Maverick Citizen


Murders most foul – South Africa is spiralling downwards

Murders most foul – South Africa is spiralling downwards
In the vortex of despair South Africa is eating its own: 25,000-plus murders a year, kidnappings, assassinations, extortion and mob vigilante violence against suspected criminals in the absence of a reliable police force. (Photo: iStock)

Constitutional South Africa now faces an existential threat that is bigger than all of our political differences. If we don’t recognise it and find a way to address it together we will find we have no foundation to address any of our social problems. Hand wringing is not a political strategy.

South Africa is slowly but surely losing control to crime and social breakdown. Whether it be the murder of a young black woman lawyer in Rustenburg, the killing of veteran journalist Jeremy Gordin or random acts of gun violence, it’s clear we are losing. 

In the vortex of despair South Africa is eating its own: 25,000-plus murders a year, kidnappings, assassinations, extortion and mob vigilante violence against suspected criminals in the absence of a reliable police force. 

A senior member of the NPA said recently: “If the FBI were brought into South Africa now they would run a mile.”

Today everyone feels a little afraid. Last week a thoughtful friend and patriotic, flamboyant and hopeful South African, not known for being hysterical, wrote on his Facebook page:

                                                      I love

                                          #MyJoziMyMuse &


marra after 3 murders in a week of people I knew I’m reconciled that I may be a statistic too. 

I know how he feels. The only people who feel safe are those with bodyguards, bullet proof cars and blue lights. 

As Israel Nkuna writes today in his letter to ministers from the poverty-blighted Mahlathi village in Limpopo: “Is it possible you are suffering from a medical condition? We must try to get to the bottom of whatever it is that’s causing your nerves to die off. It’s clear you can’t see and can’t feel anymore.”

Nkuna terms the condition “insulation syndrome”.  

Jeremy Gordin was killed during a house robbery. (Photo: Twitter)

Over the weekend Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, in his Easter homily, called South Africa’s malady “a near-biblical vortex of greed and corruption in which the unscrupulous steal from the poor and swallow the hope of ending inequality”. He criticised politicians who “play in-again-out-again revolving doors, changing mayors and speakers the way other people change their socks”.

Action, not endless diagnosis

I agree with Makgoba. We all do.  

Archbishop Thabo Mokgoba. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

But in the week in which the Guptas (predictably) did a runner, it’s clear that while State Capture was brazen and garish, and while there’s still a big job to unravel and prosecute its perpetrators, it will soon pale in the face of economic capture by organised crime, using violence as its main weapon, and the breakdown of the rule of law. As Lindiwe Mazibuko warns in an opinion in the Sunday Times, there is meaning in the madness and there are people who profit off the social breakdown.

Or, as the NPA official quoted earlier put it (and he should know), “organised crime is the biggest threat to democracy and significantly more dangerous than State Capture”.

This gathering storm suggests that constitutional South Africa now faces an existential threat that is bigger than all of our political differences. If we don’t recognise it and find a way to address it together we will find we have no foundation to address any of our social problems: the health system, basic education, inequality, a just transition away from carbon.

Hand wringing is not a political strategy. 

South Africa is spiralling downwards. There were more murders recorded in 2020/21 than in 10 years of political violence between 1985 and 1995.

In 1991 we faced a similar crisis as political violence mushroomed out of control. The apartheid state had lost legitimacy to rule yet there were elements within it who stood to profit greatly from a collapse of political negotiations. Recognising this led to civil society – Cosatu, the South African Council of Churches and business – taking matters into their own hands, and commencing a process that led to the National Peace Accord (NPA). 

According to one case study of the NPA its “direct and tangible impact” included: 

“the establishment of a National Peace Secretariat, 11 regional peace committees and more than 200 local peace committees. Approximately 15,000 peace monitors were trained across the country, drawn from all sections of society. The peace structures themselves, and the cooperation of key elements in government, political parties, business and civil society, enabled considerable progress in reimposing the rule of law and bringing peace to many strife-torn communities.”

The lesson for today is that at that time trade unions, business and civil society saw the all-consuming danger and stepped above their sectoral interests, and were able to draw the rest of society alongside. The violence did not stop, but it did not achieve its objective. Although at terrible cost, eventually peace triumphed. 

Not even the assassination of Chris Hani on 10 April 1993 (recalled here by Ronnie Kasrils in an interview yesterday on eNCA) could halt the transition process, although it came frighteningly close. The Peace Accord galvanised and consolidated a new social and moral force, above party politics, capable of rallying the good in South Africa and keeping hope alive during a political transition. We owe it to Hani, whose social agenda is far from complete, that peace is not destabilised again. 

