South Africa

Violence in SA: Wake up, Mr President!!!

By Ranjeni Munusamy 12 March 2013

On Monday it was revealed that members of the community of Muden in KwaZulu-Natal are afraid to sleep in their homes at night following a horrific massacre in which six family members were shot dead by gunmen posing as police officers. Also on Monday, the extent of the injuries to Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia, who died in police custody after being dragged through the streets by a police vehicle, was revealed in court. The ANC in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is also seeking protection from government after another senior leader was shot dead. All in one day – all in the country President Jacob Zuma claims is not nearly as violent as it is made out to be. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

The phenomenon of violence in South Africa continues to be a subject of interest and intrigue around the world. An article in The International on Monday probed the “poor match” between the downward trend in police crime statistics and public perceptions of violence in the country.

Crime figures in the country are complex. The annual SAPS Report 2012 suggests that cases of violent crime are on a steadily downward trajectory. Recorded murders were down by around 3% since 2011 – but that still yields a figure higher than the US, which has a population six times larger.

Indeed, marginally falling crime rates are not translating into ameliorated public sentiment, towards either the performance of the police or feelings about the security of South Africans more generally,” the article states.

It quotes Chandré Gould, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, as saying there is a “poor match between crime trends and public perception”.

Even though the stats tell us that the rate is coming down, the truth is that it remains very high. And many people have the experience either personally of being victims of violent crime, know of someone else who has, or have read about cases in the newspaper. And so there is a general sense that crime is constantly present,” Gould says.

Four incidents in the recent past have thrown the subject of violence in South Africa into the spotlight: police killing 34 mineworkers at Marikana, the rape and murder of Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp, Paralympian Oscar Pistorius’s arrest following the shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and the death of taxi driver Mido Macia following brutal treatment by the police which was captured on video. All four of these incidents made headlines around the world, and all four are being scripted as part of the narrative about violence in South Africa.

Individually, each of these incidents is an indictment on the society in which it has occurred. Collectively, they are disastrous to South Africa’s international image. For many, Marikana thrust South Africa back to its Apartheid past when the police used brutal force against civilians to suppress resistance against the former government. The extreme violence of Booysen’s rape and assault, which led to her death, lifted the lid on rampant and brutal sexual violence in South African society, up to then not treated with any sense of alarm by the authorities.

Pistorius was the poster boy for South African sport and the triumph of determination against adversity. His being charged with the premeditated murder of Steenkamp and revelations about his arsenal of weapons are not viewed in isolation from a society tormented by crime and prone to extreme incidents of violence.

Macia’s public torture by the police, beamed around the world, caused shock and horror. On Monday, the prosecution revealed in the bail hearing of the nine policemen charged with his murder that Macia suffered extensive internal and external injuries and that he died from oxygen deprivation.

The autopsy found lacerations at the back of Macia’s head, on his scalp and jaw. He had abrasions on his lips, forehead, cheeks, nose, legs, arms, and back. He also had extensive haemorrhaging in his right lung and in the tissue surrounding his heart. He was found in a holding cell of the Daveyton police station, in a pool of blood, without any pants. There were also bruises on his genitals.

Macia’s death resulted in a rare and unusual public expression about the state of the country by former Mozambican first lady and wife of Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel.

South Africa is an angry nation… We are on the precipice of something very dangerous with the potential of not being able to stop the fall.

The level of anger and aggression is rising. This is an expression of deeper trouble from the past that has not been addressed. We have to be more cautious about how we deal with a society that is bleeding and breathing pain,” Machel said at a memorial service for Macia last week.

But South Africa’s first citizen does not agree. Addressing the National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament last Thursday, the same day on which Machel spoke at Macia’s memorial service, President Jacob Zuma said South Africa should not be “rubbished” over “heightened incidents of violence against women and children, and other forms of violence”.

However, in expressing our disgust, we should not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the 52 million South Africans are peaceful, caring, law abiding citizens. They love their country. They do their best each day to make South Africa a better place. Therefore, when expressing outrage, we should be careful not to then paint all South Africans as violent and brutal. We should be careful not to rubbish our country.

