Defend Truth


Even sacred places can no longer offer refuge from criminals


Dr Brij Maharaj is an academic and civil society activist.

In South Africa the failure of government to act firmly and decisively against crime and violence has allowed criminals to rule the roost.

It is debatable whether South Africa is the crime capital of the world. However, crime, in all its facets, is SA’s most serious problem. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) Global Peace Index, in terms of “safety and security, South Africa ranks as the 15th worst country in the world, and the 8th most violent with a murder rate of 31 per 100,000 people”.

Believe it or not, Cape Town (which may soon require visas from South Africans to enter!) is the most violent city in the country, with 65 murders per 100,000 people. It is also ranked the ninth most violent city in the world. The second most violent city is Durban, with 35 murders per 100,000.

According to the latest crime statistics, “over 960,000 serious crime cases have been reported to the SAPS over the 9 months period, averaging over 3,550 crimes every day – or 148 crimes every hour”, between April to December 2016. Furthermore, more than 1400 cars are hijacked every month. According to the IEP, the “total economic impact of violence containment in South Africa  is $66.7 billion – or $1,258 per person or 10% of the country’s GDP as a whole”.

In 2011, there were about 200,000 police, compared to at least 400,000 private security guards in South Africa. It has been estimated that “one in 14 newly created jobs in the country is for a security guard”. Private security agencies like ADT, Chubb, Securitas, and G4S are multinational companies. Incompetent and poorly trained police officers are overwhelmed, and the wealthy elite employ private security. The poor have to fend for themselves, and not surprisingly, there has been an increase in vigilantism.

The UN recognises that crime and violence threaten the “quality of life, human rights, social and economic stability and sustainable development”. Furthermore, “crime impacts on everyday life of city residents, on the quality of public space, on economic prospects. Crime scares away investors or diverts large amounts of scarce resources from social development”.

There are two major reasons for the high levels of crime and violence in South Africa. Firstly. SA is one of the most unequal societies in the world, especially in terms of socio-economic disparities. According to Stats SA 30 million people or 55 percent of the population is poor.   

The second reason for the high crime rate can be attributed to the abhorrent apartheid system that used state sponsored violence to entrench white minority rule. Hence, the majority of South Africans had no respect for unjust laws, which were used to oppress and exploit the blacks.

Professor Jean Comaroff, from Harvard University, argued that “violence, after all, was part and parcel of centuries of white domination – and despite the country’s relatively peaceful transition, violence was also crucial to overthrowing apartheid”.

The latest crime trends in South Africa suggest that a crime permeates all facets of life, even sacred zones like mosques, temples and churches are viewed as soft targets by felons who have violated the sanctity of holy places. 

During the holy month of Ramadan, there were several armed robberies in mosques. On  May 8, 2017, ten men armed with AK-47s held up worshippers at the Hazelmere Mazaar in Verulam: “A firearm was held to the head of a 14-year-old boy. The suspects then forced the boy’s father to open the door to the facility before robbing them”. Commenting on attacks in mosques, then Crime Line head Yusuf Abramjee said: “These criminals have absolutely no respect, and attacking a place of worship again shows the little regard they have for our sacred places”.

On August 11 2017 children were robbed at a church on Bradford Road, Bedfordview. Three armed robbers took cell phones, bags and cash.  Congregants at a church in Selby were robbed on March 5 2017, and the criminals got away with 23 cell phones and cash.

In the past two weeks, there were armed robberies at the Shri Luxmi Narayan Temple in Mobeni Heights and the Maha Shiv Mandir in Sea Cow Lake. A devotee at the Shiv Mandir said: “They said to us not to scream, lift our heads, or place our hands on them. They trampled on us and walked on our backs to get between the aisles and to people”. A sign of the times: “Heavily armed guards with vehicles were standing off at temples across Durban on Friday night for the annual Ganesha Prayer, a significant Hindu ceremony. And now armed security guards are increasingly being used at weddings”.

The President of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, Mr Ashwin Trikamjee said that it is a “sad reflection of the present crisis in South Africa where law and order has been diluted to a point where the safety of religious worshippers is threatened while attending prayer/services. Religious institutions are soft targets for robbers. Nobody attends services with any kind of threat in mind … The long arm of the law is needed to re-establish itself to halt the present escalation in crime and violence”.

As Dr Chandre Gould from the ISS has argued: “For as long as those holding political office appear to act with impunity, or cynically use the criminal justice system to dodge very serious allegations of the abuse of power and state resources, we cannot reasonably expect South African citizens to respect the law”.

In South Africa the failure of government to act firmly and decisively against crime and violence has allowed criminals to rule the roost.  DM

(Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity).


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