According to Kasrils “that’s the signal for us”. That is why a similar initiative is needed once more. 

Protesters march through the streets after Chris Hani’s assassination on 10 April 1993. (Photo: Gallo Images / Media24 Newspaper Archives)

However, we must take stock of one important difference. By its own admission the Peace Accord “failed in its objective to bring socioeconomic development to communities torn apart by violence”. Today, violence festers and is most intense in the face of social despair and economic desperation, in the wastelands that ring our cities and their centres. It will not be countered unless there is a willingness by the haves to take urgent, immediate measures to address the real state of disaster (people’s lives and opportunities) and to press the government to do so. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Three decades on, Limpho Hani believes SA leaders have betrayed her husband’s legacy

For example, last week we endorsed a proposal to reduce a basket of essential food prices for all children (A serious proposal to overcome child hunger… but will we choose it?). For a hungry child, and the parent who tries to shield them, every day counts. But in the eight passing days the proposal’s advocates have mainly run into further symptoms of “insulation syndrome” among those with the power to make this happen.

There is much we could do. Good people have far more legal power and political space than we had in the early 1990s. It’s time to stop posturing and prevaricating; there is a bigger threat than all our differences. We need to set to fixing it. Our lives depend on it. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sam van Coller says:

    The political arena is a mess, business sits on its hands, the trade unions continue to live in the past, NGO’s do their best but do not have the ‘power’ to turn the “insulation syndrome” around – our country is sinking at high speed. There remain two major community institutions that unite and have power of numbers, Faith Groups and Sports Organizations. We need a single initiative that has immediate impact and captures the attention on a national basis. And we need a Champion to stand up and make the right move. As a start I make a plea to Archbishop Makgoba to call on the major Faith Groups to come together and establish a national fund – The National Fund to Eliminate Malnutrition – to which every Faith Group member is asked to contribute, no matter how little. The fund would be managed by Gift of the Givers. I think it was Beatrice and Sydney Webb who said “If many give a little, the result will be plenty”. The Sporting Codes could be asked to join in with a small levy on entrance money at all events. Food suppliers could be approached to supply food at cost. NGO’s could assist Gift of the Givers with distribution. The media could assist with ‘selling’ the project as widely as possible. One successful national, unifying initiative will lead to others.

    • Helen Lachenicht says:

      I like your idea! And would support it ***

    • Erika Jansen says:

      I agree with Sam van Coller.
      We do have groups/individuals in place to effectively change the most pressing needs, but this will require (even more) public funds. I think SA needs a 3-pronged action to address our most pressing ills:
      Child nutrition
      Improved primary education.
      Acceptable public hospital and medical care.
      There are outstanding South Africans to lead and inform-think Jonathan Jansen in education.
      Estelle Ellis can investigate officials of the EC DOH’s appalling treatment of medical specialists and their departments, going back 15 years. Shame on them.

    • Sarel Van Der Walt says:

      Great idea. A simple slogan of Zero Hunger! for any & all who lives in SA.

  • Eulalie Spamer says:

    When political leaders, including the man holding the highest position in the land, cabinet ministers, councillors, mayors, are all tainted with criminality but live charmed lives in conspicuous consumption then it is clear: Crime pays and there is seemingly no social censure of criminals who live the lives of celebrities. And of course there is less than 10% chance that there will be consequences for acts of criminality.

    • Michael Britton says:

      Yes, Eulalie, there is truth in what you say, but that should not be used as an excuse to do nothing. Years ago, I came across a story about a woman who, every time she went to the beach, picked up one item of rubbish that she had not taken to the beach. Friends told her she was wasting her time, that the beach was still badly littered. Her response was, “Yes, it is. But every time I go there, I know there is one piece of rubbish less that when I last went.”
      If this attitude were adopted by hundreds or thousands of other people, it would eventually make a difference.
      There is an old saying (attributed to Edmund Burke, although there is some doubt about this):
      “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
      Whoever first said it is irrelevant. What matters is that we put the same energy it takes to complain and whinge into doing something constructive. Sam van Coller’s suggested plan (see the 1st comment on this article) is a workable and coherent start.
      The task of addressing the economic and social disparities is far more than any one party or organisation can pull off on their own. The country requires a joint effort from all citizens. We owe to our children, to our grandchildren to leave the country in a better state than we found it in. I’m ready to do what I can.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    A heart wrenching piece and one must agree that crime is an existential threat to what remains of the South Africa we dreamed of. The ANC has proven from the outset of our democracy that they not only tolerate criminals in the highest echelons, but also protect, aid and abet them. State capture’s lasting legacy is the dismantling of effective policing and the prosecuting authorities, paving the road for the budding organized crime syndicates. The police has also been hampered by the knee-jerk (politically fueled) reaction to Marikana, as well as our idealistic application of our Constitution where the risk-reward reality is lopsided in favor of criminality. The foundations of this is democratic failure, where crooks and incompetents still hold some of the highest offices in this country. Ultimately, this is on the voters. 2024 will be make or break.

