Defend Truth


Crime seems an intractable problem, but with collective action it can be beaten


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

We as individuals must take a stand against criminals. We simply must be there for one another every step of the way because today you might scatter as a crime is being committed, but tomorrow you may be the victim, and wouldn’t you want others to help you?

The Freedom Charter tells us that South Africans, black and white, are entitled to houses, security and comfort, but for the majority this ideal remains a distant dream. Yes, the ANC government has built in excess of 2.6 million houses since 1994 (no mean feat) but our security as citizens remains under constant threat, as made clear by numerous surveys.

Our people by and large have indicated that personal safety was their biggest concern. Housebreaking, hijacking, assault and robbery are what concerns us most. And as we go into this festive season, we can only hope that our police men and women will perform their duties of protecting us with diligence and fortitude. But somehow, I doubt it.

I would like to divide this issue into two areas of concern. One is our personal safety as citizens and the other is our collective safety as a nation.

Security at FNB stadium after the Global Citizens concert was appalling to say the least. Criminals ran rampant and infringed on people’s personal rights and freedoms. Mobile phones, wallets and jewellery were simply snatched. There was no police visibility or presence for the most part. What is so despicable is the fact that my president was very much secured by loads of security personnel at the same stadium, but his citizens were subjected to outright crime outside the stadium.

As I arrived with my family in Muizenberg for the holidays, we were promptly warned of criminal activities happening in and around the beachfront area. Beware of criminals who threaten you with a knife and simply take your mobile phone, camera if you have it, and money, without a care in the world that maybe, just maybe, they might be caught by the police.

This is the start of my holiday. Now of course we can blame the police for not preventing most of these criminal activities, but why is it that we as South Africans don’t band together in times of trouble? Instead we scatter from the crime scene and become onlookers. We have lost our humanity. Where is our ubuntu spirit of helping others in need, when will we collectively react to crime? When a woman is raped in front of us? Will we react then, I wonder? Or will we also scatter to get away from the crime scene? Are we this pathetic, I hear some ask.

We have a problem in South Africa and the criminals know it. Ubuntu is a myth that exists only in the deep rural areas, it seems, because I ain’t seen any of it here in the city centres.

I once read an article, on crime, in an in-flight magazine. The author indicated that according to his research, South Africans and the way they deal with their personal security can be broken into four types.

First, you have the person that denies that there is a problem:

I have never seen a car hijacking or my house has never been broken into.” This individual is convinced that people are paranoid when it comes to crime. This is not healthy for society.

Second, you have the person on the other extreme who is convinced that crime is everywhere. No one is safe and all manner of crimes are happening 24 hours a day. A car hijacking on every corner and a robbery every second. They relish in crime stats and the misfortune of others: “Did you hear what happened to so and so?” This too is not healthy for society.

Third is the person who thinks you simply throw money at the problem. Better alarm systems, a security company (armed response), electric fences and state-of-the art equipment that should protect you from any impending danger.

Fourth is the person who usually hovers between the above extreme positions who ensures he/she has a plan in the eventuality of a crime. They don’t deny crime exists, nor do they think it’s everywhere, and they know that money cannot solve the problem on its own. So they ensure that they know what they will do and how they will act if confronted with a particular situation.

The author contends that in most cases people do stupid things and react badly in certain circumstances because they have not thought what to do when confronted with a crime situation. What do I do when I hear people in my living room on the other side of the house? What do I do when confronted by someone with a knife in a public area — do I quietly hand over my belongings and hope nothing further will happen, or do I react in a particular manner?

Do you have a plan?

Should we all invest in Tasers and pepper spray to defend ourselves from these elements?

It seems apparent that because of overpopulated prisons, everything nowadays falls into the category of petty crime. The police will tell you to file a criminal complaint for insurance purposes, not to actually attempt to catch the perpetrators.

An old saying goes like this:

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

Another: “Society invites the crime and the criminals accept the invitation.” — Vikrant Parsai

We have underlying factors that contribute to the crime situation in our country.

Our collective safety is also at risk, since budgetary constraints prevent our armed forces from defending and protecting the nation.

You only have to look at the parlous state of the navy and air force. Simon’s Town naval dockyard is nothing short of a active cemetery for naval hardware. Our frigates are docked because we don’t have money to put them to sea, our submarines (all three) are in the dry dock supposedly for repairs, our outdated ships are sinking inside the harbour and our poor sailors don’t know what to do with themselves in and around the town.

Similarly, our air force men and women are grounded most of the time because there’s simply no money to get them in the air, including for training purposes. What is the point of our government bailing out SAA and Eskom to save face and to keep our pride, when our men and women in in the services cannot get the necessary resources and money to defend our country?

And before some of you come up with the simplistic argument of who are we defending ourselves from and we are not at war, and my personal favourite, that money can be put to better use in the social needs departments of government. Well to you I say, our collective safety as a nation from people who are plundering our natural resources in our oceans and those that smuggle drugs and narcotics into the country through the many unofficial ports in this country, do threaten our security in more ways than one.

The defence review undertaken came up with many proposals of how we can avert some of these failings, but Parliament and the executive branch of government is more concerned with protecting jobs than to take the difficult decisions to prevent unacceptable situations such as those in our armed forces.

But before we deal with that, our security personnel no longer see themselves as providing an honourable service to the people, but simply occupy a job for which he or she does not get well paid — and hence the don’t-care attitude we observed at the FNB stadium and in countless other situations.

I don’t care to apprehend, I don’t care to investigate, I don’t care to arrest, I don’t care to protect, I simply don’t care. Fuck Ubuntu.

We are faced, in the first instance, with a structural challenge. The institutions in the justice cluster need to be reconstituted. They have been hollowed out over the past decade or so.

Political appointments of individuals of questionable character and competence can no longer be tolerated. So many of Zuma’s appointments have been nullified in our courts. Let’s get competent individuals who still care about the people and want to make a difference in crime and national security.

Then there is the personal element I spoke of. We as individuals must take a stand against criminals. We simply must be there for one another every step of the way because today you might scatter as a crime is being committed, but tomorrow you may be the victim, and wouldn’t you want others to help you?

So, in wanting to find lasting solutions to this impasse of crime, we would do well to remember that, “rather than dividing the world between good and evil, we decided to divide the world in terms of economics. Economic classes, not moral values, explains human behaviour. Therefore, to cite a common example, poverty, not one’s moral value system, or lack of it, causes crime”.

The Rubik’s Cube, as you know, can be solved in many ways, but you must have the will and the technique to do so.

What are you going to do about it? DM


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