Facing the Reality of Crime

Crime is a multi-faceted and sensitive issue in South Africa. While the crime rates in South Africa are some of the highest in the world, the causes are not crystal clear.

The blame is pointed mainly at the black and coloured populations. Moreover, the victim is assumed and claimed to be the white minority and tourists. The justifications include, but are certainly not limited to, poverty, reverse racism, apartheid, lack of education, unemployment, etc.

Violent crime is mainly at the forefront of one’s mind when thinking about South Africa. The media and many South Africans, white, black, and coloured, have expressed deep concern about the prevalence of the excessive use of violence in crime. While it is true that there is a lot of crime in South Africa, as well as crime in which excessive violence is used, the victim and offender is too often taken out of context and blown up to conform to the culture of fear that many have bought in to here in South Africa.

While I do not want to dismiss the high rates of crime that do exist here in South Africa, I would like to redefine the victims, alleged criminals, and nature of the crimes in more realistic terms. The opinions that I will express have been deliberated after reading various articles concerning the issue and my own personal experiences with crime while living in South Africa.

After reviewing different articles citing different statistics and information on crime, I have concluded that while the majority of the alleged criminals are in the black community, the majority of the victims of crime are also in the black community. According to Silber and Geffen, in their study “Race, Class, and Violent Crime in South Africa: Dispelling the ‘Huntley’ Thesis,” during 1997-2001 the African population maintained 81% of male deaths by assault while the White population accounted for only 4% of the effected victims.

Moreover, it seems that excessive violence is only used when a crime does not go as smoothly as the criminal planned (i.e. the victim fights back or is uncooperative during a mugging or carjacking).

In my own experiences with crime here in South Africa, the typical crimes seem to be born out of pure opportunity—a man on the train has his brief case sitting on the floor and it is grabbed as a man runs by and jumps out of the train as it begins to leave the platform, someone excepts help from a stranger at an ATM machine and has their credit card number stolen from a small scanner on their wrist, or someone’s car is broken into when a valuable is left in sight, etc.

Personally, I have experienced this kind of opportunistic crime. While boarding a train at the Salt River train station, the doors closed in front of me and some other Americans who were with me. People were trying to pry the doors back open, but there were also people trying to keep them closed. During this distraction, someone unzipped my purse, reached in, and took the first thing they could grab—my camera. I realized it happened as soon as I stepped onto the train (after the doors were finally forced open).

While some crime is organized, many crimes in South Africa seem to be born out of pure opportunity. Moreover, I believe that the opportunity of crime is found more frequently because of the extreme economic disparities existing here in South Africa. There are tensions existing due to the extreme closeness in proximity of the shanties and the wealthy affluent neighbourhoods complete with Porsches and Mercedes.

There is no justification to taking something that does not belong to you. However, I am at least reassured in my beliefs of the true nature of South African crime. The crime in South Africa is not inherently violent. As it would happen anywhere else in the world, crime becomes excessively violent when the criminal senses that it is not going smoothly or the victim is resisting. Furthermore, crime will exist more frequently in societies where the majority of the population is living in extreme poverty and a stones throw away from mansions and sports cars.

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Try Something New

For the duration of my stay here in Cape Town, South Africa, I will be completing an internship with Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. It is a domestic violence shelter and one stop resource facility for women and children effected by domestic violence. For more information about the centre as a whole, please visit their website http://www.saartjiebaartmancentre.org.za/

I will be conducting an expressive writing group and a relaxation therapy group.

The expressive writing group meets Wednesdays 11:00-12:00. I took this class over for another American intern who was finishing her internship as I was arriving. I sat in on one of the sessions before I started it for myself. Despite there being anywhere from 10-20 residents living at the shelter at one time, Caitlin said that she was seeing an increase in participation (as it is voluntary) but that the most she had ever had in the class was 5.

I was afraid that it might be the humdrum prompts. So I created my own writing prompts that allow the women to explore themselves in a positive approach. I will post my prompts in the page entitled “Writing Group.”

Yesterday was my first session with my writing group, and it went over wonderfully! We had 9 women attend and actively participate! The women really responded to the prompt about bravery and talked about the similarities in each others responses. We also talked about the importance of working on the emotions that we tuck away when we have our brave faces on. We shouldn’t hide or ignore them because, if left unattended to, they will hinder our wellbeing–emotionally, psychologically, and even physically.

The relaxation therapy group meets Wednesdays 13:00-14:00 and Fridays 13:00-14:00. We use deep breathing techniques and muscle tension/relaxation techniques during these sessions. We will also be implementing some basic yoga to provide a more physical relaxation technique. I will post the step-by-step guide to our relaxation therapy group on the page entitled “Relaxation Therapy Group.” Please feel free to try it out!

