South Africa’s crime epidemic: A nation in crisis

The opinion piece below discusses the issue of rising crime and violence in South Africa following the recent violent murder of famous rapper and DJ, AKA. Author, Tebogo Ramaphoko Ka-Sewapa, questions whether the country is becoming more violent and dangerous to live in, and whether crime and lawlessness are becoming normalised. Ka-Sewapa suggests that unemployment and economic exclusion, political instability, bad governance, and corruption are some of the factors contributing to the rise of criminal behaviour in the country. The article emphasises that crime is morally reprehensible and legally proscribed and that strong governmental institutions of justice are needed to address this problem. It advocates for retributive justice and a strong sense of the rule of law to restore the legal balance disturbed by the commission of the crime. Find this opinion piece below.

South Africa must not become a more dangerous and unliveable state

By Tebogo Ramaphoko Ka-Sewapa*

The recent violent murder of a celebrated South African rapper and DJ AKA should teach us that something is not okay with our country. Are we becoming more violent and dangerous nation to live in? Are we allowing crime and lawlessness to become a norm in our minds? Most people, especially youths, finds themselves unemployed and economically excluded and as a result they would do whatever it takes for their survival, and doing so by engaging in criminal activities. Crime
is wrong, and this should concern us all. It robs people of their lives and property, which are a foundational for a constitutional democracy in a progressing nation.

Crime seems as if it is being normalised – to both victims (communities), and perpetrators (those living the proceeds of crime). This should not be so: crime is not good, it is bad, it is immoral, it is an act of lawlessness, it should not be desired. It takes us backwards as a nation.

Crime and violence come in many ways. Criminologists may agree that in most cases criminal behaviour begins at an individual’s state of mind to break the law. People often argue they never knew certain acts were proscribed by law. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

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Jurisprudentially speaking, there are various factors that lead to people becoming lawlessness and/or inclining to a culture of violence and criminality. One such factor is political instability and bad governance. The more government is corrupt and state officials (including politicians) evading the law and becoming lawless, the more individuals in society would have a “don’t care” culture. The result would be anarchistic kind of behaviour that leads to gradual lawlessness, instability and
then the rule of law would become insignificant.

Most people would agree that corruption is a serious scourge in every society. Those in power are often involved in corrupt and criminal scandals, and as such instead of them facing the consequences of breaking the law (which is jailtime), they are however walking free in expensive cars and luxurious living. This tells us something. A wrong message is being passed to young people, even to anyone out there, that as if crime does pay, and it pays well. This is wrong because consequently everyone would desire accumulation of material things that comes in a wrongful and criminal manner, so they survive and live a fake ‘decent lifestyle’.

Crime is morally reprehensible and legally proscribed and should never be celebrated nor desirable in any way. Proceeds of criminality should be jailtime, not luxuries. Both the rich and the poor, politician and a follower, the trader and the customer should face the consequences of breaking the law alike. South Africa needs strong governmental institutions of administration of justice to deal with a problem of crime so rampant and spreading like wildfire in the country.

Government has two main core functions: protection of life and protection of property. Failed governments are those that disregard a right to life and a right to private property. The fundamental task of government officials and security forces should be protection of life and of property. Sadly, in South Africa today most people are being murdered simply because of what they own. It is much easier for an individual to be murdered in the streets of our cities and towns for a mere hand watch or a cheaper cellular phone, something of less value as compared to sanctity of human life. What have we become as human beings!

Legal standard of protection of life and property should be higher always. Infringing on the natural law right to life and a right to own and keep one’s property should receive full attention and face a full strength of the law, with no excuses nor exceptions.

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Society must have a strong sense of the rule of law. Retributive justice should be embraced, rather than the so-called reformative justice. Retribution is not lex talionis (the principle of reciprocal justice contained in the Code of Hammurabi and the biblical Old Testament tradition). Retributive justice should mean a restoration of the legal balance which has been disturbed by the commission of the crime. It is wrong to beg criminals to stop committing crime. They should be punished and deterred, so a strong message should be sent to the entire society: that crime does not pay and those who commit a crime against life and property should receive a harsher punishment proportionate to the extent of the arm they caused.

Arguably, the post-Mbeki government is failing. They are failing to uphold and maintain the precepts and standards of the Constitution and the Rule of Law. The Constitution is clear that this Republic is founded on the principles of the rule of law, as well as the respect and promotion of fundamental human rights and freedoms, amongst others. However, it seems post-Mbeki government is ignoring or failing to send strong message to criminals and society at large. Crime is so rampant in South Africa, statistics shows that the murder rate increased rapidly towards the end of Apartheid, reaching a peak in 1993 and since then the situation is worsening. The current situation, as far as crime is concerned, is very seriously concerning more especially crime against life and property.

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Crime is a serious threat to our constitutional democracy and our nation’s capability to be on par with developed and happy nations of the world. We are a sad nation, but there is still potential to all of us urgently act rightly so we fix this nation. We hear of murders and violence always, and it is now fearful. People’s mindset has become more and more crime inclined. Are we forgetting what makes us humans – a good sense of morality and decency! South Africa has a weaker political
governance and institutions that fails to ensure a good message is sent to communities and individuals in order to deter and make them think twice before committing crime. A response to crime must always be rapid and harsher. Our government must not fail us as far as crime prevention is concerned.

Who should be blamed, in all this crisis? Individuals, or those governing the individuals? Well, politicians are to be blamed here, more especially the post-Mbeki political order. We need a good moral leadership in all spheres of government. Leaders must be free from crime so followers would do the same. It is fearful to say we have become a troubled society that is soaking on bloodshed and with no respect to values that makes us a desirable nation. We must address these issues with no fear, and out of patriotic love to our motherland. No party favouritism, we must tell the truth based on facts and statistics. The fact is, it is safer to walk streets of Cape Town or Stellenbosch at nights than walking streets of Johannesburg or Kempton Park! The latter have become terribly fearful dens of criminals, thieves and robbers. State institutions must be crime free and so they eradicate a criminal problem in our society. We need a good government.

*Tebogo Ramaphoko Ka-Sewapa holds Cert. in Criminology (Technikon Pretoria), LL. B (UNISA), PGDip Theol., Magister Theologiae – MTh (ethics and moral formation) (Stellenbosch University). He is a theologian, a lawyer, and an agent for social change. He recently participated in the academic Trans-Atlantic Summer Institute (TASI) held at the University of Minnesota in the United States of America.