http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/anctoday/ ... tm#preslet
When is good news bad news?
Last week the South African Police Service issued the annual Crime Statistics. What these statistics show is that overall, the incidence of reported crime in the country is declining, indicating a reduction in the number of actual crimes committed.
In his Foreword to the latest Annual Report of the SAPS, National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi says: "A matter of great concern to the SAPS and to the community is the levels of crime in South Africa.Special focus, during this period, was given to crimes such as murder, attempted murder, rape, aggravated robbery and serious assault. As a result of police efforts the following achievements, among others, were recorded:
- Murder decre
ased by 1,7%. Since 1994 the incidence of murder has decreased by a significant 30,7%.
- A decrease of 5,7% in the occurrence of rape was recorded. The rape ratio is at its lowest level since the establishment of the South African Police Service in 1994/95.
- There was a significant decrease in high profile cases of aggravated robbery. The hijacking of motor vehicles decreased by 20,2% and bank related robberies (bank robberies as well as cash in transit robberies) decreased by 15,4%. Both these categories of crime reached the lowest levels recorded since 1996/97. [/*:m]
By any measure, the decreases in some crime c
ategories constitute good news for all our people. There is national agreement on the need to improve the safety and security of the people as an inherent and important part of the pursuit of the goal of a better life for all. The SAPS, the Community Police Forums, Business against Crime, and other activists in the struggle against crime deserve our collective and sincere congratulations.
The improvements in the crime situation are consistent with the progress our country is making in other areas. We were correct to celebrate our First Decade of Freedom because there is indeed much to celebrate. The latest crime statistics contribute to the positive mood among our people, indicating as they do that we are also making progress in the important area of safety and security.
However, despite the advances we have made, all of us know that the problem of crime persists. Among other things, we must therefore use the Crime Statistics to improve our effectiveness in both areas of preventing and combating
crime. This requires a careful study of these statistics and their correlation with other elements that characterise our society.
This study would show, for instance, that most of the crimes against the person occur in poor, black, urban working class areas. This is consistent with all other countries, including the most developed, where this kind of crime tends to be concentrated in depressed and poor urban areas.
In this context we must take note of the concern of the SAPS at the continuing high levels of crime. We must also express our appreciation for the commitment made by the National Commissioner that the Police Service would make a special effort to give additional attention to the crime categories that continue to increase.
For those genuinely interested and involved in the national effort to improve the safety and security of our people, the crime statistics must indicate that more work needs to be done to prevent the commission of these "contact crimes" especially in their are
as of concentration, as identified by the Crime Statistics.
Given the direct, obvious and well known relationship between poverty, community degradation and these contact crimes, all those of us who are engaged in the fight against crime have to find the ways and means successfully to motivate and mobilise even the most depressed communities not to impose additional pain on themselves by allowing for the perpetuation of a permissive atmosphere that encourages members of the community to do crime.
When the then Minister of Safety and Security, the late Steve Tshwete suspended the publication of crime statistics, it was because they did not accurately reflect the crime situation in our country. The Minister and the Police Service were very concerned about this, because it negatively affected their own planning and the effective deployment of our law enforcement human and material resources.
So concerned were the Minister and the Police Service about this matter, including Sydney Mufamadi, S
teve Tshwete's predecessor, that experienced experts in the compilation of crime statistics were brought in from a number of European countries to assess our statistical methodology and the quality of the product.
These experts recommended unanimously that the entire system needed a radical revamp because the information that was presented both to the police and the public, then, was deeply flawed. They were especially concerned at the serious negative impact this was having on the quality of policing.
To ensure that we put in place a correct system, the Ministry constituted a group made up of both South African and international experts to design the methodology and systems that are now being used to assemble, process and compile the crime statistics that have just been released. Nobody elsewhere in the world today has questioned, or would have cause to question the integrity of our crime statistics.
Some in our country may think that crime statistics are gathered, compiled and publishe
d solely to meet the important requirement for government to be accountable to the people. However, a very important reason for the careful gathering and compilation of crime statistics is to improve our national effectiveness in both preventing and combating crime.
The statistics released to the public are the same statistics that the Police Service uses to elaborate its own strategy and tactics further to reduce the crime levels and thus improve the safety and security of our people. It is therefore critically important that these statistics are as accurate and current as possible. They have therefore made an important contribution to the progress made by the Police Service to reduce various crimes, to which the National Commissioner referred in the comments we have cited in this Letter.
