ANALYSIS: A cocktail for death - why murder is up in SA
Urban Safety report highlights the best focus areas for interventions to stop the mayhem
Guns, booze and angry young men. This is the deadly cocktail that has taken the SA murder rate up to almost 56 per day.
According to the State of Urban Safety in South Africa report, released last week, the murder rate has been increasing since 2011/12, while the year under review (2017/18) has seen the largest per capita annual increase since 1994.
It has risen to 36 per 100,000 and, according to the researchers from the South African Cities Network which released the report, findings have “consistently shown that murder and attempted murder are usually the outcome of disagreements or conflicts between young men, usually in the context of the consumption of alcohol” while “the availability of firearms significantly increases the risk of fatalities in such contexts”.
An “influx of firearms into high-risk areas” was listed among big-picture contributing factors alongside “socio-economic shocks” and “instability in police and political leadership”.
Linda Chiwasa, a Zimbabwean hairdresser, lives adjacent to a shebeen in Nyanga, Cape Town. She says: “You don’t even need to do research on this to get numbers and prove it. I can tell you this from looking out my window. When the shebeen is closed, we don’t expect violence. As soon as it’s open, you can count down some minutes … the violence begins. Sometimes it is just shouting, but sometimes, I can say often, it is fights. I have two children. They are growing up seeing this. And they know – it is the drinking.”
When it comes to guns, many of those used for violent attacks in SA were once licensed but have since changed hands.
Adele Kirsten, director of Gun Free South Africa, said that “the majority of licensed gun owners in South Africa are older men who own a handgun for self-defence against ‘stranger danger’ armed criminals”, and “the majority of legally owned guns are licensed for self-defence purposes”.
Yet, “the majority of the perpetrators and victims are young men” in cases where a “handgun has been used during an interpersonal argument with someone they know”.
“Why is it that handguns bought by older men for self-defence against ‘stranger danger’ criminals are used by young men to shoot other young men they know in interpersonal arguments?” asked Kirsten.
The fact is, a gun bought as a weapon of self-defence in a home is far more likely to be used to “commit murder, suicide or to threaten and intimidate someone known to the shooter”.
Guns are “highly prized items and are targeted by criminals” – civilians in SA reported the loss or theft of 8,948 guns in 2016/17, an average of 25 a day.
Rob Dale, managing executive director of private security company ADT, said the only time a firearm will be effective for self-defence is if a gun owner is ready and waiting for the criminal with the gun cocked and the hammer back.
“Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. You’re not given 90 seconds to get to the safe to get your gun out,” he says.
The organisation’s most recent innovation is a community safety toolkit designed for young South Africans from the age of 18 to 25. It suggests ways in which “all community members, in particular youth, can prevent and reduce gun violence and create safer communities – from the highest level of influencing policy to community level, including local activism and civic engagement”, according to Kirsten.
When the toolkit was launched recently at a primary school in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, youth activist and Gun Free SA representative Tumi Tsheola didn’t sugarcoat what he had to say about guns in SA.
“The wide availability and acceptance of guns is a major reason that 23 people, mostly young black men in metro areas like Alex, are shot and killed every day in South Africa,” he said. “This can, this must, change.”
Then there’s the “angry young men” component. SA’s brutal socio-economic inequality has placed many young men in low-resource areas at risk of both perpetrating and being a victim of violent crimes, including murder and attempted murder. In other words, the apartheid state and the delusions of our democracy have created “norms” where violence is sometimes taken for granted.
“Male identity and masculine norms are undeniably linked with violence, with men and boys disproportionately likely both to perpetrate violent crimes and to die by homicide and suicide,” according to Brian Heilman, a researcher at global non-profit Promundo.
“While biology may play a role in shaping a tendency toward certain forms of violence, the ‘nature’ of men and boys is not the sole predictor of their violent behaviors or experiences.”
Boys and men were often “raised, socialised, and encouraged to be violent, depending on their social surroundings and life conditions”.