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High crime rate is the nation’s call for an ideal economy

Independent Media photographer Bongani Mbatha.

Independent Media photographer Bongani Mbatha.

Published Jul 28, 2023


The murder of Independent Media photographer Bongani Mbatha, whom we affectionately called by his clan name, Mthiya, has left many grief-stricken.

The fact that he was shot and killed at his home on Mandela Day –a day associated with good deeds – does not make it easier.

I remember one night in 1997, when I excitedly approached my mother, Ntomzana Jama, with a six-year-old's innocent smile to tell her that I wanted to be a police officer when I grew up.

Mom, who was a domestic worker in Krugersdorp in Gauteng’s West Rand at the time, told me in the strongest possible terms that she did not want me to be a policeman.

Her reason: police officers’ lives were always in danger.

But I have grown up to know that it was deeper than that for her.

Just 5 years earlier, her boyfriend, my father Sipho Majola, a prison warder at the Krugersdorp Prison, was murdered with three others in a hail of bullets at the Lewisham Hostel in Kagiso.

My mother was trying to protect me from what had happened to my father.

But I shudder to think of what she would say now if told her that a kind colleague and esteemed photographer, Mthiya, was murdered at his home in Hammarsdale.

What my mother was trying to avoid, by steering me far away from what seemed to her as a life-threatening career, happened to Mthiya despite not being in one of the professions deemed dangerous.

The battle that my mother would think she had won, by eroding my interest in being a police officer, Mthiya’s mother would say she lost. Maybe she will also spend the rest of her life telling her grandchild to never make the mistake of considering a career in photography because her son and her grandchild's father, Bongani, was murdered in cold blood.

Last week, the ruling party in the province sent its condolences to Mthiya’s family and his colleague.

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal called on Police Minister Bheki Cele and Provincial Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi to investigate the callous murder of the talented and hard-working photographer during Men’s Month.

The party drew a line in the sand, saying that it was worried about the crime which had become the biggest threat to the human rights of citizen. “It cannot be correct that more and more citizens feel unsafe in their homes where they should be secured and comfortable.”

The ANC called on law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system to investigate the murder of Mthiya and many others.

The country’s high crime rate is a call for an inclusive economy in which all have the means to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities. South Africa needs its economy to grow to a level where businesses thrive, more entrepreneurs emerge and succeed, more people are employed and consumers have enough disposable income. If our economy can get to that level, we will all be able to fight crime.

Most South Africans cannot fight crime because they are unemployed and impoverished. They cannot invest in the resources that will make their homes safer and, by extension, their communities a place dreaded by criminals.

Criminals run amok in our communities because they know that many do not have the funds to pay for armed response. Some people do not have money to install burglar bars. Some cannot even afford reliable fencing and padlocks. Their financial situation is so bad that they cannot afford to replace their damaged door handles. And criminals know this.

The country’s economic growth is so lacklustre that the government itself cannot hire enough police personnel, pay them well and give them state-of-the art resources to protect themselves, the country's citizens and their property. Criminals know this, which is why they are so brazen that they attack police stations.

The economy ought to grow well enough, such that upright police officers’ work can be adequately rewarded. It seems as though they are being sacrificed in the face of ruthless crime. The economy must grow to support crime-fighting initiatives adequately and, therefore, meaningfully. If our economy does reach that level of growth, many criminals might start fearing the might of the law and not undermine it. Many would have opportunities and support to make a living the proper way.

If our economy reached ideal growth, no mother would fear that their children would be killed in the career fields of their choice. There would be no need to attack, rob and murder people. Lives and life in our streets would be safe. The streets, where people walk and drive to make their contribution to making the economy thrive, are more comfortable and safer for criminals rather than those who lead an upright life.

Rest in peace, Mthiya. Criminals are killing our economy and country one soul at a time. May your soul inspire your countrymen and women to lead a clean life and grow our economy.