I have commented on the matter of the gathering and compilation of our statistics in some detail because there are some in our country who have questioned their integrity and reliability. Essentially, these pe
ople are making the firm assertion that the Police Service, the Ministers responsible for Safety and Security and our Government are together lying to the country when we say that gradually we are winning the war against crime.
To communicate this view, one of our newspapers published an editorial headed "Crime stats lack credibility". It said; "Crime statistics released by the government lack credibility. They are not believed by ordinary South Africans who experience the realities of everyday life in this country. Nor do the massaged figures carry any weight overseas, where the perception remains that SA is one of the world's crime capitals."
Another newspaper carried an article headed "Police statistics on child abuse do not reflect reality, activists warn". On the same page it had another article entitled "Rape has become a sickening way of life in our land". These two articles took up an entire page of the broadsheet.
The author of the article on rape is described by the newspaper a
s "an internationally recognised expert on sexual violence and post-exposure prophylaxis." In an article published by the US 'Washington Post' in June 2000, this "internationally recognised expert" wrote: "Here (in Africa), (AIDS) is spread primarily by heterosexual sex - spurred by men's attitudes towards women. We won't end this epidemic until we understand the role of tradition and religion - and of a culture in which rape is endemic and has become a prime means of transmitting disease, to young women as well as children."
In simple language she was saying that African traditions, indigenous religions and culture prescribe and institutionalise rape. The "internationally recognised expert" was saying that our cultures, traditions and religions as Africans inherently make every African man a potential rapist.
Given this view, which defines the African people as barbaric savages, it should come as no surprise that she writes that, "South Africa has the highest rates of rape in the world, acc
ording to Interpol." To her, this assertion would have been obviously correct, because, after all, we are an African country, and therefore have the men conditioned by African culture, tradition and religion to commit rape.
If she is telling the truth that Interpol has said what she says it said, it will have to explain how it arrives at this conclusion. In 2003 Interpol had 181 affiliated national police services. Of these only 21 submitted reports to Interpol on the incidence of crime in their countries. It would be most instructive to know how Interpol arrives at "world" figures enabling it to arrive at the conclusion about our country it is reported to have reached.
Incidentally, on July 7 this year, the US 'Washington Post' quoted the UNAIDS deputy executive director, Kathleen Cravero, as having said, "Most of the women and girls, as much in Asia as in Africa, don't have the option to abstain (from sex) when they want to. Women who are victims of violence are in no position to negotiate
anything, never mind faithfulness and condom use."
Clearly, the views of our own "internationally recognised expert" are shared by other people in high places, that as African (and Asian) men, we are violent sexual predators.
However, it may be of interest to our readers that a Demographic and Health Survey for South Africa carried out by an organisation called Macro International, funded by the US Government through USAID, showed that rural African women in our country reported a lower rate of rape than women in the United States. The reference to our rural women is especially apposite because it is in the rural areas that we should find entrenched habits that derive from African culture, traditions and religious beliefs.
But of course, for those who are determined to propagate the view that our crime statistics have been "massaged" to tell a lie, and are therefore not credible, such research results do not exist. Indeed, they would not hesitate to assert that the results obtained by Mac
ro International have also been "massaged" or are not credible, for other reasons they would adduce. Naturally, as with our Crime Statistics, they would not produce one single fact to substantiate their assertion, a "fact" whose veracity could be tested.
The June 2004 Vol 2, Issue 1 of the periodical, 'SA Reconciliation Barometer ', of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation carries an article entitled "Crime, Security and Fear of the Other", written by Nahla Valji, Bronwyn Harris and Graeme Simpson. Simpson is the Executive Director of the Centre.
They say: "For many South Africans today, our new democracy feels fraught with threats; in particular a fear of crime fuelled by the mythology that whites are the primary targets merely because of their race. From this perspective, the racialised discourse of crime not only misrepresents whites as the predominant victims, but conversely portrays blacks as the primary perpetrators. In the post-1994 context of rainbow nationalism, this
discourse does not overtly employ a black and white vocabulary. However, race is commonly coded into everyday conversation. For example, 'the hijacker' frequently means 'the young, black, male criminal' in white suburbia. Consequently, young black men are still viewed with suspicion and fear and, similar to the past, they are often apprehended by the police in areas where 'they do not belong'.
