The crime deluge continues. Public anger mounts.
Last week exasperated community members in Toti packed a large hall to plead for better policing. A friend in Bergville phoned me to report an ongoing public gunfight in the background as police confronted a gang of ATM bombers.
Transparency International (which measures public perceptions of governance levels) recorded that SA’s ranking had dropped about 10 places in the international rankings (to 64th).
It is clear that we live in a climate where many people have lost spiritual values, and where honesty and integrity appear to be in short supply. This is also happening on a global scale.
South Africans have developed an almost paranoid fascination with the stream of horror stories. What can we, seemingly helpless citizens, do about it? Does it help to simply throw up our hands in despair?
Not according to the Cape Town authors of a new book, Where’s the Chicken – Making South Africa Safe (Burnet Media).
It does not help anybody to take a negative “chicken” approach, according to authors Clifford Shearing and John Cartwright (academics in humanities and criminology).
They stress that while we should indeed be focused on safety and security, we are often guilty of stale and uncreative thinking.
Mamphela Ramphele, a former managing director of the World Bank, notes in her foreword to this book that “making and keeping peace requires courage”.
Instead of just sitting back and complaining endlessly, South Africans would do better by becoming more “active in defending our constitutional democracy and advancing its values”.
We should realise that many people here still live “on the edge of survival “and that without a wider focus, peace cannot be kept within our homes, in the streets, at the workplace and in wider society”.
We do need better policing, a more responsible government and so on, but each of us also has a more positive role to play as well.
Reciting successful examples of how local communities have reduced crime, Shearing and Cartwright call for new thinking on these issues.
For example, a high school in a poor and unruly suburb had constant problems with gangsters intruding, vandalising, selling drugs and threatening pupils and staff. The ready-made (and expensive) solutions were to strengthen the fence, employ armed guards and have trauma counsellors available.
The alternative was to look critically at what had actually made this school a target, instead of another school in the area, and to devise a pre-emptive action plan to fix the fundamental underlying problems. Criminal acts are often the outcomes of a deeper underlying issue.
The authors relate another solution found when two neighbours came to blows. The quick-fix solution would have been to have arrested and taken the aggressor to court and to have a sentence imposed.
However, the better solution, one that worked, was to delve into the root causes, which were by no means one-sided. In this case, the neighbours facilitated a real solution by acting co-operatively. They identified the basic problem, and persuaded the two to agree to correct their errant ways.
As a society we are angry with the past, with our bosses and with the government for failing to protect us. “We are certainly not getting bang for our buck – for the taxes we pay to the government. We do not feel safe on a day-to-day basis,” we say.
We do need to demand that the government fulfils its duties in this respect. We need to insist loudly and often – with specific and practical suggestions – that it carries out its role “with total commitment and accountability whether it is the police, schools, clinics, tenders for housing and public works”.
However, governments cannot do it on their own. The way forward is also to change our own thinking, to become more expansive, to think beyond the government.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to crime. Simply to demand more policing is not always effective. Surveys have shown that there is no correlation between the number of police on the streets and the number of incidences of crime in the various provinces.
South Africans need, instead, to draw on their successes (like the World Cup) and to project these into planning programmes. They need to consider where the country is going to be in 2020. According to the Dinokeng Scenarios (www.dinokengscenarios.co.za), there were three possibilities.
In 2020, SA could be a corrupt and ineffective state (the Walk Apart scenario), an interventionist and directive state with a compliant and still disengaged citizenry (Walk Behind) or a collaborative and enabling state (Walk Together).
The latter option will require us to draw inferences from successes such as the World Cup to build stronger communities and a strong nation. We, therefore, need a mindset that says that the present problems are our growing pains, not our death throes.