Why is crime in SA so violent?

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Crime is a global problem and is common to all societies, but South Africa stands out for all the wrong reasons. It is the violent nature of crime that makes the South African situation worse. There is a serious lack of regard for human life. The moral fibre has lost its meaning. What should be pointed out is that it affects both black and white, rich or poor, young and old.

Violent crime is not really new in South Africa, especially in the townships. Criminals nowadays will kill you for no reason, whether you resist or surrender. They do not seem to fear anything; there is no deterrent for them – jail is not enough. People are living in fear and it seems like no one is listening to the daily cries for action. While the politicians (ruling and opposing) play with words and try to outsmart and outtalk one another about the ideologies and analysis, we, the crime victims, suffer. Gangsters rule our townships and suburbs with knives and guns and they kill us for fun. The criminals in our society do not only rob us of money, they rob us of our lives as well. We are at a stage where you are still alive only because criminals have not decided to kill you yet. I can count numerous cases where criminals have brutally killed a person just to get a mere R20. Substance abuse has gone up and people do not think anymore now. Our grandmothers and grandfathers don’t only get robbed of their pension money, but they also get killed, even if they co-operate with these criminals. Criminals seem to be deriving some pleasure from inflicting pain to the innocent people. The victims' cries of pain and fear seem to spur them on. There seems to be this satisfaction that they get from seeing their victims in agony – they don’t just want kill you; they want you to die a slow, painful death.

I should know. I was shot five times at close range in 2003, dragged on to the railway lines for the oncoming train to grind, and left there for dead. I can still picture the eyes of my attackers as they sprayed me with bullets until their guns could shoot no more. I can never forget the hatred that they had in their eyes as the bullets grazed my body and shattered my bones. I had done nothing to them and had not even resisted when they tried to rob me.

I have decided to write a book about it as a form of therapy and also to inspire other victims. Some victims of violent crime, like myself, will never get any closure to their pains because they will never know the reasons for their attacks. I am the one who is always afraid and suspicious of anyone I come across, especially at night. Every time I think of my shattered liver and stitched intestines, I picture the barrel of the gun and the sound and sparks of the gunfire. I think of my situation and cry for those who did not survive. Those buried in shallow graves and those whose bodies are unidentified. I think of those victims whose stories never make headlines. Most of the crimes go unreported because of the lack of support and evidence. What I’d like to hear and see now is not definitions and explanations but actions.

Poverty does have a direct link to crime, but drugs and a lack of self-worth are the ingredients for violent crime. I see this every time I visit my aunts in the squatter camps. The kids are so surrounded by hopelessness that it is easy for them to get some negative influences. People have lost the love for self and fellow man. Bad parenting is another contributing factor. Parents, especially fathers, have become so uninvolved in their children’s upbringing that their children find solace in the streets for guidance. Needless to say, these children are vulnerable to all kinds of wrong influences.

There also seems to be no coherence between the government and the communities.

The communities know who the criminals are and what they do, but never really co-operate with the police. It is the same people who buy stolen goods from these criminals regardless of how those goods were received, thereby encouraging the thugs to get and terrorise more people.

The solutions to our crime problem won’t come only from the government, but also from our communities. Yes, the government should play a big leadership role, but we need to deal with societal issues more. It is the hearts and minds of people that need to be fixed first, and that can be done by the communities. Each individual needs to play a role – we’ve blamed one another enough. Criminals are a minority in our communities, yet they continue to wreak havoc in our society. We need to take action, and we need to start now!

Paper read at the KKNK Oopgesprek: "Is dit mensebloed wat hierdie bossie-aarde voed?", Oudtshoorn on 6 April 2007.


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