Friday, November 02, 2007

Seeking Answers to tough questions….

Oswegan, who lives near Portland, Oregon features delightful Police reports from his area every Thursday, well worth a visit!

They just crack us up, because the crimes the Police there have to deal with are along the lines of ……..
· “A juvenile girl was sitting on the neighbor's flower box at the end of their driveway. She was reportedly "waiting for her soul mate."
· Two people were seen smoking on the porch of a vacant apartment on Foothills Drive.
· A couch was seen in an alley near Second Street, but there was no one sitting on the couch. Police later found that the couch was on private property.”

Max and I have both commented on the contrast between living there and here in SA. Oswegan replied saying “Suzi, I think living in South Africa might be a little too nerve racking for me. Why so much crime there? Is it akin to a large US city in that respect, like New York or Chicago?” And in a later answer to Max he said “It sounds a little crazy there. Is it due to the disparities between rich and poor?”

These are good questions and the answers are just too big to answer in the comments (in fact to be honest, I don’t think there are definitive answers, the problem is so complex). But since it is an issue I have been reading a lot about lately, in an attempt to understand why it is so bad here, and what we can do to change it, I decided to try and address it here.

Before I get to it, I just want to balance the whole thing by saying that, despite all the crime, this is still a great place to live, and it has many wonderful qualities which help to compensate for the negative aspects.

By trying to discuss the crime issue openly, and arrive at some understanding, I am in no way linking myself with those negative ‘old South African’ diehards who go around blaming everything on the new government, and moaning and groaning about how good things used to be. I wish they would just leave instead of spreading their negativity around, because there are many of us who, despite the serious social problems we face, are optimistic and positive about this place, and who celebrate the cultural diversity, natural beauty and unique combinations of lifestyle that make it so interesting to live here.
Right…… to the subject at hand!

I have already done several posts around the subject of crime, simply because it forms part of the fabric of our daily lives. Some links to past incidents and discussions are : in which I speak about the murder of musician Lucky Dube and mention the 20000 murders that have taken place here this year!
the incident in which I was stabbed while trying to stop a thief last year
Which looks back on the incident and its aftermath, and an analysis of the impact of Apartheid, how our Government is soft on crime, and our politicians model a culture of corruption and lawbreaking.
About the taxi industry here. I must do a post about it one day, it is beyond belief the things that the taxi drivers and operators get away with, but since they have gunned down several Traffic Officers who have tried to apply the law to them, (not to mention large numbers of fellow operators who are creating competition for them) they are now more or less a law unto themselves… defensive driving to avoid a) taxis and b) hijackers is a way of life here. Along with the rules of the road, kids get taught how to recognize and avoid possible hijackers!
Scroll down to a heading “a scary incident”, involving my grandson almost getting attacked by a Police dog, and again the issue of a crumbling legal system arises.

Having said all that, let me try and gather all these thoughts, as well as some others, into some sort of cohesive overview.
South Africa is one of the world's most crime-ridden countries, with nearly 20,000 murders recorded in the last year. Rape is literally an epidemic, and no-one is exempt, we have had frequent reports of little babies and old bedridden grandmothers being raped in their own homes, often by relatives.

Certainly poverty has something to do with it, but that does not explain the deaths. In Zimbabwe, crime is also rife, but for the most part, it is the act of desperate people trying to steal something so that they can feed their families, without the accompanying violence.

The thing that is scary about crime here is the gratuitous violence that goes with it, the rapes and murders which accompany the theft, and these really speak of a society in deep trouble, where human life seems to have lost its value.

There is no doubt that life is cheap here, people are regularly murdered for their cell phones …. So I don’t think it is a simple matter of the disparities between rich and poor.

It also goes beyond racial tension, because the same people who will murder a teenager on the beachfront, for his cellphone, will also rape their own grandmother at home…. This is not only a ‘Blacks getting back at oppressive whites” issue.

I do think that the combined effects of poverty and years of oppression have given rise to a sense of powerlessness, which has led to a deep underlying rage that goes way beyond financial circumstances.

It also goes deeper, to the core values of our young people. And living in a world where moral values are no longer politically correct doesn’t help. It has become fashionable to scorn what are termed “right wing religious values”. But without them, where is the moral compass that guides humanity? If there is no right and wrong, but only grey areas and ‘if it makes you happy, it’s OK’, then what is to stop youngsters from growing up selfish and shallow. When you add to that anger and frustration at their powerlessness, you have a lethal mix.
The culture of ‘bucking the legal system’ and civil disobedience which developed in the apartheid era, as a means of undermining the oppressive government, has sadly carried over into our new democracy, and it is still considered sort of heroic and fashionable to get away with whatever you can.

