When the 87-year-old internationally acclaimed Ndebele artist, Dr Esther Mahlangu, was attacked and robbed earlier this year, @kgadi_ZA tweeted that South Africa is a crime scene. When the horrendous crime stats for the first three months of the year were reported this week, DA MP, Andrew Whitfield, also used that description. I can’t agree more except to note that it is an active and evolving crime scene with little chance of resolution.
South Africa has lost its world status in most activities except for violent crimes. We are right there with the best of the worst. Excluding small Caribbean islands, Wikipedia puts us at 7th. You are about 6 times mores likely to be murdered than in the US and about 20 times more likely than in Europe. Outside of warzones, South Africa is an exceptionally dangerous place to live. The total personal contact crimes for 2019/20 which, given the violent nature of SA, can be life changing is 621 262 or more than one incident per 100 people. Since most times more than one victim is involved in, say, a house breaking or hijacking, the number of people affected is probably more than 1 in 50. Its amazing that our society still functions. With a few years of stats like these, just about everyone should be booked off work for PTSD.
But the stats don’t reveal the associated level of violence and depravity. In the mid-80s, I got a teaser of this new phenomenon, at least in white areas. My wife and I were strolling through a parking lot in Sandton when we were set upon by four thugs. One went for my wife and three laid into me trying to relieve me of cash and some superfluous red blood cells. One rudely stabbed me before he even asked permission while another was waiting to get a clear shot at my neck with a sword. The third, right in front of me could have had a gun as we later found out, but I was too busy worrying about the sword and running through my mind Monty Pythonesque images of lopped-off limbs and heads and fending off repeated knife attacks. They were part of a large gang who terrorised Joburg for about three weeks. When they were finally rounded up, they were charged with two or three murders, about 20 attempted murders and more than 50 cases of aggravated assault. Today we routinely have criminal gangs of 10 to 20 armed with assault rifles that disdainfully treat cash-in-transit vehicles as their personal ATMs. Or the farm murders where people are tied up and tortured before being killed.
Then we have rape. Take the October 2015 case where two couples were having an evening stroll in Rhodes Park, Joburg. Their lives were shattered when they were accosted by a gang of 12 men. One of the women was raped and the men tied up and tossed into the lake to drown. What about an incident in April where a 15-year-old girl was raped and her eyes gouged out! When it comes to rape in South Africa, it’s often not about power as some sociologist try excuse. There’s an element of barbarity where no female from baby to 85-year-old gogo is excluded as prey. I could accept it if these were isolated incidents, but they’re not. Excuse me for being well adjusted, but I cannot begin to comprehend that depravity.