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Friday, March 09, 2007

Crime

If you live in South Africa and possess a working set of eyes and/or ears of late, you have doubtlessly been privy to the news media’s current campaign against the crime crisis.

I would like to state upfront that I believe that crime is out of control in South Africa. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I would even go so far as to accept that it could be considered a “crisis”.

However, I feel that there is more fuss being made about all of it that there really should be. The amount of media coverage the problem receives is not proportional to the actual size of the problem.

I can certainly understand why a lot of people feel that our government is not doing enough about crime. Our president and other government officials seldom do much more than pay lip-service to the problem. Some measures are taken (like setting aside additional funds for improving the salaries of police, hiring more police and building more prisons), but they seem to be offset by more problems (mismanagement of funds, corruption in government and the police beaurocracy and the Correctional Services policy of releasing prisoners so as to make room for new ones). The perception is that the government is spinning its wheels, and not making any significant impact on the problem.

I may be giving our government too much credit, but I think they’re doing plenty about crime. It seems to me that they’re doing a pretty good job of strengthening our economy. The stronger the economy, the more jobs become available, the more money there is for police, the more people can make a decent living without resorting to crime, the crime-rate drops, the economy improves even more… and so it goes. It’s an upward spiral effect that resolves the crime problem in a long-term, sustainable fashion.

They’re seeing crime for what it is: a symptom of a bigger problem. They’re taking a sensible “medical” approach and treating the virus, not the fever.

With that said, they may be missing the boat a bit in the short-term by not properly addressing the problem right now. The worse it gets in the short term, the worse the brain-drain becomes, the less foreign investors look to SA as a viable investment, the more difficult it becomes to strengthen the economy and the whole plan goes down the toilet.

To extend the metaphor: the fever is approaching (if not already past) the point where it is becoming a threat in itself. Sometimes it is necessary to bring a fever down for the patient’s sake. Without decent crime statistics, it’s very difficult to know whether or not we’ve reached that point.

A story that is very prevalent in the media right now is the Sheldean Human case. Today is “Pink T-shirt Day” upon which we’re all supposed to wear blue jeans and a pink T-shirt (the clothes Sheldean was wearing when she was abducted) in a show of silent protest… to tell the government that we’re mad about crime!

Don’t get me wrong, what happened to little Sheldean was really terrible. My heart goes out to her family… it’s a horrible, horrible thing that no-one should ever have to live through.

However, let’s put a little perspective on this. Sheldean wasn’t murdered by some random hijacker. She was abducted and murdered by a friend of the family… the kindly oom who was going to take her to play in the park. There isn’t a police force in the world (with the possible exceptions of Tom Cruise or Sylvia Browne) that could have done anything to prevent it.

Secondly, what possible purpose could wearing a pink T-shirt have, as far as protest is concerned? I’m all for mass action and the power of the people… but who thinks that wearing different clothes will have any impact whatsoever on the powers that be? Likewise, the “Lights on Against Crime” campaign. Driving with your lights on has no impact on anyone, and won’t make anybody sit up and take notice.

If you want to make your point stage a march (okay, yet another march), have a mass hunger-strike, stage a sit-in at government offices… we have some very experienced and effective protesters in this country, lets learn their lessons!

But let’s not get carried away on this whole crime idea either. Yes, it’s a problem… but is it the biggest problem we have? No it isn’t.

AIDS kills fifty times as many people in South Africa as crime. Yes, fifty times as many. What are the government doing about that? Well, they’re allowing some ARVs to be distributed, but mostly they’re banging on about vegetables and vitamins being the cure for HIV.

When it comes to HIV, our government are presiding over genocide. Our murderously incompetent minister of health is so wrapped up in her own agendas that she’s turning a blind eye to the millions (yes, millions) of South Africans that are dying from this incurable, but easily preventable, disease!

If you want a cause to protest about, there it is. I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about the crime problem, but let’s keep things in perspective. Okay?