The relaxation therapy group is new idea to the centre. I had to research the different techniques and create and program that was effective, easily implimentable for the women’s own use, and accomplishable in under one hour.

Yesterday was my first session with the women for our relaxation therapy group. We had 8 women attend and actively participate! I explained to the women that there are multiple different kinds of relaxation therapy, and that not one particular kind was effective for everyone. However, I reminded them that I was open to exploring other kinds and adding them to the class as we came across them or wanted to try them. Most importantly, I let them know that relaxation therapy was just as new to me as it was to them and that at first it may seem strange or silly but to stick it out and really give it a chance anyway.

I also added a story to lighten their anxieties about it:

It took me a while to go through all the different techniques and develop the program. Part of developing the program was me actually learning and practicing the techniques myself. So many-a-afternoon, I would sit or lay, depending on what technique I was practicing, in the middle of my office floor and practice the technique. Then one day, my boss, the residential manager, pokes her head in to find me laying on the floor, eyes closed, counting my breathing, and tensing (by arching) my lower back. Luckily, she realized what I was doing and just started laughing. I felt like a real live flower wearing, peace sign flashing, tree hugging hippie.

During the relaxation therapy, I did the therapy with the clients and talked them through each step. I also played therapeutic music in the back ground and made sure there was dim lighting so that the environment would be as tranquil and relaxing as possible.

At the end of the session, the women were in love with the class! They said that they wished they could stay here all day and went on and on about how great and relaxing it actually was.

For me it was equally as great, not because I was nice and relaxed or because my program was a hit, but because we all stepped up and did something that we had never done before–something that seemed strange, silly, and hippish. Together, despite our world-apart differences, we entered with the same fears of doing something unknown and finished with same smiles and feelings of accomplishment. Together, we tried something new.

Different and the Same

Over the course of the past two weeks I have noticed a plethora of things that are different in South Africa. As you could imagine, the list is almost endless. Even things that you would think would be exactly the same, if not somewhat similar, aren’t at all.

The best examples of this are ketchup, hamburgers, chips (bagged chips not french fries), and Mexican food. The ketchup is called “tomato paste” and is quite watery. Most importantly, it tastes completely different and has an accompanying aftertaste much like vomit. The hamburgers were a major disappointment when I sat out on a journey to find some comfort food that would remind me of home. Instead I found low-grade meat, full of grissels. The most disturbing discovery about South African burgers was the wateriness and the relentless sauce…sauce everywhere…you cannot escape the sauce. And then the chips. The chips come in outlandish flavors such as: Thai barbecue, Curry, and Sweet chilli, etc. The Mexican food was perhaps my biggest disappointment. To put it in a nutshell, I think all I can say is that when you’re a world away…just don’t try to make their food. South Africa just can’t swing Mexican food…at all. While all of this paints a picture of a horrible experience, I have found a trend. What is good at home isn’t good here.

However, most foods here cannot be found in the states, so as for those…they taste like Heaven.

The seafood here is to die for: Hake, Kingklip, Salmon–it’s all phenomenal! The meat, in general is amazing as well: Impala venison, Ox tail, and anything you can throw on the braai (barbecue). Words cannot describe how wonderful or complex these flavors are. Speaking of flavors, the Cape Malay cooking is something in and of itself and can only be fully appreciated when experienced. One particular food that caught me by surprise was pumpkin–sautéed pumpkin. It’s like eating candy!

So with all of the bad attempts of finding discrepancies with my American food, my palate has found something totally foreign and satisfying in traditional, everyday South African food.

Upon my surprise of realizing that what I thought would be the same is actually very different, I realized that I had also formed this assumption about the people in South Africa. I knew that all people were the same in one way or another, but I still ignorantly thought that the people of South Africa would be so different from myself and what I was used to. Again, I found myself both right and wrong.

The people are different. Their mannerisms are different. Their cultures, languages, and histories are all so different. The way they relate to one another is different. Their sense of respect and reverence is greater but different still in its own ways.

However, the people are the same as any other person I have ever met. They all want the best that life has to offer. They all want better lives for their children and future generations. They all have struggles and obstacles to fight through or fall down to. They love, fight, laugh, cry, and feel in all the same ways.

I should have known this. This, like the hamburgers, should not have caught me off guard. It upset me. I felt as though I had always remained to so open-minded, non-invasive, and careful to not let the stereotypic “Western” orientation influence my thoughts. Afterall, this is the material that I study academically, try to practice in everyday life, and try to educate to those willing to listen.