"A further consequence of the fear of crime has been an accelerating retreat of middle-class communities behind high walls and private security, prompting a withdrawal from public space and pre-empting the possibility of relationship-building. Although there is a growing black elite who can now afford to join the 'laager', a recent survey reveals that only 2% of blacks have a private security or armed response system - in contrast to 45% of whites - demonstrating that the preoccupation with criminal violence and victimization plays out in racially, as well as economically, defined ways. Viewing the new S
outh Africa through a prism of fear creates an identity of victimhood that is linked to race, reinforcing the divided and racialised identities of the past."
There is an article on the Internet entitled 'Dangers of South Africa: Fear of Crime' written by one Bronwyn McIntosh, a white South African who has emigrated to the United States. She says: "Do you know that feeling of awakening at 3am? Ah yes, we all know that too well, that sudden knowledge that a loud noise has awakened you - the sound of a car starting, the sound of a gun shot, the sound of a scream, the sound of police sirens blaring, dogs barking, the alarm on the front gate triggered by someone opening it, the outside security lights blazing because of movement outside, the security alarm blaring. These were the daily realities of living in a wealthy 'white' suburb on the fringe of Cape Town."
After commenting on the difficulties she experienced trying to acclimatise herself to her new surroundings in the US, she says: "Sure lif
e is cheap there, in more ways than one! And for foreigners, the climate, the scenery, the people and the opportunities available must seem boundless. However, I feel that if one considers relocating a family or business, one has to know and be prepared for the reality of life in the country that has the highest murder, rape and AIDS statistics in the world."
Of course what she is conveying to the rest of the world about a "wealthy white suburb on the fringe of Cape Town" is an outright lie. But people elsewhere in the world who do not know our country, might take her at her word, having no reason to suspect that there are some from our country who will not hesitate to tell the lies she tells.
Having convinced her listeners that she fled from her white suburb in Cape Town, because the black savages were at her door, some editor in our country will then seize on her victory triumphantly to proclaim that "overseas.the perception remains that SA is one of the world's crime capitals."
ji, Harris and Simpson said, "viewing the new South Africa through a prism of fear creates an identity of victimhood that is linked to race, reinforcing the divided and racialised identities of the past."
In an article in the 'Sunday Independent' Higher Education Supplement of September 15, 1996, David Williams of the University of the Witwatersrand wrote about "a psychosis in white society."
He said: "It is as if white people feel so deeply threatened they dare not allow themselves hope for the future, because the pain of having it dashed will be too great. So they look everywhere for evidence of decline, in order that they cannot be disappointed."
Jason Carter is a white American. He spent two years in our country as a member of the US Peace Corps, teaching in rural KwaZulu-Natal. In 2002, he was interviewed by "National Geographic News". Among other things he said:
"The other thing that really opened doors in my mind was the psychological residue of apartheid, that is really s
imilar, I think, to what we're still dealing with in the United States. There are self-confidence issues in the black community, and powerlessness and fear in the white community. And they don't know how to reach out to the black community-the whites don't-and the black community is still developing enough self-confidence to take on, and to participate in, discussions with the white community in the way that they will someday.
"That's so much, that's almost exactly, like what we're doing in the United States, still. In Georgia we've been done with segregation officially for 35 years, and we're still dealing with it. South Africa is just starting on that process."
The psychological residue of apartheid has produced a psychosis among some of us such that, to this day, they do not believe that our non-racial democracy will survive and succeed.
They dare not allow themselves hope for the future, because they know that the pain of having it dashed, which they are convinced will happen,
will be too great. So they look everywhere for evidence of decline, in order that they cannot be disappointed.
Crime in our country provides them with the most dramatic evidence of that decline, the evidence that they are right to foresee a hopeless future for our country, the proof that sooner or later things will fall apart.
The psychosis of which Williams wrote does not allow them to see the positive things that are happening around them everyday. It dictates that they must constantly deny that any good news is real.
For them our new democracy feels fraught with threats. They must continuously find negative superlatives to convey the story that South Africa is the world capital of all the negative things that affect all humanity.
In this situation, fear of crime becomes the concentrated expression of fear about their survival in a sea of black savages, which they fuel by entertaining the mythology that whites are the primary targets merely because of their race.
In the e
nd they fear freedom from their psychosis, convinced that this would destroy their sense of identity, in the same way that a drug addict is terrified by the prospect of loss of addiction. In this situation, good news becomes bad news.
Perhaps we will have to accept what Jason Carter said, that it will take us more than a generation to rid ourselves of the psychological residue of apartheid. For some, the truth we will always tell about the progress we have made and will make, in the interest of all South Africans, black and white, will always lack credibility.
<i>Thabo Mbeki is the President of South Africa.</i>