South Africa: Violence and Crime

The Republic of South Africa is the most economically developed country in Africa. Now it is a BRICS country and a member of the G20, but, until the end of the last century, it was under international sanctions approved by the UN due to the official apartheid policy ‑ discrimination against the black majority by whites. Apartheid was eliminated only in the late 90s as a result of the struggle of black generations for their rights. Now, after the victory is won, another serious problem is observed in the country ‑ the illiteracy of the black population, and hence the poverty that causes crime.

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South Africa is a country with a high crime rate. The average number of attempted murders is approximately 18,000 annually (Mahofa, Sundaram, and Edwards 4). The country’s problem lies in the presence of criminal groups opposing each other and representing opposition to the current government. According to a study conducted by the United Nations in 2003-2011, the Republic of South Africa took first place in the world in the number of rapes per capita (Crais 96-97).

In 2017, South Africa again came to first place in the world in the number of rapes committed, both in the groups of women and children, as well as homosexuals of both sexes, per hundred thousand of the population. Severe sexual crimes in this almost 49 millionth country occur every 56 seconds, according to UN statistics; there are at least 500 thousand cases a year (Urban Safety Reference Group, 2017).

In South Africa, increasingly more serious crimes, murders, and rape are also happening every year because of hatred towards representatives of the LGBT community. Although gay marriage in the country was officially legalized in 2006, namely here the largest number of monstrous cases of the so-called “treatment-and-correctional rape” of lesbians and gays is observed. These crimes are often committed with the approval of relatives and neighbors, convinced that it is possible to make a person “normal heterosexual” (Lindegaard 7-8). The term “corrective rape” itself was born precisely in South Africa ‑ after the gang rape and brutal murder of Eudy Simelane, a South African LGBT rights activist and a famous soccer player.

Many travelers characterize Johannesburg as a city that is in a state of martial law. The phrase “crime rate” doesn’t mean much here, because crime is a daily occurrence for city residents. Many houses in Johannesburg are fenced with barbed wire; there is a division into districts, and residents of one district may be non grata persons in another. Crime is most prevalent among black people. However, many whites in Johannesburg try to settle as far as possible from dangerous areas. Those who are rich are either criminal authorities or businessmen who, as soon as possible, seek to leave Johannesburg.

In Johannesburg, the economic boom has led to amazing results: over ten years, the value of the real estate has increased by three thousand percent. Here, more than anywhere else, prosperity does not depend on skin color (Kriegler and Shaw 150-152). However, for many South Africans, decades of political freedom did not bring the prosperity they were counting on. Across the country, five million people live in slum towns for less than a dollar a day (Smith 130-133).

Today, it is the financial capital of Africa, the largest city of the country, and, at the same time, a breeding ground for crime, whose white inhabitants now reside on reservations that are more like fortresses. Unemployment in the poorest areas exceeds 70%; half of South Africans live below the poverty line (Kriegler and Shaw 152). As the gap between rich and poor widens, the new South African nation is increasingly confronted with the threat of crime.

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The most dangerous areas of Johannesburg are slums, and in some of them, by the standards of South Africa, rather wealthy people live. They usually have running water, electricity, and a toilet. By the standards of many residents, such amenities represent a kind of luxury. Residents of the poorest slums use dry closets, do not know electricity, and live in houses assembled from corrugated sheets (Scheingold 200-203).

The problem of the city lies also in social aggression against whites, associated with the desire to “restore justice,” since, during apartheid, the black population was treated as second-class people. In South Africa, racial crime flourishes today: black Africans often attack without any thirst for material gain, and do so rather avenge their colonial past. According to statistics, housebreaking and killing of white house owners are not always accompanied by the theft of things and money (Lindegaard 85-86). Thus, the legacy of apartheid makes itself felt.

The official ideology of South Africa, called “apartheid,” implying separate living in the country of a white and “colored” (primarily, black) population, played a really important role in shaping the current crime rate. The Black population of South Africa was obliged to live in specially designated areas, the so-called. ” “locations.” Departure from these reservations and visits to cities by black South Africans could be made only in two cases: either by special permission (of course, obtained with great difficulty), or if there was a workplace in the “white” zones.

Moreover, the work in most cases was associated with heavy, low-skilled labor for the lowest possible pay (Crais 24-32). Cheap labor in the 1940s and 80s, against the background of a resource-exploiting economy, played a significant role in transforming South Africa into the most developed country in Africa.

For the blacks to live in the 1950s and 60s, a system of isolated townhouses, special villages for black South Africans, was created outside the city limits. Such a townhouse, called Soweto, was built next to Johannesburg, and the inhabitants of the former black settlements which had spontaneously formed around the “City of Gold” were forcibly evicted here (Soudien, Reddy, and Woolard 39). In fairness, it should be noted that the state initially tried to give Soweto more or less civilized features, albeit with racial discrimination.

