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Mass shootings only a national crisis when they occur i...

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Opinionista

A question for Bheki Cele – why do mass shootings only become a national crisis when they occur in Gauteng?

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Thamsanqa D Malinga is director at Mkabayi Management Consultants; a writer, columnist, and political commentator, as well as author of Blame Me on Apartheid and A Dream Betrayed.

We have ignored the issue of gun violence in other parts of the country for far too long. As a result, it is only when bodies start falling in Gauteng that suddenly we all cry about a national catastrophe.

There has been a massive outcry, accompanied by lots of speculation, regarding the recent mass shootings in Gauteng. Bheki Cele has experienced one of his busiest schedules since assuming the role of police minister.

In a very short time over the past couple of weeks, Cele has criss-crossed Gauteng and addressed communities – and typical of politicians, we have seen him extending largesse in the form of police resources to affected communities.

Guns literally blaze every other night and bodies fall into the swelling river of blood reminiscent of the apartheid state-sponsored township violence leading up to our first democratic elections. The media, on the one hand, seem to be thrilled at the opportunity to garner an audience – don’t waste a good crisis, it is said. On the other hand, you have the majority of South Africans bemoaning a scourge that appears unprecedented in the post-apartheid era.

But is it? Oh, we of easily swayed and fickle minds!

Read in Daily Maverick: “Alex FM music manager among at least 5 people killed overnight in Alexandra

Gauteng is not alone with bodies falling at the sound of guns rattling in the stillness of the night. We have ignored the issue of gun violence in other parts of the country for far too long. As a result, when bodies start falling in Gauteng, suddenly we all cry about a national catastrophe.  

Have we forgotten?

Children born on the Cape Flats after democracy have never experienced the stillness of the night. The same for those in Durban, in Umlazi at the Glebelands Hostel. We can say much about marauding gangs of Basotho nationals or township hoodlums being a law unto themselves in Gauteng. We can spread as many unverified voice notes as we want about foreigners arming themselves and planning to shoot South Africans on sight. The reality is that we have ignored the issue of guns in the wrong hands on the Cape Flats and KwaZulu-Natal for far too long. We are now making this out to be an unheard-of phenomenon.

It is said that history has no blank pages, so let us go back in time. In 2016, the township of Nyanga on the Cape Flats was declared “the murder capital of South Africa” and in 2018 Cape Town was named the most dangerous city in the world outside a warzone.

Have we forgotten the 2016/17 campaign by Nelisa Ngqulana calling for a second police station to be built in Nyanga, which has about 60,000 residents serviced by only one police station? I don’t even have the appetite to calculate the ratio of citizens per cop.

So bad has the situation been in Nyanga that in a 2018 Bloomberg article, Michael Cohen and Paul Vecchiatto wrote:

“Nyanga is at ground zero of the explosion of crime in South Africa, where the scourge ranks among the world’s worst – the national murder rate of 35.2 per 100,000 people is more than six times higher than that of the US and the highest in nine years. An average of 56 homicides a day were reported in the 12 months through March. Over the same period in Nyanga, police logged 308 murders, 1,910 assaults and more than 2,000 robberies there.”

Nyanga is not an isolated case. Almost all townships on the Cape Flats have made an appearance among the places with the highest murder rates in South Africa.  

Read in Daily Maverick: “Another 10 people gunned down on Saturday

What needs to be noted as well are the mass gun murders taking place in other Cape Flats townships such as Mitchells Plain, Hanover Park and Manenberg every day, every week and every month, leaving children dead after being struck by stray bullets during gang drive-by shootings.

Gang, tribal as well as political killings have also rocked KwaZulu-Natal, more especially the urban metros. Just like the Western Cape in 2014, the government of KZN instituted a commission of inquiry into political killings – also known as the Moerane Commission. No tangible action came out of it.

So, what makes the recent Gauteng mass shootings different from those on the Cape Flats and Durban and surrounding areas? Illegal guns in the wrong hands, mass shootings and violent armed robberies should never receive swift action by Cele just because they are in one province instead of another.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Weekend eruption of tavern massacres shocks South Africa to the core

Cele has appeared twice in Soweto after the shootings and made commitments of more resources (patrol cars and tactical response teams). The same has never been extended to communities on the Cape Flats and the notorious Glebelands Hostel and Umlazi township outside Durban. We are now starting to pay a hefty price for the fact that we have ignored lawlessness and turned a blind eye to the gun wars that have been raging in these areas.

The Gauteng mass shootings did not arrive by stealth. Our politicians, together with those who are meant to serve with them, have been sleeping on duty. Just as it took us years to classify the highly addictive nyaope as an illegal drug, so it is with guns and violent crimes.

It is not a problem until it rears its ugly head in Gauteng. And for that we will continue to pay. DM

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