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The only crime statistic that matters, according to The Secret

Unless you’ve been held hostage by infidel-busters in Baghdad and featured in MTV videos next to angry guys wearing balaclavas for the past three months, you’ve heard about the book The Secret. Gazillions of people swear by it and have used it to cure themselves of all manner of ailments, from cancer to arsehole-ishness apparently. Gazillions others say it’s New Age hocus-pocus.

This past weekend I was part of the Kaya FM/Exclusive Books Book Chat in Rosebank Mall, Johannesburg, chaired by Masechaba Moshoeshoe and Palesa Motanyane. The celebrity guest was Tshepo Maseko (Isidingo), who spoke about the last book he read. Yes, The Secret.

I have never read the book and I was too busy doing breathing exercises to stop my heart palpitations to really pay attention to what Tshepo had to say about it. The only thing I sort of remember about the book is that its central message is something called “the law of attraction”. What I understood Tshepo to be saying about this law can be summed up thus:

“The quality of your life is a function of what you choose to focus on. Focus on the negative and that’s what you’ll get.” (By the way; if you need a motivational speaker, consider this Tshepo oke. Gift of the gab doesn’t begin to describe it.)

Now, I could be wrong and the book’s main message is “To attain true happiness in life, hire a band of cheerleaders in tight-fitting costumes to walk in front of you chanting, ‘Go Ndum! Go Ndum!’ everywhere you go.” But let’s assume that I heard right.

Does this mean that our national obsession with crime brings us more crime then? Sounds a tad ridiculous, I know. If you really want to be ridiculous and engage in my favourite pastime — that is, oversimplifying complex matters — you could stretch this reasoning even further. You could argue that this law of attraction suggests that we switch off our electric fences, disable our alarms, leave our doors unlocked and think positive thoughts. But that would be a terrible oversimplification.

This got me thinking about the two schools of thought insofar as crime is concerned. The more prevalent, socially acceptable view on the crime situation is that our crime levels are unacceptably high; that we are prisoners in our own homes and that we are far worse off than anyone else in the world.

The other school of thought asserts that, yes, crime levels in this country are unacceptable but perhaps we are also guilty of being way too obsessed with crime. In short, we focus too much on the crime situation. Anyone propagating the second school of thought we generally label a “crime denialist” or “government apologist”, of course. Perhaps.

But I’d be interested in testing these views statistically. Numbers don’t lie, right? We all have access to crime statistics in the country that the minister of safety and security publishes annually (or whenever he sees a dip in some of the numbers). These tend to be straightforward numbers detailing the incidence of crime.

I have heard other statistics bandied about, generally by people who exist for the sole purpose of passing on the message that “it’s worse than the government reports”. Depending on which of these people you listen to, for every crime reported there are 10 or 20 000 not reported.

To test the “we are a nation obsessed with crime” assertion, I’d love to see a statistic that measures how many times we talk about crime as a percentage of incidences of crime. I concede that it would be a bit impractical to measure the number of times Mrs Naidoo leans over the fence to talk about crime with Mrs Hudson in Parkhurst. So perhaps, as an indicator, we could use the number of times crime is discussed in the print and electronic media. We could call it the Crime Whinge Factor, for an example, and use a simple formula;

CWF = Number of crime stories in the media/incidence of crime

Before the statistics geeks descend upon me like dung beetles upon a freshly fertilised field, let me concede that there are better measures one could use. Just humour me.

Let’s say our CWF was calculated to be 0,36, meaning that for every 100 crimes committed in the country, the media reported on 36 of them. I’d be interested in a peer-review mechanism of sorts against other countries. I’d be even more interested in a crime-whingeing ranking system of all the countries.

I’ve seen stats that tell us we have the second-highest murder rate in the world. That’s a useful number. But wouldn’t it be lovely also to know just how we measure up against everyone else in the crime-obsession (CWF ranking) stakes? If we knew this for a fact using stats, would it take some sting out of one of the schools of thought? If we were only ranked the number-76 CWF country in the world, it would be very easy to dismiss the “we are a nation obsessed with crime” brigade as a bunch of irrational, ANC-coloured-boxer-shorts-wearing hallucinators, wouldn’t it?

And if the law of attraction in The Secret is not the brainchild of an individual on ganja, it would be interesting to see the effect of the CWF on actual incidents of crime. If we, as a nation, decided to stop focusing so much on crime and we slid down the CWF rankings, would there be a corresponding decrease in crime incidence stats?

I think it’s a fascinating thought, this. I have been the victim of many crimes in my life;

1. Mugged at knifepoint (+/- three times)
2. Shot at (five times)
3. House broken into (eight times)
4. Car broken into (three times)
5. Saw Prince Charles on the telly (+/- 200 times)

These are terrible crimes and the list is longer. This is just my way of saying, “I’ve been a victim too,” and how I’ve earned the right to have an opinion on crime. This seems to be the big qualification these days.

I’ve been receiving a lot of fan mail lately delivering the same message: “You’re a simpleton with dangerous views.” I predict that the traffic into my inbox is about to triple. I’ll be asked how it is that I can comment on a book I haven’t read. I’ll be told how I’m oversimplifying a complex matter, among many other crimes. The more astute will realise that I’ve already accused myself of the same crimes, of course.

Be gentle.

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  • Ndumiso Ngcobo

    Once upon a time, Ndumiso Ngcobo used to be an intelligent, relevant man with a respectable (read: boring-as-crap) job which funded his extensive beer habit. One day he woke up and discovered that he had lost his mind, quit his well-paying job, penned a collection of hallucinations. A bunch of racist white guys published the collection just to make him look more ridiculous and called it 'Some of my best friends are white'. (Two Dogs, ISBN 978-1-92013-718-2). Nowadays he spends his days wandering the earth like Kwai Chang Caine, munching locusts, mumbling to himself like John the Baptist and searching for the meaning of life at the bottom of beer mugs. The racist publishers have reared their ugly heads again and dangled money in his face to pen yet another collection of hallucinations entitled 'Is It Coz 'm Black'. He will take cash, major credit cards and will perform a strip tease for contributions to his beer fund.