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Investors and credit rating agencies look beyond the numbers. Konrad Reuss, Standard & Poor’s managing director in South Africa, spoke last week of the failure of delivery at many levels – by national government, local government and also in the private sector. Implicit in his comments is that social instability eats away at a country’s ability to grow.
Public security was among the examples he cited of delivery failure.
This failure is often dramatically demonstrated – for instance at Marikana last year when police fired on and killed 34 miners; and in Daveyton earlier this month when police tied a taxi driver to their van and possibly dragged him to his death. Repeated images of violence, flashed across the world, are doing untold damage to perceptions of South Africa in the rest of the world.
Though the images are lacking, the latest incident in the North West, in which a policeman allegedly used his vehicle to drag an innocent bystander through the streets, is contributing to the picture of a country gone mad.
Verdicts are still out on all of these allegations; and the policeman involved in the North West incident has a very different version of what happened.
But, more broadly, what is so chilling about incidents of this type is the lethal cocktail of arrogance and ignorance displayed by the perpetrators.
Too many people in power believe they can do as they choose, and will never have to answer for the tragic outcomes.
This is extremely dangerous not only for the victims but for the perpetrators – who often do have to answer for their actions.
And it is dangerous to society as a whole because we are all potential targets of random violence.
Former police commissioner George Fivas commented on Talk Radio 702 on Friday that South Africa was a violent country and the behaviour of the police reflected that of the broader society. Given that police are recruited from the community, this is obviously true.
South Africa has a legacy of violence, inherited from the apartheid past and the struggle to overthrow that system. Young white men conscripted into the old defence force and black activists were forced into situations where there was no alternative. Nineteen years of a new dispensation has not erased the troubled past.
But the unanswered question is: why do so many violent people believe they are invulnerable – that they can literally and metaphorically get away with murder?
Perhaps it’s because they can look around them and see officials and politicians committing crimes with impunity, with the only penalty coming from the court of public opinion.
There’s the case of the former police commissioner Jackie Selebi convicted of corruption and sentenced to 15 years but released on medical parole two years later.
Selebi replaced Fivas in January 2000. It has been said that his years in office instilled a culture of corruption in the police force.
It’s hard to argue with this view because corruption figures high on the list of police transgressions.
The cost of crime and corruption in the country is unquantifiable. We will never know how much money has been diverted from social and productive investment into the pockets of criminals and corrupt officials.
More pervasive is the impact of fear – fear of criminals and fear of the police – on our daily lives. A country at war with itself doesn’t have the energy to grow.