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Are South Africans turning the other cheek to crime?

Bint Assalaam – Cii News | 15 Jumadal Ukhra 1435/16 April 2014

South Africans are gripped by the trial of a celebrity who shot his
girlfriend claiming to have mistaken her for a burglar. Because burglaries
are common in SA. While the world is absorbed by the embarrassing details
of it, the nation is divided into three groups about it. The “he’s innocent
until proven guilty”, “he should rot in prison” and the group who “doesn’t
care”.

This has nothing to do with the celebrity and his trial, but I put it to
fellow South Africans plagued by crime, to consider their reaction if faced
with a robber, murderer, rapist, hijacker or criminal. Would you run to
safety? If armed with a weapon, would you use it to the best of your
ability to bring as much harm to that person as your anger can permit?

In most cases we would want to run to safety. And even if armed we’d
probably run if time permitted or else hide the weapon in the fear that it
gets used against us and our own. There are rare cases of fight rather than
flee.

Horror crime stories of fathers forced to watch their daughters being raped
while a pack of dogs rob them blind, statistics of the number of murders in
South Africa per year and surveys proving tourists don’t wish to visit the
country because of the levels of crime, have created a fear among South
Africans. Naturally. So much so that the general reaction to crime has
become a hope that we are not victims to it, and for victims of crime to
wait for their fate to be decided by a criminal.

Crime is so rife in the rainbow nation that South Africans are extremely
angry about it. Angry and vocal, but inactive. We are not organising mass
marches in aid of getting government to impose stricter laws against
criminals. We are not finding ways of “arming” ourselves other than putting
up higher walls and fitting in better alarm systems. We are not gripped by
heinous crimes to the extent that it’s prompted us to form vigilante
“batman” groups ridding “Gotham” of its crime.

Because where there is fear there is passivity. That is the language that
is being spoken in response to crime. And criminals are aware of it. They
are aware of the country’s slack laws, the almost inadequate and very
corrupt police force they “evade” and the reaction of utter fear of those
they terrorise. They are well informed about the country’s law enforcement
and justice system because they confidently undermine, abuse and mock it.

They are also fully aware of our feelings of powerlessness and the lack of
hope we have in our protective systems. In many cases they know our
movements and are probably better acquainted with our routines than our
neighbours.

They know we live in secluded little boxes within bigger boxes. Most people
from the suburbs don’t even know their neighbours. How do we identify
criminals scouting the streets of our neighbourhoods when we can’t identify
our very own neighbours.

In 2011, I interviewed a hijacker doing time for numerous hijackings.
Dubbed by the media as “the Mastermind”, he was stealing cars by 16. He
knew more about cars than anything else he explained. After a while he
ventured into stealing bigger cars and made a name for himself. He was good
at starting any car without a key. Later he got into hijacking because it
was quick cash.

“There is a difference between hijacking and stealing,” he said, “When you
steal a car you aren’t afraid of the car you stole. When you jack a car,
you take it when the owners are at hand. You are in power; there is this
adrenaline that controls you.”

They have power. They know it. Taking the law into one’s own hands is a
crime. But if localities formed organised groups against crime, neighbours
became better aware of incidents in their neighbourhoods and if we actively
manned the streets we cohabit maybe we could gain our power back.

We’ve become desensitised to crime that “at least no one was hurt”
appeases us. As it should. But not that we become indifferent to the
extent that it is the common outlook. We claim to be a free South Africa,
but are we?

There is no freedom when life is constantly lived in fear.

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