Culture of violence blamed on Apartheid

A long-awaited report on the violent nature of crime in South Africa released today states that colonialisation and apartheid created a culture where people see resorting to force as normal

The study, commissioned by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and conducted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, then lists poverty, a weak criminal justice system, the availability of firearms and poor socialisation of the youth as factors that sustain a culture of violence.

It states that 31% of murder suspects in cases where the crime was carried out with criminal intent were 19 years old or younger.

In cases where arguments led to murder, 21% of suspects fell into this age group.

Briefings MPs on the report, the Centre's executive director Adele  Kirsten said South Africans could not ignore the way in which apartheid still influenced all aspects of life long after the advent of democracy.

The report "does not imply that a group of people or the nation as a whole is inherently violent. What it wants to say is that given our history, given our experience of violence ... we have begun to see violence as normative. We see it as acceptable to  use violence ... we see it as legitimate".

"This is what makes us unique. Our migrant labour system of apartheid fundamentally destroyed families. We are living with the legacy of that. I know that often in the public discourse people want to say apartheid is 15 years gone.  It is not, it remains in our day-to-day interactions. It remains present in where we live, and it remains present in who is most vulnerable to be a victim of crime."

The report singles out mines as places were violence was learnt and taken into the townships. Police harassment, imprisonment and state sponsorship of violence in townships further contributed to a  create "a culture of violence that has reproduced itself ever since", the report states.

Its authors said the violence associated with strikes was therefore not surprising and called on politicians to refrain from rhetoric inciting violence.

MPs on Parliament's portfolio committee on police appeared sceptical about the value of the research, saying it failed to answer the fundamental question of why South Africa was so afflicted by violence.

"But what is it that is unique about South Africa?" chairwoman Sindi Chikunga said, noting that the Democratic Republic of Congo had little street crime though it recently emerged from years of war.

Police secretary Jenni Irish-Quobosheane said the ministry shared the same concern. "It is not as though there was something incredibly new and striking that hit us in the face. (But) it does pull a lot of information together and from that point of view it is quite useful," she said.

The chief author of the report Dave Bruce countered that it was unrealistic to expect the 700-page report, which cost R3.5 million to produce, to deliver new truths.    

"The business of explaining violence is an international industry which is carried out in universities around the world. The  international investment in explaining violence what would it be? Possibly hundreds of millions. To expect this R3.5 million to develop a new explanation would be incredibly unrealistic," he said.

He suggested that delving for the causes of crime would only go so far towards providing a solution to the problem.

"One can talk about all kinds of causes and that but to some extent violence is simply based on the fact that people think it is okay to be violent."

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.