    • Neil Parker says:

      I think you have pretty much nailed it. There are deeply embedded worms in the woodwork at very high levels and until the NPA / Hawks find enough courage to thoroughly investigate “without fear or favour”, the rot will continue. I think (for example) if they were to pursue (with the utmost vigour) the individual(s) behind the hit on Babita Deokoran , they would soon start identifying such “worms”. The same is true if there were to be a concerted effort to find out who was behind the attempted assassination of Andre de Ruyter. Instead such cases are conveniently swept under the carpet and the “cancer of corruption” that de Ruyter described continues unabated. And I would point out that a spiraling murder rate is in the interests of such “worms” because it enables them to disguise assassinations as “just another murder among many”. In that respect, I am not entirely convinced about the murder of Jeremy Gordin “during a house robbery”.

  • Blingtofling HD says:

    I am so inspired by this article. The proposed plan is workable, accountabllility can be ensured and it could succeed in lifting us out of this spiral of feeling defeated and helpless. It is calling on all those who have the power to change SA for the good, to apply their power to instill integrity, charity and cooperation not for their own gain, but to see our country flourish. I believe we can save our country if we stand together. If we continue to be blind to our reality, the outcome will be another example of ineptitued and corruption of so many of our African states. The media’s role is clear. Lead the way. You have a good plan from which more plans and projects can flow.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Thank you for a sobering, depressing and yet inspiring article. A plea from the head and heart and one which will resonate with so many. It often feels as if the only glue holding us together is the free press and the (mostly) honest justice system. Strength to you and keep pushing this. We need it.

  • Petrus Kleinhans says:

    For your appeal to be heard we need real leaders from every sphere of society to stand up. But I have long felt that what we have been facing a vacuum of leadership for decades in South Africa. A total failure of leadership from the spiritual leaders, the business leaders and the political leaders. If the true leaders will not stand up now, this society is lost.

  • Geoff Young says:

    It’s my fond hope that Lindiwe Mazibuko is successful in leading the formation of a new political movement to challenge any ANC/EFF coalition and offer a better alternative than the DA in its current form. A movement that discards socialist or Marxist ideologies that are irrelevant to SA’s problems and focuses on growth-oriented economic policies, invests heavily in law enforcement, education & healthcare and strips away the vast, unnecessary regulation & bureaucracy that suffocates investment & real growth. A sorely-needed democratic ideology that has nothing to do with race or culture and everything to do with real, practical economic liberation. In other words, the exact opposite of the nationalisation (aka theft) espoused by the “in name only” EFF and hopelessly corrupt ANC. Is this a dream or can it happen?

    • Stef Naude says:

      Any alternative to the ANC/EFF coalition will require the DA’s involvement, as problematic as the optics around their leadership are. The prospect of Mazibuko being in the mix of a new political movement is exciting, but what has happened to Songezo Zibi’s Rivonia Circle, or Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa? Surely they all need to join forces in a broad civic movement – an upgraded UDF. The problem with these individually based entities and potential moonshot pact partners is that they don’t appeal to the working class and legions of the unemployed. A charismatic, yet authentic leader needs to emerge to galvinise these sectors of society and join the new UDF.

    • Andrew Launder says:

      Let’s hope it can happen. Sadly Zille and Steenhuizen have taken the DA to a dead end . We need fresh young black idealists to shine the light with these workable ideals.

  • andrea96 says:

    “It will not be countered unless there is a willingness by the haves to take urgent, immediate measures to address the real state of disaster (people’s lives and opportunities) and to press the government to do so.”

    I feel nothing for the “poor”, not do the”haves” have a moral obligation or even power to change things. The poor have voted for the anc for 30 years. They have had the government they want for 30 years. The saying of lying in ones bed comes to mind.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      The “haves” sadly are not a bottomless pit of taxpayers and no matter how much compassion we have (or haven’t) it’s not enough to pull SA out of the sinking hole created by the ANC with racist BEE policies, radical economic transformation, politically connected theft, tenderpreneurs and a compromised SecurityService and Judiciary. No one is going to save us. We have to save ourselves. The only thing, in my opinion,that could shock us back into positive territory is for tax payers to turn off the taps! If we’re going to collapse then sooner rather than later, if we’ve got a chance to survive and rebuilt all that has been lost, then let’s find out now. A tax revolt is the only way.

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