I live in the wonderful and volatile city of Joburg in South Africa. Sometimes I get the urge to write stuff down. This is where it lives.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Very good article... depressing, but true

So I know it's been like forever since I posted anything here - been busy getting married and honeymooning and stuff... (will post a couple of pics up soon).

Unfortunately this comeback post is a serious one. Related to my previous post, the article below has made me feel justified in my feelings (and depressed the hell out of me at the same time).

I love SA so much and KNOW that most of the citizens are great people, but the rotten bunch that commit these horrific crimes sure make it seem like hell on earth.

It's not.

But maybe I'm wrong - read on...

Evil depth of SA’s crimes calls for drastic measures
By Rhoda Kadalie

A FEW days before the unspeakably brutal assassination of Brett Goldin and Richard Bloom, I noticed a little news report in the papers that went virtually unnoticed.

A Bloemfontein farming couple, aged more than 80 and 70 years respectively, was assaulted by five armed men. The old man was dumped in a scalding hot bath until the soles of his feet fell off and the guys jumped on the chest of the old woman breaking her ribs, damaging her lungs and her heart.

I read and reread this incredible story simply because my brain could not absorb such evil. Soon after, four corpses were found in a field in Philippi, all of this hot on the heels of the horrible murder of Judge Ngoepe’s angelic-looking granddaughter.

These murders unleashed a groundswell of emotion that demonstrated the public’s frustration with the levels of crime, which seems not to abate no matter what the statistics say. Talented people are wiped off the face of the earth by young people who should still be at school or in college. Callers to radio stations, text messages, and letters to the editor revealed a vulnerable nation living not so much in fear of crime itself as with the fear of being the target of the unmitigated cruelty that accompanies crime in SA.

Why is crime in SA so evil? Babies, young girls and grandmothers are raped; old people are hacked to death; women live in a state of fear; and government inspires no confidence in the justice system’s ability to stem the tide.

Last week I visited a maximum security prison, and all the inmates I dealt with were murderers. Many of the men had already served five to 10 years of their life sentences, and all looked incredibly young, which means they committed their crimes when they were teenagers.
We cannot explain these evil crimes in terms of our past even though apartheid did play a role in brutalising people in ways we shall never know. Nor can we blame it all on poverty because many countries with similar and worse poverty do not have the levels of crime we see here. So what is going on here?

Have we provided the context for the levels of crime we are experiencing today? At the time of the truth commission in 1996, several gang leaders approached me as human rights commissioner, complaining that political “gangsters” were promised the option of immunity but not them. They asked me if I could set up a meeting with Dullah Omar, the then justice minister, where they would request immunity for certain crimes in exchange for information on police who were working with the gang leaders and drug lords. For several reasons this meeting did not take place, among them being that government felt we should not negotiate with criminals. As much as I understood the reasons, I firmly believed it was a moment lost.

Many politicians are perceived by criminals to have become instantly wealthy. The criminals reckon politicians do not have to be educated or work hard to be rich, so why can’t we do the same? They are not role models, and so through crime and drug trafficking we gangsters can also live rich. What we see in the townships is the glamorisation of crime, and many have told me that what they earn through real work is pocket money compared with the money they get through crime.

Government has failed to act and set boundaries for criminals, so criminals use their anger and criminality in a pseudopolitical context to continually test the limits of a weak justice system and its boundaries, which are extremely malleable and elastic.

Our sentencing regimes are no deterrent. A crucial part of any argument against the death penalty is the assurance that brutal criminals will be kept locked behind bars. With recidivism rates of 80% and with government’s failure at rehabilitation and reintegration, prisons have become hotbeds of gangsterism and crime, where criminals operate between communities and prisons, keeping the networks alive no matter how long they are incarcerated. Prison has no effect, and with a rape culture that is endemic parole is often threatening to the public and should be feared. That is why people are calling for the death penalty.

As someone who opposed the death penalty all my life - through columns and speeches and letters to the editor - I am beginning to rethink my firm conviction on this matter, only insofar as SA is concerned. The only way we will be safe is when those who take life are denied the right to life as the only means to reassure the public that murder will not be tolerated. Further, government has repeatedly pardoned criminals with heinous track records, some of whom committed even more horrendous crimes on their release only to be sent back to prison again.

Gangsters reward contract killings. Goldin and Bloom’s killers have co-operated with the police because the act of killing brings with it a reward of moving up into the ranks of the “Americans” gang. Prison is no deterrent; in fact going back enables the gangsters to continue their activity with more clout and power, as they will have gained the respect of their rivals. Jonny Steinberg has written about this in his columns on these pages, and in his award-winning book, The Number.

We will never address crime unless President Thabo Mbeki authoritatively and unequivocally condemns murder every time it happens, and sees to it that the maximum punishment is meted out effectively. His silence over the brutal murders that happened last month was conspicuous. Government is not interventionist enough. In fact, the tolerance of white-collar crime and the growth of the corruption industry among political “gangsters” sets the context for gangsters who constantly explore ways to buck the system.

Before 1994 we robustly sang, “We shall overcome”. Today it more appropriately means, “Ons sal iets oor kom”, if we do not do something drastic soon.

Kadalie is a human rights activist based in Cape Town.