Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)

Africa: SACQ 43, March 2013

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I was recently approached by a media student from a London  university who asked me to answer these questions for a task she had:

In a sentence, why would you say South Africa is such a violent/dangerous place?

What do you think about people owning guns in South Africa? Should people there have the rights to own them as protection?

Do you think the situation there will ever get better?

Do you think poverty is a reason for crime there? And do you think that another reason is racial differences, or was that in the past?

Her reflected view of South Africa put me immediately on the defensive, but her naïve questions reflect South Africa as the world has come to see us over the past few years.

They echo the questions of hundreds of journalists who have contacted me and my colleagues in the past three months, as violence and police brutality again made national and international headlines.

The series of events that led to international attention started with the violent protests by farm workers in De Doorns in the Western Cape in early January, and the equally violent response from the police. This was followed by the brutal rape and evisceration of Anene Booysen, a young woman in the Western Cape. Her death was followed by the murder of Reeva Steenkamp at the hands of her famous athlete boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius.

Before the dust had settled on these cases South Africans were subjected to the ghastly cell phone images of police dragging taxi driver Mido Macia behind a police van in Daveyton while crowds watched. Macia later died in police custody. Less than a month later a police officer was killed in Daveyton when he tried to move a street vendor's caravan.

To readers of SACQ, and most South Africans, news of the enormously high levels of violence and of police brutality is nothing new. However, the sequence of events, and the involvement of double celebrities Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp, have served to highlight the very serious problem of violence South Africa faces. Perhaps, with increased sensitivity and media focus we may begin to see a shift, at least away from the political rhetoric that has probably contributed to harsher policing.

In this edition of SACQ Anthony Collins argues that the violence we experience is normalised in every aspect of our lives, from child rearing to intimate relationships.

He challenges policy makers to consider the consequences of not dealing with violence in ways that will change social norms; and concludes that until we do so we can expect that we will not be able to reduce violent crime, or for that matter police brutality. These views are echoed in the interview with Rachel Jewkes that concludes this edition.

Also in this edition, Vanya Gastrow considers the constraints to accessing justice for Somali shop owners who have been the victims of robberies in the Western Cape. She argues that impunity is one of the factors contributing to this community experiencing high levels of violent crime.

David Bruce offers an overview and analysis of the effect of massive recruitment into the SAPS over the past ten years and questions whether it has had the intended effect of reducing crime and improving policing.

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