We should not and cannot lose faith in our own humanity and our collective ability to correct the wrongs that we see in our country. We also dare not portray our beautiful country as an inherently violent place to live in. South Africa is a stable, peaceful country. Like all countries, there are elements that conduct themselves in a shocking and unacceptable manner,” Zuma said.

Are these statements a defence of the country and its citizenry or denial of a serious problem? Perhaps they are both. Perhaps our president felt that the negative publicity the country was attracting needed to be countered from the highest office and positive messages about the country were needed to offset the damage. Or perhaps he realises that acknowledging the extent of the problem requires extraordinary attention from government, which it is not in the position to offer. Perhaps he feels that conceding the magnitude of the problem of violence in South Africa would be an indictment of his own leadership.

But what is the effect of what the president is saying? Zuma wants these incidents of brutality to be ring-fenced from ordinary life in South Africa. He wants his citizens and the world to believe that South Africa is generally a “stable, peaceful country” with sporadic incidents of violence blighting its image.

Is it, though? Do South Africans feel safe in their homes, on the streets and in their places of work? Were Mido Macia and Anene Booysen the exceptions in a country otherwise at peace with itself?

The answer, Mr President, is NO.

Macia and Booysen’s brutal and horrifying deaths should be eye-openers. They should not have lost their lives in vain, so that South Africa’s political leaders can go on thinking that beyond their bulletproof windows, high security walls and battalion of bodyguards, the country is safe.

Over the weekend, another brutal mass murder occurred in Muden in Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal; a murder reminiscent of the horrific political violence which scarred that province during the 1980s and 1990s. It is alleged that in the dead of night an unknown number of men, dressed as police officers and armed with AK-47s, opened fire in separate rondavels, targetting all the men, even young children. Six people were killed and four others seriously injured.

On Monday, the SABC reported that police had conducted a raid for illegal firearms two weeks ago but the guns confiscated were never recorded officially. This has raised suspicion in the Muden community that the police had a hand in the massacre – yet another vote of no confidence in the South African Police Service.

On Monday, the ANC in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands said it would appeal to government for protection of its leaders, the SABC reported. This follows the killing of ANC branch chairman Sbu Majola who was gunned down on Friday night after attending a meeting in the area.

In 2012, another ANC leader, Jimmy Lembede, a ward councillor, was murdered by people pretending to be members of the community seeking help. Two weeks ago Mbabazane municipal speaker Mondli Mkhize escaped an attack.

The attacks all form part of an inexplicable rise in political killings in KwaZulu-Natal, which the ANC – and by extension, government – cannot ignore in the run up to next year’s national and provincial elections. There have also been political killings in North West province due to factional battles within the ANC.

These incidents of political violence cannot be seen in isolation from the broader problem of violence in South African society. Something inherently evil and debased has penetrated the psyche of South Africans, of all races and classes, urban and rural. This has caused a devaluing of and disrespect for human rights, and a plague of brutality. It has infected the police service but it lurks in homes and streets across our country, as crime and domestic violence appears to get bloodier.

Denial of its existence is not the answer to stopping the wave of violence sweeping across the nation. In order for South Africa to stop being a terrifying place, the truth can no longer be sugar-coated. For South Africa to stop making headlines internationally for the wrong reasons, we have to confront the reality that the violence in our society in not normal and that it is intolerable. The president is of the view that this could constitute “rubbishing” our country.

But trying to blame the brutality in our country on our past, as the president and others have many times resorted to doing, means we are not dealing with the reality of the present and the impact on the future. A generation is being raised in the context of fear and extreme violence.

Our abnormality has become their normal.

Once more, Graca Machel’s words should not fall on deaf ears. She is not prone to being alarmist and her warning should not be ignored:

South Africa is an angry nation… We are on the precipice of something very dangerous with the potential of not being able to stop the fall.”

Will the ANC and South Africa’s government hear and understand this? Will they find the courage and skill to act forcefully and intelligently? Would they again defend the police minister who refused to cut short his honeymoon to deal with the crisis, and would they not condemn the deputy police minister’s trip to an arbitrary UN conference when her attention was needed at home.

We, the people of this country, don’t know. Our trust in the government’s abilities has long ago evaporated.

Perhaps there will be a moment soon, when all of South Africa’s people, united, shout loudly and clearly:

Wake Up, Mr President! DM

Photo by Greg Nicolson.

 

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