Culture of denial does not make a better life for all

I ask this question in all seriousness. Where does President Thabo Mbeki live?

I ask this question in all seriousness. Where does President Thabo Mbeki live?

Nothing in what he says or does suggests that the man lives in the country whose people voted him into power.

Mbeki displays signs of being deluded and completely out of touch with what is happening in his country.

It is becoming increasingly easy to see why the man is under fire from so many camps in his party, the ANC.

Surely even hardened comrades cannot continue to show loyalty to a man who seems so dangerously out of touch with his own people?

Surely no one can agree that a man who is so alienated from the pain that grips his own people should get a third term as president of the ANC?

Mbeki - in a country where millions of people are walking around with HIV coursing through their veins and hundreds of thousands of children are Aids orphans - once said that he does not know anyone with Aids. Really? That is very novel indeed.

I personally do not know any normal South African who does not know someone who is HIV-positive or who has died of Aids.

Either Mbeki does not live here or he is burying his head in the sand.

Mbeki once again displayed his ignorance of his own country last week when he was interviewed on one of the SABC channels.

Without irony or shame, Mbeki said that it was just a perception that crime in South Africa was out of control. He said that most South Africans would agree with him.

"It's not as if someone will walk here to the TV studio in Auckland Park and get shot," Mbeki said.

"That doesn't happen and it won't happen. Nobody can prove that the majority of the country's 40 million to 50 million citizens think that crime is spinning out of control."

On the day that Mbeki said this, I had a meeting with a group of young, successful, black media executives in Rosebank, Johannesburg. One of them could not make the meeting.

The chairman of the meeting told us that the man's domestic worker had been attacked in their house, tied up with his child, and the house ransacked.

That evening, in front of the same building owned by a large media company where we had held our meeting, a young woman was waiting for her husband in a car outside when three men approached her, held a gun to her head and took her car away.

Now, this is in Rosebank, Johannesburg, where there are street patrols and a police station just around the corner from the building where this crime was perpetrated.

Whenever he is in the country, Mbeki walks around with an army of bodyguards. When he drives around - sirens screaming and 4x4s kicking small cars off the roads - we mere mortals fear that we might get manhandled by members of the VIP Protection Unit.

He should slip out of his house secretly one night and walk the streets of Pretoria to see the real world and feel how the real people live. He will see violence and misery the likes of which his cosy life prevents him from seeing. Hopefully, it would prevent him from saying things as insensitive and daft like no one will walk into the SABC studios with a gun.

He should remember that even his deputy, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, was burgled in her house while she was asleep.

Would he change his views on crime if those criminals had violated her? After all, this is a country where 52000 women are raped every year.

And Mbeki says crime is not out of control.

The second worrying aspect of Mbeki's views on crime is that he seems to say one thing on Sunday and a different thing on Tuesday. He is not consistent at all.

Just days before he gave his interview to the SABC, he told ANC supporters in Mpumalanga at the launch of his party's January 8 Statement that the crime "scourge has continued to bedevil our young democracy".

He continued: "Though progress has been made in gradually reducing levels of most categories of serious crime, crime continues to impact severely on the quality of life of our people.

"Without decisive action to curb crime, it could undermine our efforts to ensure the country is able to realise its social and economic potential."

So what does he believe in, really? Is crime a scourge or not? The word scourge derives from the Latin excoriare, meaning "to flay" and corium, meaning "skin". The scourge is a multi-thong type of whip used to inflict severe corporal punishment on the back of a person.

What the ANC statement therefore meant, literally, is that we are under the tough whip of crime. Yet Mbeki, who read the same statement but clearly did not understand it, says that crime is not a problem.

It is time to come back home, Mr President. It is time to listen to what people are saying, to their hunger and their pain. Denial is not good enough. Arrogance will not produce the solutions needed.

Most importantly, though, such ill-thought splutterings will not reduce crime. It is only when this government acknowledges the problems of crime, HIV-Aids and poverty that it will deal with them effectively.

A culture of denial will not produce results.