The village, with the money of ‘diamond king’ Ernest Oppenheimer, was built up with neat, typical four-room houses, nicknamed by the locals as “matchboxes” (Smith 38-57). However, the rapid population growth of the town has led to the fact that these areas appeared overgrown with chaotic slum-like buildings. By 1983, 1.8 million people were already living in Soweto (Super 70-71).

After the elimination of apartheid, the black population of the country gained access to areas previously closed to it and, of course, immediately seized the opportunity. Whites, who continued to live in central Johannesburg, the so-called. “Inner city,” promptly left their apartments. New tenants with a different skin color immediately settled in their place.

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This was a classic example of the “White Flight,” but different, for example, from the same situation in Detroit, USA. If in the “City of Motors,” the leading role was played by the depressive state of the main branch of the urban economy ‑ the automobile industry, while in the “City of Gold,” political processes were primarily the base. However, regardless of the root causes, the result was the same: both megalopolises from “white” became “black.” Already in 1994, in the province of Gauteng, the capital of which was Johannesburg, 83 murders per 100,000 inhabitants were recorded. For comparison, 54 people out of 100,000 were killed in the crime-occupied Detroit that same year (Super 66-69).

In recent years, the South African government has made attempts to turn the tide. The state allocates quite serious money for the regeneration of the country’s largest city and the restoration of its positive reputation. The buildings that have degraded over the past twenty years are being reconstructed, and the relatively small black middle class, which still appeared in those years, is populated here.

The South African government has spent about a hundred million dollars on rebranding Johannesburg. The official urban slogan was the bold statement “African world-class city.” The authorities do not lose hope of returning the image of the cosmopolitan business capital of the continent to it, but with a multicultural connotation without any discrimination. However, there are too many typically African problems in a world-class city. The city is still surrounded by brutal slums, where sometimes there is no sewage or water. Crime, although it has decreased, remains at a level incomparable with the civilized countries of the “golden billion.”

In central Johannesburg, tourists, especially whites, are still not advised to get out of their cars. South Africa, and with it, its largest city, is sweeping the AIDS epidemic. However, the main thing is the racial division, which, seeming to have been eliminated more than twenty years ago, de facto continues to exist. Johannesburg is still a city of confrontation between two ghettos: the black one, still poor, but blaming the other side for all its troubles, and the white, prosperous, but now existing behind the barbed wire, dominated by the psychology of the besieged fortress.

The South African National Development Program, adopted several years ago, aims to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030 by attracting and strengthening own potential, developing an inclusive economy, and encouraging partnerships.

The plan aims to eliminate poverty-reducing the proportion of households with monthly incomes of less than 419 rands per person and reducing inequality in South Africa. The plan states that crime can be reduced by strengthening the justice system and improving the public environment (Gould, Hsiao, and Amisi 6). “The progress observed over the past two decades implies the use of new approaches,” the plan says, with the following interrelated priority goals being formulated (Gould, Hsiao, and Amisi 7-8):

  • Rallying all South Africans around the common goal of prosperity and equality.
  • Promoting the establishment of active citizens’ community to enhance development, democracy, and accountability.

However, the stated goals are rather declarative, and the plan is poorly implemented in practice. The attitude of the South African government towards crime is doubtful. In all failures, it tends to blame the police, which supposedly cannot cope with the tasks. However, it is known that there are many corrupt people among officials who are ready to cooperate with criminal elements for the sake of the spread of narcotic substances and making a profit.

Moreover, the practice of kidnapping for ransom is still ongoing (Gould, Hsiao, and Amisi 11). Organized crime in South Africa negatively affects the state of national security, criminalizing all spheres of society and various social institutions, actively resisting law enforcement and efforts to combat crime. Even though today human rights defenders are trying to attract the attention of the countries of Europe, America, as well as Australia, and New Zealand to the problem of racial crime in South Africa, the situation remains very tense.

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Works Cited

Crais, Clifton. Poverty, War, and Violence in South Africa. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Gould, Chandré Diketso Mufamadi, Celia Hsiao, and Matodzi Amisi. Reducing Violence in South Africa: From Policing to Prevention. Institute for Security Studies, 2017.

Kriegler, Anine and Mark Shaw. A Citizen’s Guide to Crime Trends in South Africa Jonathan Ball, 2016.

Lindegaard, Marie Rosenkrantz. Surviving Gangs, Violence and Racism in Cape Town: Ghetto Chameleons. Routledge, 2017.

Mahofa, Godfrey Asha Sundaram, and Lawrence Edwards. “Impact of Crime on Firm Entry: Evidence from South Africa.” ERSA working paper 652, 2016, pp. 1-19.

Scheingold, Stuart A. The Politics of Law and Order: Street Crime and Public Policy. Quid Pro, 2016.

Smith, Nicholas R. Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Soudien, Crain, Vasu Reddy, and Ingrid Woolard. Poverty and Inequality: Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Responses. HSRC Press, 2019.

Super, Gail. Governing through Crime in South Africa: The Politics of Race and Class in Neoliberalizing Regime. Ashgate, 2013.

Urban Safety Reference Group. The State of Urban Safety in South Africa. Urban Safety Reference Group, 2017.

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