There are differences, but there are so many more similarities. So many so, that at times I’ve forgotten that I’m in a foreign country. South Africa is not a world away–a world too different to comprehend or become a part of. South Africa is home; maybe not to me, but to so many people who are just like me.

Job Creation

Employment rates are an issue in developing countries as well as “developed” countries like the United States.  Despite this, in the U.S. we see that people are unwilling to take lower paying or less prestigious jobs. In South Africa they have radically different mentality–a mentality that is essential in post-apartheid South Africa.

I have noticed that if there is anything that can be done, you should employ someone to do it. Doing things yourself is not something that is done, not out of laziness, but out of a restless need for job creation.

 Need to do your laundry? Don’t do it yourself, drop it off at the laundry mat. The laundry mats have attendants that do the washing, drying, folding, ironing, etc. There aren’t do-it-yourself laundry mats.

People walk between vehicles stopped at red lights and sell fruits, vegetables, newspapers, candy, and a variety of other things to people waiting for the light to turn green. Initially, it is seen as an annoyance; however, looking closer at the situation and it is someone’s job.

Another cultural norm is for affluent households to hire help for everything around the house such as a gardener, housemaid, nanny for children, etc.

When in public it is not unusual for white people or others who look as though they are wealthy to be asked to for employment of any task that they have available. Moreover, they are expected to employ.

Other jobs like this include but certainly are not limited to: a parking lot attendant who “watches” your car for you (better that you go ahead and pay the R5 or come back to a keyed car), people selling paintings, wire art, and other crafts along the beaches, musical performers along the sidewalks, collecting scrap metal from people, streetsides, and anywhere they can find it, and  people who collect your trash while you’re in your vehicle at a stop light, etc.

“If it can be done, pay someone to do it.” “It’s annoying, but it’s a job.” South Africa might have it right when it comes to an unemployment crisis. The people aren’t to proud to take meager jobs, the wealthy (even those you wouldn’t consider wealthy) don’t mind paying for these services, and the price of these services are low. Most importantly, it gives someone a job which is essential for creating any livelihood, hoping for a better future, and providing for yourself and your family.

First Impressions

This past semester I took a class called His: 355: Sport and Society in South Africa where we mainly focused on the history of South Africa and how it has effected the social structures and climates of contemporary South Africa. Thus, to contextualize my forthcoming reflection a very small history of South Africa must be made known. South Africa’s National government adopted Apartheid which was the beaurocratic discrimination and segregation of racial groups. White South African’s enjoyed unrestricted freedoms and economic opportunity while Black and Coloured South Africans were marginalized to townships and striped of social, economic, and educational rights, privileges, opportunities, and equalities. There was a rise against the apartheid government, which eventually dissolved in the early 1990′s. Replacing this oppressive government was a free democratic society focused on non-racialism.

Note: Non-racialism is the theory and practice of not classifying or recognizing skin color as a legitimate estimate of difference among people in an attempt to rid society of racial characterizations.

During my coursework on post-apartheid South Africa, I was told about the, at times, intense tensions that existed among racial classes. (Note: These observations and statements were made by South African professors, professionals, students, and political figures.) However, I was reassured that conditions and racism was improving.

After living in South Africa for about one week now, I would definitely agree with both of those statements; however, more strongly with the former than the latter. I have spoken with several South Africans, specifically white South Africans, and while some optimism about the future of the new South Africa existed, there was an overwhelming opinion of racism expressed in our conversation. These racist views were expressed in varying degrees from blaming South Africa’s extreme crime rates on the black and coloured South Africans, expressing disgust with the poverty, lack of education and sanitation that existed in the black and coloured populations, expressing of anger regarding a less successful economy due to black and coloured inclusion, to so kindly reminding me that “white South African’s built South Africa and should enjoy the spoils of its subsequent success.”

These opinions are very harsh and were very difficult not to react against. While there is no excuse for racism, I expected these feelings to be present in white South Africans. South Africa has been racially equal for less than 20 years. In comparison, similar tensions existed between African-Americans and white Americans after the end segregation and the Civil Rights Movement and lasted for quite some time. Moreover, some of these tensions and racists opinions still exists in the United States today. Therefore, racism should not be surprising in South Africa’s young democracy. However, it should not be tolerated and should be educated against.

I look forward to talking to black and coloured South Africans about their opinions of apartheid South Africa, post-apartheid South Africa, and what path they believe South Africa is on for future generations.