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.