In cahoots with our thug heroes

WHEN alleged criminal mastermind William "Mashobane" Mbatha steps into the dock on Thursday he will have all of us standing there with him

WHEN alleged criminal mastermind William "Mashobane" Mbatha steps into the dock on Thursday he will have all of us standing there with him

While Mbatha faces charges ranging from theft, robbery, car theft, housebreaking, possession of an illegal firearm and tax offences, we have to explain how we allowed such a climate of crass materialism and idolisation of criminals or as in Mbatha's case, suspected criminals, to take root.

As the Facebook entries and the two bus loads of supporters who went to support the self-styled King of Bling have shown, Mbatha is thought to be a hero even by those who believe he is guilty of the crimes he's accused of.

To his fans he is a modern-day Robin Hood, except that the mythical English figure was not known for his preference for opulence.

Some bizarrely believe that the state is jealous that a young black South African man seems to have made it in a world that is hostile to black initiative and talent. Utter hogwash.

In many ways it is a case of the chickens coming home to roost. Many in black society have excused criminality as a form of "redistributing wealth".

The Azapo campaign in the 1980s of "Asispini ekasi, asikhawathi u darkie", loosely translated to mean "we don't commit crime in the townships, we don't hurt blacks", is one way we legitimised crime.

Surely someone in those days knew that apartheid wouldn't last forever. Sooner or later ekasi, or eJozi, would indeed belong to all who live in South Africa. But criminals who had not acquired new skills would still need to rob for a living.

When that time came all those seen to own the things criminals regarded as a steal would be legitimate targets regardless of the lengths of their noses.

So the Azapo campaign was short-sighted and fatalistic in that it could not see black people as owners of wealth.

South African society, black and white, has made the size of one's bank account and how much of their wealth they show off a measure of greatness.

Those who wear the most expensive labels and drive the flashiest cars get pride of place in the order of society. We are reaping the harvest of making heroes of those who make it a habit of breaking the law to achieve their ends.

It does not start with "Mashobane". Soweto, for example, had an envy-love-hate relationship with the likes of Makabasa in the 1980s and Tebogo M'rembol in the 1990s.

In Pretoria the likes of Colin Chauke and Don Mahlangu, whom everyone knew were criminals, somehow enjoyed hero status in their communities.

I bet you could find the same type of figures in Gugulethu, Seshego, Kwa-Mashu or anywhere else.

Their well-attended funerals speak to this elevated status.

Still, these are the same people who are first to condemn the government for not doing "something" about crime.

Truth is we can't have our cake and eat it. If we think there is something worthwhile about being a criminal or living the high life by whatever means necessary, then we must be prepared to live with the consequences of such thoughts.

We must be prepared to live with the prospect of being robbed and perhaps murdered by those we erroneously believe represent a glorious struggle against inequality and the historical exclusion of black people.

Guilty or not, we helped create the Mashobanes of this world. And unsatisfied with this, we help sustain their place in our society.

And that makes us shamefully complicit in the foulest crimes that our hero criminals commit.