SA is so used to crime, we don’t even expect it to be punished
From murder and rape to Zuma and the Guptas – these things are becoming normalised and they need to be crushed
I wrote a “nice” column last week. I wrote that we must not allow some of the outrageous acts of our politicians and some of our fellow citizens to become normalised in our society. It was a pretty decent column (I think!) as columns go. It said all the right things. It was harsh without being negative. It was forward-looking without ignoring the past. Crucially, everything in it was true.
Yet I have to confess that I think it was all a bit dishonest.
It was dishonest because I spoke in general terms and said nothing about what prompted some of these thoughts when the content was screaming for some context to be brought in. I spoke in general terms because I did not want to seem negative. I spoke in general terms because I did not want to seem like some of those horrible people who live in Australia or elsewhere who say negative things about SA at every turn because they feel a need to justify why they left the country.
This was dishonest.
It is dishonest because by excluding the personal from my argument I took away the power of my words. The reason I said it is crucial for SA not to allow the outrageous, the abnormal, to become just part of “that’s just how it is” was because in just the month I spent back home in SA the terrifying tentacles of crime and corruption were very close to me.
On a beautiful, sunny day at around lunchtime I was driving through Hyde Park when my friend and I stopped behind a car flashing its hazard lights. Suddenly a young man came running from Fournos, the popular bakery-cum-restaurant, and jumped into the waiting car. The car jumped the red traffic light and sped off. Behind him it was hullabaloo. People were shouting and screaming and pointing. My friend calmly said: “Oh, it’s a robbery. He stole wallets and phones off a table while the patrons were having lunch.”
We drove on. Yes, we just drove on to our next meeting without blinking or thinking twice about it. This is not normal. This cannot be normal.
My friend experienced a house invasion two weeks ago. He was at work the next morning. Someone gets robbed, someone gets scammed. Corporates like Steinhoff steal and lie. Nothing happens. A friend was driving through Kensington, Johannesburg, two weeks ago when he realised that two young men were robbing motorists (stuck in traffic) of their belongings through the car windows.
As I got on my flight I heard about the musician Babes Wodumo and how her music partner, Mampintsha, had slapped her. I remembered that this wasn’t the first time. I had heard this story before. Woman abuse is at pandemic levels in our country. Rape is at even more horrific levels. Yet I doubt if much will happen to Mampintsha by way of punishment. Certainly, on social media, many men consider “roughing her up a little” as normal.
These abuses are normalised. They are so normalised that when EFF supporters nonchalantly threaten to beat up or rape a journalist their leaders see no reason to speak in her defence, no matter their differences with the journalist.
Now, I haven’t told you about how wonderful my trip to SA was. I haven’t told you about the sun and the warmth of ordinary people and the joy of young people trying to do all kinds of different, innovative, wonderful things. I haven’t spoken about the world-class financial services industry, the fabulous airlines (yes, actually, they are pretty good, even SAA). I haven’t said a word about the impressive infrastructure, the optimism about the future. I must write this column next week: in SA, people believe anything is possible, that tomorrow will be better than today.
The column I wrote last week, and the column I write today, is about how we let all these amazing people and industries down if we do not speak the truth clearly.
Crime is making our people fearful in their own homes. All of us, particularly black people in poorly policed townships and informal settlements, suffer crime daily. Crime is one of the major concerns of many domestic and international investors. Let’s crush this problem. Women abuse is a horrific. Let’s crush this problem. Corruption is a major deterrent to investment and thus job creation. Let’s nip it in the bud. Let’s take Jacob Zuma, the Guptas, the Watsons and their many cronies and accomplices in government, at SOEs and in business to court. If they are innocent they will be acquitted.
Let us not, however, let their behaviour become normalised. Let us not shy away from telling the truth. Let’s be honest enough to stare the truth in the face – and then stop it.