30 October 2006

The grim side of paradise

Before I arrived in South Africa in 2004, and in the first year or so afterwards, I found myself quite often in the defensive mode: “South Africa is more than crime,” I responded when people asked me about the crime situation, or tried to convince me about the violence in this country. “South Africa is more than poverty,” was my reply on questions related to inequality. “South Africa is a beautiful country and you have no right to bash it”, I defended my new home, every time someone was negative about it. “South Africa is not more violent or criminal than other countries.” And so on.


I still firmly believe that this is the case: South Africa is a beautiful country and it is much more than crime and violence. But that does not by all means entail that crime and violence do not exist in the Rainbow Nation. In contrary. Two years have passed after I first set foot on South African soil, and it makes me incredible sad having to admit what I didn’t see or didn’t want to see: crime and violence play a large role in the daily lives of South Africans. Everybody who dares to deny this is as naïve as I used to be.

In my direct environment, I know plenty of people who have fallen victim to crime: burglary, robbery, muggings, shootings, hijacking, and so on. I can consider myself lucky: besides being threatened with a knife by a group of street teens in order to hand over my cell phone and wallet, nothing has happened. I am grateful for that, as other people are not that lucky. Take the Newspaper of October 30, 2006.

  • 13-year-old suspected of setting alight 19-yeaqr old girl (October 30 2006; Cape Town)
  • Man kills ex-girlfriend and himself (October 30; Kwa-Zulu Natal)
  • Six youths arrested for murder and rape of 15-year-old girl (October 30; George)
  • Nadine Gordimer robbed and assaulted (October 30; Johannesburg)
  • Official slain for shoes, phone and laptop (October 30; KwaZulu-Natal)

It breaks my heart over and over again when I hear about events similar to these. About children being murdered, raped, maimed or snatched from their mothers’ arms. More than once was the fight against my tears was futile after reading about gang rapes, violent break-ins, drive-by-shootings and other horrific events. The fact that these and other crimes happen on a very regular basis adds an extra chill factor to the situation.

Perpetrators of rape

Rape is the crime that I, as most women, fear most. The sad thing is that this beautiful nation is one of the countries with the highest number of rape cases. From March 2005 to March 2006, the authorities have counted over 54 000 rape cases. Women Rights’ organizations say these figures are the tip of the ice berg as they claimn that many rapes are not reported.

Last week, a new report was published on rape in South Africa. This time not the victims but the perpetrators where interviewed, and the conclusions were in one word horrific: A survey amongst 1 370 South African males of ages of 15 to 26 years brought to light that 16 percent (16.3%) had raped a non-partner or participated in some form of gang rape which is “lovingly” nicknamed “streamlining”.

You can't be too careful

My boyfriend, who happens to be South African, is very worried about the crime situation in his country and about the impact it will have on the long run. He is a proud South African, and loves his country like you won’t believe. I share his feelings and worries, although I have to admit that in the beginning of our relationship I found his cautiousness a bit over the top at times. Now I realize he was right: You can’t be too careful enough in South Africa.

Many say that one shouldn’t be so harsh on South Africa, and not so negative and pessimistic. “Because it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world”. Yes, South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world but unfortunately breathtaking natural beauty, stunning scenery, and a lovely climate might be contributors to your quaoity oif life, safety is a prime factor. And that is why I understand why so many people take their chance to build a life in the continent I “fled” two years ago and give their children the opportunity to grow up without locking them up behind burglar bars and electric fences.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town


Anonymous Niels said...

Hi Miriam,
Ik reageerde op je vraag op emigratie.pagina.nl
Heb zelf ook 18 maanden in ZA dorgebracht voor stage, een geweldige tijd gehad in dat prachtige land, en zou ook zo terug willen.
Maar ik geef toe,de veilgheid, en ook de economische situatie die op zich nu goed is, maar nog alle kanten op kan (en een baan is er 1-2-3 voor me) zijn ook belangrijke factoren.
Succes met je werkzaamheden en plannen!

4:33 PM  

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