Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 05:44:44 AM EST
My previous instalment on crime in South Africa pretty much had the opposite effect I wanted to achieve - neutralising the rampantly overblown and ignorant image in the western media that Johannesburg and other areas of this country are nothing but a warzone, with people locked up in Green Zones and moving from hub to hub in heavily armoured vehicles, ever anxious about the looming threat of swart gevaar (black danger).
Common Johannesburg vehicle
Promoted by Migeru
Now I have successfully scared the bejeebus and other saints out of ET readers with my semi-bombardment of crime related anecdotes, it is high time to get the emotion out and the analytical in. But before going there, it does not seem superfluous to me to stress the superfluous.
- In South Africa, stop being European (or American) for a time. Because, simply put, you're not in the west anymore. Start from scratch before putting on any other kind of spectacles.
- There was (and there still is) not one occasion in which I personally was confronted face-to-face with the crime situation in South Africa. Let me repeat that, with feeling: Not. Once. Nine months here, and counting. I don't own a heavy armoured vehicle, and I've been to places a lot of people find appalling.
A few observations first.
Every time when I regale the fact that I've been walking unscathed through Jozi for nine months, I am consistently greeted with sounds of amazement. Those who are most amazed are white.
If one would (as I did prior to my emigration) sort through the European newspapers for clippings on this country, I'd wager to guess one would predominantly find pieces about:
a) escalating crime
b) the Zimbabwean crisis
Coming here, it did not struck me as particularly odd at first that the same range of issues (plus the exploits of the Springboks, the national rugby team) is dominating the headlines stapled to the street-poles. One feels validated that the newspaper you read back home must have had it absolutely right with all the crime and AIDS.
There is however a more insidious undercurrent concerning the papers that make the most ruckus and hoo-ha on crime, and the stormy present already outlined this in her response posted to the previous diary.
South African reggae star shot dead in front of his children - Independent Online Edition > Africa
- All daily newspapers around here are outrageously sensational. The only light in this dark murk are the weekly papers, appearing around the weekend, and even they are sauced with sensation, albeit with a lower degree.
- Those who are gobsmacked, outraged, stunned, appalled and fill the papers with noise are dominantly the people who sit on the money. As over 90 percent of the entire economy of South Africa was in the hands of Afrikaners after 1994, it all seems awfully convenient that South Africa is these days caught in an unstoppable tsunami of crime and violence.
- As I wrote as a comment to my previous diary, I highly suspect that the international newspapers cue their leading stories on the high impact stories published by the leading SA newspapers. This positive feedback loop sets sensationalism and exaggeration at centre stage. And Helen was so kind to expose a recent example:
The largest black opposition party, the Inkatha Freedom Party, accused Mr Mbeki of being in denial of crime as he was in denial of HIV/Aids. According to statistics a murder takes place in South Africa every 24 seconds and a woman is raped every 21 seconds.
With no justification or source whatsoever and anyone who can do some math will find that losing some 1,6 million people per year on murders alone may sound just a bit over the top. Perhaps they're confused with AIDS?
But how bad is the tsunami of crime, really? In April this year the SAPS (South African Police Service) released a set of extraordinary statistics on the country - which were ripped from their hands to make ginormous headlines the succeeding days to come, such as: "CRIME RAMPANT!" and "VIOLENCE INCREASES!" and "DA: CRIME OUT OF CONTROL!" (DA being the Democratic Alliance, the largest white opposition party).
Two particular statistics were decisively worrying: aggravated robbery (among which carjacking and house robberies) and murder were up, with 4.6% and 2.4% respectively. And those were repeated over and over.
I had to suffer through four days of outraged press before the Mail and Guardian put the first nuance to the story, where they compared the reports from all nine provinces between 1997 and 2007. That gave me the following bar graph (data available on-line at Google Docs):
Numbers from the South African Institute of Race Relations 1996/1997 and the South African Police Service.
I will say that that last spike of course look frightening and that the numbers are high, no matter how you look at them. What I did: I simply added the total of each province's car hijackings, murder, rape and Aggravating Robbery for 1997 and 2007 to produce the nation's total for both years. But it does show that the murder and rape numbers are decreasing within this ten year snapshot, although the bulk of crimes have shifted massively towards material ones. The Mail & Guardian did not draw these conclusions from these numbers - I did, albeit tentatively, as a ten-year snapshot may not be sufficient enough to establish a well defined trend. But because murder and rape are up in 2007 compared to 2006, the trend may actually be down and SA could be seeing a temporarily upward blip.
This is confirmed in the statistics of the SAPS available on-line, here: Looking at the 2001-2007 time series for the whole of the country (pdf!), total numbers of rape, murder and attempted murder do show a slow downward trend, with 2007 forming an upward blip. If 2008 will show a higher number than 2007, then I'd possibly start to get concerned.
