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Crime and punishment in the new South Africa: Loaded minds

Loaded Minds is a concept expressed by a band, Spirit of the West, about the increasing violent responses and calls for violence that has ingrained violence as a viable response. It is the same thinking that claims that it is acceptable that the cost of peace is war.

The crime and especially the violence that accompanies it in South Africa is scary to say the least. It weighs on me a lot as I grew up in a place where we never locked our doors or worried about muggings, murder and rape. In the new South Africa I wake up at least once every night worried that the sounds in the garden are thieves or intruders. On occasion it has been thieves and thankfully not murderers.

People had come through the garden not to long ago and stolen a lawn mower, nothing too serious or expensive. The second lawn mower was stolen out of the garage. A month after that a bar fridge went astray from the cottage behind the house. Another time my potjie and braai was nicked from the garage despite security changes. It never ends it seems.

Despite this theft and a few other little incidents I do not wish to have a gun in my house nor would I wish for the armed response company to show up and gun them down. I hear more and more responses for the cops to shoot first and know of people that are armed and fully prepared to kill for their property.

With the violence that accompanies home invasions its no wonder there is a violent shift in the way people think. But of course it is circular as if the thieves know you are armed they arm themselves accordingly; people arm themselves against armed intruders; potentially ad infinitum like a Cold War arms race.

The reality is that we can never win in this situation. But where to from here? Is the inevitable shift of the middle class to gated communities? Compounds? England? Canada?

People have quit looking to the police for help. My neighbourhood has formed a committee and some members are working extremely hard to do the job of the police. The police at the local station seem rather complacent. I was going to say corpulent, but I won’t comment on the obese members of the police force that appear incapable of doing their jobs and just focus on those unwilling to do so. Put the fat ones out on the beat – walking as a presence in the neighbourhoods on the ground. One does lose hope in the police force when they have no idea of community policing. Where are the cops on the street?

I come from Edmonton in the Canadian province of Alberta and my city was known for a long time as the murder capital of Canada. We had, in one of our worst years, 24 murders in a city of about a million. My intention is not compare murder rates from Canada, but to point out that in that city cops were always out patrolling and on the streets. The visible presence of the police works well to regulate bad behaviour.

On Friday night at Umbilo Police station I have personally seen a dozen cops sitting in the charge office chatting away instead of doing their job. I live two blocks from this place and a call to 1011 takes more than 15 minutes for a response. I can walk in under 3 minutes to the police station. The response by the police is that they did not have a vehicle available. I know people who were assaulted by the police for complaining about prostitution in the area. I also know detectives and other cops who are really trying hard, but get no support from their colleagues.

We in South Africa are under siege. If we are able to, we erect walls, install alarms, hire private police forces and lock ourselves away; some people chose to arm themselves, we buy large aggressive dogs and we still get robbed, hurt and pissed off.

The media should be taking a lead and be honest and represent crime as a crisis. This is not to generate a panic. We are under siege. Anyone who denies that is ignorant, stupid, or working for the government.


  • Michael Francis

    I have returned to South Africa. I now teach Economic History and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I am happy to be back after a couple years away. I had been teaching anthropology at a Canadian University, but Africa called and I returned.