By Kotie Geldenhuys
All stock photos are posed
Something is very wrong in South Africa. Why are we experiencing so much violence? Our court rolls are shocking - with accused standing trial for the rape and murder of children; youngsters standing trial for murdering their parents; men being accused for murdering their wives; and armed robberies turning to murder - the list is never ending.
While the majority of South Africans are law-abiding citizens, many South Africans have little respect for the law. The general attitude of South Africans towards the law is demonstrated by the large number of people who are driving without wearing seat belts; driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; using their cellphones while driving or ignoring red traffic lights. And to add fuel to fire, people in positions of authority who abuse their power and blatantly ignore the law set no example for others to encourage respect for the law. Gould (2014) argues that, as long as those holding political office appear to act with impunity, or cynically manipulate the criminal justice system to dodge very serious allegations of the abuse of power and state resources, we cannot reasonably expect other South African citizens to respect the law.
Although our legislation has substantially changed for the better and our Constitution protects the rights of all South Africans by having established the principle that we all must be treated equally before the law, this has been very difficult to achieve in practice. Those with money find it easier to pay for good lawyers, to drive to court, or to visit a psychologist to help them deal with trauma or stress. Even a middle-class victim of crime will not have too much trouble getting to a police station to report a case and getting follow-ups to ensure that the case receives attention and makes its way through the criminal justice system. These privileges, however, are not available to thousands of victims of violent crime each year (Gould, 2014).
When we think about violent crimes, murder, rape, physical assault and armed robberies typically come to mind. However, after attending the 1st National Conference on Violence in August 2016, it became clear to us that the term “violence” encompasses much more and that we, as citizens of South Africa, have been exposed to almost all types of violence. Nancy Hornsby from the Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council said during the conference that, worldwide, more than 1.4 million people die annually as a result of violence. There are many forms of violence and in this article we are going to mention some of its forms briefly. However, since some forms of violence are closely related, overlapping will occur, such as domestic violence and intimate partner violence, while gang violence is linked to school violence and prison violence.
South Africa's shockingly high murder rate is confirmed in the 2015/2016 statistics where the 18 673 murders showed a 4.9% increase from the previous report year. This means that, on average, more than 50 people are murdered in South Africa, each day. During the release of the 2015/2016 crime statistics, Mr Nathi Nhleko, the Minister of Police at that time, blamed the sharp increase on domestic violence and alcohol abuse. This link is not uncommon since many perpetrators of violent crime use some form of drugs or alcohol.
In recent weeks, a disturbing number of rapes and other sexual offences have been reported, which confirms that rape is prevalent in South Africa. During the 2015/2016 financial year, 42 596 rapes were reported, in addition to 164 958 cases of common assault and 182 933 cases of assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm.
Violence is part and parcel of the category of aggravated robbery, which can include street robbery, house robbery, business robbery, carjacking and cash-in-transit heists. Crimes that are often committed alongside armed robbery include murder, assault, rape, etc. During the 1st National Conference on Violence, Prof Brett Bowman from the Department of Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand said that armed robbery is one of the top three most feared crimes in the country.
Children and violence
In South Africa, children are exposed to various risks resulting in neurological damage in early life, which includes the high prevalence of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) disorders. According to the Foundation of Alcohol Related Research (FARR), three million people in South Africa are affected by FAS. One example of how FAS contributed to the violence perpetrated by children is an incident that happened in Klawer, where eight-year-old Wilfred Kriel was hacked to death by two classmates, respectively aged seven and 12 at the time. One of them was suffering from FAS (for more, see the article about this case published in Servamus: February 2011).
Children are also exposed to domestic violence, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect and exploitation, often in their homes where they are supposed to feel nurtured and safe. Recently, a car salesman from Boksburg, who faced more than 800 charges which included child rape, exploitation, sexual assault and child pornography, was sentenced to a total of 970 years' incarceration. Among his victims was his girlfriend's four-year-old daughter, whom he sexually abused and raped. This rapist stayed with her mother and she looked up to him as a father figure (for more, see the article about this case published in Servamus: May 2017).