When this is combined with a legal system that is woefully understaffed (both in terms of numbers and qualifications) and is skewed in favour of protecting the rights of criminals over those of their victims, you end up with an escalating problem that is compounding with each new generation who has to grow up surrounded by violence, and feeling hopeless and worthless in the face of it.

Added to that, we face a huge refugee problem here. There are already over 3 million Zimbabweans who have entered the country, mostly illegally, with no hope of finding jobs. We have large numbers of Somalis and Nigerians, amongst others, and they all bring with them the social problems from the countries they have fled, as well as being on the fringes of the economy. There is no doubt that much of the drug dealing, prostitution, car theft syndicates etc are being run by Nigerians.

Here is a report I wrote on our community blog, about a recent discussion on this topic…

“Also at this week's meeting, there was a discussion about illegal immigrants and xenophobia. We tend to label all the criminals in the area under the generic term "Nigerians" so it was interesting to meet a Nigerian lady who is here working as a missionary, and helping to relocate refugees back to their home countries. She gave us an insight into some of the problems faced by immigrants who arrive here, get ripped off by unscrupulous 'agents' who take their documents and money, and leave them high and dry. Jeremy Davis reported on a house in Central where 19 Bangladeshis were living in 1 room, and each paying R900 per month rental! Thankfully that landlord has been "sorted out"! But it does highlight one of the big problems we face in this area....absentee landlords really do not care who lives in the area, or what they get up to, as long as they can get income on their properties. And those of us who live here are left to put up with the anti-social behaviour and conditions that result from this. We need to agitate for laws that make the landlord pay (either by forfeiting their property or facing criminal charges) for allowing illegal activities on their properties.”

I am not really qualified to comment on how similar all this is to conditions in large US cities like New York or Chicago, there are obviously some common problems, but then there are also some that seem to be unique to Africa.

And at times the problem seems overwhelmingly huge and hopeless, but if the Government can catch a wake-up, and start dealing with the issues firmly and realistically, starting with corruption in the top echelons, re-establishing the high value of human life, and making the cost of committing crime higher than the rewards to be gained by it, then we do have a chance of turning it around.

So what keeps us here?
I suppose a combination of pioneering spirit, a love of living on the edge, enjoyment of the unexpected and illogical, and boundless optimism that things can improve! ...... No seriously, it is a deep, deep love of the warm vibrant continent, which is the only home we have ever known, and which worms its way into your heart, so that anything else seems like a pale alternative.

As well as thisthis and this. .... i could go on ad infinitum, Africa really is a special place!


Janet said...

So interesting and thought provoking on many levels. I had no idea the crime was that bad. But from all your photos I can see why you love it there.

RUTH said...

Such an interesting post. It's sad to hear the crime levels are so bad but can see from your photos why Africa is so beautiful and would hold a place in anyones heart.

Sheila said...

Sue I can only repeat what Janet and Ruth have said before me.
I had no idea it was that violent a society.
Thank you for the email by the way, and I understand why you feel as you do, after that experience I would be the same..!

Oswegan said...

What a great post suzi, and thanks so much for all of the quotes and the link.

You have done an excellent job describing the situation there in this post and your many others on the topic.

It sounds very much like a systemic problem that touches everyone in deep ways. I'm not sure I can offer much of an opinion regarding a solution.

Africa seems like a wonderful place otherwise, it is unfortunate that it is such a dangerous environment at the same time.

I will add a link to you from my site.

Thanks again,


skywriter said...

Beautiful pictures of your country. I have never visited but my best friend from childhood was an exchange student there and her tales of the spirit of the people and the beauty of the landscape stayed with me. I have another blogging pal RobC, Rmblings from a Blue Dot, who lives in South Africa in the central part of the country and from him I've learned much.

I take my freedoms and safety here for granted. Yes I'm a federal law enforcement person, and I'm trained and proficient in firearm use.. . but I still live in a town where many don't lock our doors and the only crimes are petty theft or vandalism. I bless each day I have this type of place to lay my head.

Suzi-k said...

Hi, thanks for the visit, SW, good to 'meet' you. The freedoms you speak of and enjoy are what makes the whole thing so ironic, so many died here in order to win freedom from political oppression, only to find that their freedom to live in peace has been eroded in the process... but where there is life, there is hope!

thanks for your interest, and the link.