28 January 2007

The people versus crime & crooks

My last two posts on Africa in the News revolved around crime in South Africa, simply because I find it a problem that cannot be addressed too often. Crime and violence affect millions across this magnificent country; directly and indirectly. One of the results is an immense public outcry, as South Africans are not willing to live with the current situation.

You cannot open any newspaper without coming to that unfortunate realization. People get killed, raped, murdered, hijacked, assaulted, robbed and traumatized every single day. Despite this, some authorities that are supposed to deal with crime do not see or are not willing to see the scope of the problem.

Jackie Selebi, South Africa's Police commander, has said he does not understand all the fuss around crime and according to Andre Pruis, deputy national commissioner of the South African Police Service, visitors of the World Cup Soccer 2010 don't have to be worried because crime "is concentrated far away from the World Cup Stadiums."

Crime whingers

Charles Nqakula, South Africa's safety Minister, in June 2006 advised 'crime whingers' to leave South Africa if they are not happy. "Those ones can continue to whinge away, they can continue to attack everything that we do, they can continue to be as negative as they want, in the end it is the many people out there who for many years have been crying for peace and stability in South Africa who determine who rules this country," he said.
To my opinion, the authorities are failing to protect their own people and they are stabbing them in the back by calling them crime whingers. A figure of 59 murders per 100 000 people per year in the Western Cape province, or a national figure of 18 500 murders per year, says a lot. Note that these figures exclude the number of people who survived a murder, who were assaulted, raped, hijacked, maimed for life and traumatized.

Zero tolerance

The authorities – especially Nqakula - should listen to people's complaints and to their stories, and they should take zero-tolerance steps to protect them. That is their job.

Feeling abandoned by the authorities, many communities across South Africa have taken the matter in their own hands, and manifested themselves into anti-crime movements. Take Cape Town for instance. Hout Bay, close to the Mother City, has established an extremely effective neighbourhood watch (Hout Bay Neighbourhood Watch) counting over 1800 people. Together they have managed to counter crime significantly. The same counts for Mannenberg, a coloured area in Cape Town that has lost quite a few members through gang wars.

But the public outcry goes even further, by praising ordinary people who decided to help out and to to prevent more damage, sometimes putting their own lives at risk.

South Africa's unsung heroes

This evening MNET – a national TV channel – dedicated the late afternoon to South Africa’s unsung heroes who, in their own ways, did something about crime. From five young boys who warned a farmer and his family about men who planned to attack the farm to an ex-police officer who got severely hurt when he saved a family from a blood thirsty robber. From an ex-convict who jumped in between a girl and her rapists – and now patrols the neighbourhood 24/7 - to a man who prevented an old lady from being robbed and stabbed. And more great, courageous and heroic people where put in the spotlights.

The motto of the evening was to keep your eyes open as someone’s safety might depend on you and your actions. Don’t walk away but help! And that is what the African ideology Ubuntu – meaning humanness - is all about: being there for one another. Because “a person is a person through other persons.”

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town

26 January 2007

Crime and the world cup soccer 2010

According to Andre Pruis, deputy national commissioner of the South African Police Service, crime levels are not to affect visitors who come to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. This because crime is concentrated in areas far away from the chosen venues, the head of event security explained at the International Sports Security Summit in London: "Where the soccer is going to take place, where the stadiums are, where the police are, there will be low crime levels." Clearly, Mr Pruis has no idea what he is talking about.

While indeed a great percentage of crime happens in the townships, informal settlements and other marginalized areas across South Africa, which are situated far from city centres, crime also hits these and other wealthier parts of South Africa. The reason behind this is plain and simple: It is here where the loot is.

Take Cape Town, my city of residence and the epicenter of the Cape World Cup experience. Here, muggings, robberies, thefts, hijackings, and more serious acts of violence happen on a regular basis. The situation in the Mother City is nothing compared to Johannesburg, but crime is certainly present like it is in most other major cities in South Africa. This is not a doom scenario, this is the hard reality. As monitoring events of crime in the Western Cape is part of my daily tasks, I unfortunately know what I am talking about.

While much of the crime monitored indeed happens away from the rich city centre, the city centre of the Mother City is also targeted by thieves, robbers, rapists and other crooks. Over the last months, we have had stabbings on Table Mountain, robberies on Lion’s Head, muggings in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and knife pointings on Lion’s Head. In Greenpoint, the home of the future World Cup Stadium, a man drawing money at an ATM was shot. In Newlands, a young man was recently kicked paralyzed after returning home from a night out with friends. I recently was knife pointed in the city centre by a group of street kids, praying on my phone and wallet. Just to name a few incidents.

The same sad story unfortunately counts for other South African touristy cities. On Durban’s beach front, a French woman was brutally gang raped a months or two ago. In Johannesburg’s more affluent neighbourhoods, violent robberies and hijackings are reported every day. My sister in law was shot at while driving her car. Luckily she remained unharmed.

I need to emphasize that despite all this, South Africa’s affluent suburbs and neighbourhoods remain a paradise compared to the crime ridden townships where problems as unemployment, lack of education, lack of chances and loss of dignity are a few of the causes of crime. Yet, one can’t simply promise that crime will not be a problem at the World Cup Venues, simply because the stadiums are situated far away from the townships. Crime does not know borders, it flows - like water - where it wants to go and where it is directed to.

Mr Pruis, I kindly ask you to please have a glance at the most recent crime statistics, and speak to your fellow South Africans from all layers of society about what they experienced crimewise. Or if that is too much effort: Read a newspaper once in a while.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town