But contextualizing is not what is done frequently in the SA dailies and there is now almost open war between the government and the media. The crime numbers are exemplary in this regard: the moment the SAPS released the numbers, the press vilified the ANC government for their failing policy; the ANC focussed on the positive trends in the crime report, marginalized the bad ones, ignored the fact that the SAPS was surprisingly scathing against the government as well but accused the press of biased reports.
As so often is the case in a tug of war around the truth, I'd postulate that truth is most likely slouching in the middle. The slow trickle of good news which one finds buried somewhere on page 5 in the newspapers is testimony to that as well.
Let's walk through some more enlightening statistics:
- The SAPS crime statistics show that rape and murder are also down in Gauteng (pdf) - the most urbanised province of all, holding both Johannesburg and Pretoria. The DA countered, however, that the reporting of rape is down, and that it says nothing about actual rape.
- In Johannesburg, the City Business District was going through a bad phase during the late nineties and early 2000 years - the revamp phase that was unleashed from roughly 2004 is starting to pay off results. Reportedly, crime is down with over 60 percent compared to last year. The CBD is still not speckless, but it is currently a place where things are happening and it's a rather dynamic place to visit.
- In Hillbrow, the infamous area much shunned by everyone except the poor, results of an intensified SAPC program were showing - it is one of the better performing police districts this year with crime detection up 12%.
- A bombshell also highlighted by the SAPS and virtually ignored by the daily press:
- 82 % of all murders (15 746 reported incidents)
- 76% of all rape (39 989 reported incidents)
- and 89% of assaults (380 997 reported incidents) were alleged to be committed by people who knew their victims. That very much implies that more than two thirds of these crimes in this country is not randomly done to strangers such as me walking on the street. These percentages are believed to be much, much higher within townships.
- And for the clincher: The number one area which is most affected by house robberies is Sandton, in Johannesburg -343 cases of house robberies compared to a total of 242 cases in 2006. The number two area is Tembisa (272 cases), the number three is Midrand (252 cases). All areas are situated here, in Johannesburg.
I have visited Sandton, Tembisa and Midrand. Tembisa is a township at the east of the city, and it remains one of the poorest and more violent townships of the entire area. Yet how the hell do places such as Sandton and Midrand make the number one and three spot, respectively - because they form the richest and best protected
areas of the entire city, riddled with so-called "security complexes"?
It's all rather simple: the highest returns for house robbery are there. I applied this logic to my own situation in my previous diary: High walls mark large targets - and it draws in the crime syndicates: organized crime. The syndicates are suspected to have infiltrated the security companies that are supposed to protect the complexes. The enemy, as the Mail & Guardian writes, could come from within. Inspecting the security companies is a nightmare, as their total workforce is now almost double the size of the SAPS. Another scenario is also likely: a crime syndicate buys an apartment inside a security complex, waits for a while to inspect the neighbours, strikes, and moves out.
Lastly a noteworthy trend: the black middle class and black communities are getting very, very angry about crime - the murder of world famous reggae artists Lucky Dube symbolises much of this. As the black middle class is increasing and the super-rich in Sandton and Midrand are topping up their walls, they too become acceptable targets. It is no longer a white vs black divide - as I also suggested in my previous diary it is rapidly becoming a struggle between the haves vs the have-nots. The SAPS itself commented on the April statistics that the source of crime needs to be sought in socio-economic problems - namely, urbanisation, poverty and unemployment, vigilantism, previous offenders and alcohol and drugs. If my suspicions are true, with still roughly 30 million people (out of some 46 million) living below the poverty line, South Africa as a nation is far away from relieving itself of crime.
To sum up.
- The SA press (and dragging the international press in its wake) is obsessed by sensational crime stories and seizes any opportunity to highlight the depravities in this country.
- That doesn't mean all is well but:
- Crime statistics over a ten years period seem to indicate the worst crimes (rape and murder) have been shifting to material crimes.
- The majority of violent crime is not targeted towards strangers, but needs to be put in a social context.
- Statistics also indicate that material crimes are dominantly focussed on the richest areas and that the black middle class is now targeted equally.
In this discussion, skin colour should be inferior - but isn't in this country and worst of all, the racial aspects are only addressed insidiously and commonly by association.
Next part will therefore be dedicated on contextualising crime: I will give my impressions of causes of crime and it will doubtlessly become the most depressing of all diaries as it is unavoidable to interweave the apartheid history in today's world.
SAPS 2007 Crime Statistics PDF
SA total (raw) crime numbers from 2001-2007 PDF