because I see generations for whom there is no hope beyond unskilled labour, but who hold no grudge but merely hope that their children might achieve what they couldn't.

I'm an optimist when I see Bryan Habana and Aikona Ndungane score awesome tries.

I'm an optimist when I marvel at South Africa's economic growth over the last three years.

I'm an optimist because of people like Nelson Mandela, Johnny Clegg, Bishop Tutu and all the others who are less known but have contributed their lives to give others a better chance.

It is the question said...

And I'm an optimist when justice works:

From Iol:

Promise to hunt down killers fulfilled

April 10 2006 at 02:24PM

By Anna Louw

When two members of the Flying Squad were murdered while recovering a hijacked vehicle in Katlehong, detectives vowed to hunt down their killers and to bring them to justice.

Now the killers have been handed long-term prison sentences in the Johannesburg High Court, after the judge convicted them on various charges.


Bosbefok said...

My heart aches for the country of SA. It has all the right properties to become the jewel of Africa and yet it is being ruined by crime, incompetance, nepotism,reverse racism,lack of serious authority and sometimes plain stupidity. But it will always be home in my heart. Returning expats will bring wealth in knowledge and finance, but they will only return in large numbers when serious crime is no longer tolerated. That cant happen while education is getting worse, and Government tackles the easy options such as Liscenced gunowners, Vehicle drivers etc instead of the criminal element first.
It just gives me the Zigg !!

It is the question said...

Well I'm not sure we're on the road to ruin. I think many, many things are going right. I have had the priviledge of working with fantastic people, black and white, in the private, public and government sector.

I am so excited by the positive transformation - and meet others -white and black - who share this too. It is uplifting being in their company.

It is inevitable that when attcking a challenge as big as the one we have gone through since 1994, mistakes will be made. We need to be honest and decisive when dealing with those. Crime and Justice is one such area.