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Crime and empowerment

I met a really interesting Syrian football fan in Nature’s Valley in the Western Cape during the World Cup. His way of avoiding the apparently terrifying crime In South Africa was simple — he stayed in the Valley, in a tent to start with, and then moved to a chalet when he realised winter in Africa is actually cold. He flew out to the games, and then came back, as he was too scared to be anywhere else. Someone told him Nature’s Valley is the safest place in South Africa. He was planning to travel with friends, but they bailed, because of the crime and he came anyway. The locals thought this was hysterical, and adopted him as a mascot. The staff who work there drive him home each night, and proudly related his story to all and sundry.

I honestly had no idea that the perception of crime was that bad, that you are basically going die if you come to South Africa. And I am certainly relived that we obeyed our president and mostly “behaved” and didn’t rob too many people blind. But it raises a question for me, which is if the crime is so bad — where there’s smoke, there’s fire — why is there no coherent victim-empowerment legislation?

Well, OK, I hear a chorus of moans — the government is incompetent and doesn’t recognise that crime is really that bad — but I am not so sure. I think passing legislation is not one of our failings as a country. We do it all the time. Some of it is not enforceable but we do it and can enforce it if we want to. Talk to anyone who’s tried a little ambush marketing. The state is concerned about crime, based on the 40 000 more police people we have (well, I read that, I don’t know if it’s true). And so is the politician’s constituency … so why don’t we have legislation that specifically addresses the needs of victims of crime?

There is the “too expensive” argument, but that sounds like a knee-jerk response. Like when you tell the ten-year-old it’s too expensive, and then they want to know why you said that because the bookmark was being given away for free. It was just that you’d been asked “can I have this” in the supermarket 20 times before and ended up saying it’s too expensive. There is no rule which says victim compensation is the only thing you can do for victims … a more sensitive, effective justice system (like the World Cup one, but for us) a switched on healthcare system, well-networked NGOs who can provide specialised services … these are responses which might be achievable without huge spending.

I’m just asking … I mean, why not? Isn’t there enough damage caused by crime to warrant it? There’s a conversation about this going on at Join in.