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Friday, February 09, 2007

loving home, hating crime

There are soooo many websites out there about SA's crime problem. Some have gained notoriety as forums for racists and cynical white folk who fled and need to justify it to themselves.

Some, however, have sprung up in response to the "shock-sites", and aim to put forward a different voice - one that says, "Ja, SA has problems, but look at what else we got".
I'm a big fan of these, even though it can be tiring having repetitious fights with nay-sayers along the lines of:

me: i love SA
them: ja, but the crime is hectic
me: i know, but i still love home
them: ja, but the crime is shocking
me: and i want that to change too, but i can think that and love SA
them: ja, but you cant deny how bad the crime is
me: aaaaargghhhh!

Anyway, this has become an interest of mine, since I left home last year for this current chilly experience. I am overseas and having fun (most of the time) and missing home (most of the time too) and VERY VERY conscious of being an ambassador for South Africa. I have already been told a number of times by colleagues that most Saffas they meet are extremely negative about SA, and have a major chip on their shoulders about BEE and the ANC.

This is the impression that I have to fight against: Not all white Saffa's are anti-ANC, and there are loads who are nothing but optimistic about our country's future. I'm from the school of if you cant say something positive, dont say anything - not in a denialist sense - but if crime is your concern, bring me a plan or solution or contribution! I'm not asking you to pretend it isnt happening! Just looking for some action...or the bigger picture.

Here is the reverse of a familiar stat about SA tourism: Every potential tourist you send away, removes 1/8 of a job - increasing the number of people who may have to turn to crime to survive...

anyway, i've loads more to say, but lets leave it at this for a moment

Please feel free to argue with me on this. I am well aware that I am no authority on this and make no claim to be. I've put out my opinion. What's yours?


CrimeX said...

I am overseas and having fun (most of the time) and missing home (most of the time too) and VERY VERY conscious of being an ambassador for South Africa. I have already been told a number of times by colleagues that most Saffas they meet are extremely negative about SA, and have a major chip on their shoulders about BEE and the ANC.

Don't give up being an ambassador for the greatest country in the world. By the way most of the people posting negatively on these so called crime sites (which really are bitch sessions for anti ANC, BEE, AA etc) are white relics of Apartheid Saffas that are overseas.

They need to realize that they may have lost privileges but not their rights.

kabintsimbi said...

Vok, maar jy praat lekker oor SA! Dankie man!

Totally hear you on all those neggie vibes from those twits! In my opinion, good riddance! I don't want those folk here, sending out there pathetic vibes to the rest of about pollution! I agree that crime is bad (touch wood) but like you say, let's make a change. We can't expect the government to do eveything...esp since crime is a social problem. Then why not let society get involved & help make a change!

I agree, we have a fantastic future ahead of us & the people in SA are what make this country so flipping fantastic! So let the constant bikkering end & let's do something about it! I can guarantee you that this is what is happening right about now! People are gatvol of this kak & trying to make a difference!

ps: I don't know how you do it living way up north, I've been over to England three times now & every time I cry & want to come home...and that's just on some 3 week holiday! Hat off to you!

Keep on rockin with those good vibes!

hawk said...

Crime has been there for a long time. It's getting better. I'm not sure what exactly sparked the recent furore but people need to look at the objective facts before they make comments. Everyone knows someone who has been a victim and they magnify those stories instead of asking whether there are real improvements.

South Africans have a long and proud history of being critical - I just wish they'd make informed comments!

Go you for being willing to continue arguing with the people who don't know the facts. One of these days we'll win!

love you!

The Granny Wrangler said...

Always one to throw a spanner in the works...

As a Zimbo who had her farm, livelihood and worldly possessions ripped away from her in the blink of an eye I have watched the rapid decline of a once fantastic country from a far too close for comfort perspective. It WAS fantastic and i'm sorry to say, better than SA ever was or will be. But that was then. 6 years ago i became a fully fledged 13-digit Id no. SA citizen and sought refuge in the sunny cape to study and subsequently work. I loved it. I learned to call it home. One has to. The thing is, i, like thousands of other Zimbos, have seen the patterns now happening in SA. Yip, the very same patterns which began the demise of what was once (excuse the cliché) the bread basket of africa. Do you have any idea the resentment and bitterness directed towards farmers who sold up and moved countries? They warned us all and we all stayed so fucking positive and buried our heads in our then fertile soil clinging to the hope that positivity and unity would see us through. Do you know what? It didn't. The one's who left, the ones who managed to sell their farms and make a new life for their children and families, they may have been scorned and resented but who feels like the arsehole who had everything ripped from them because they refused to heed the warnings and pay attention to all the signs? The ones who left got money for their farms and set up businesses, moved forex out of the country and put their children through good schools. The rest? Imagine being 65 and having not a cent. No pension to draw on. No escape. Now imagine moving to a foreign country in order to earn money to feed yourself, knowing that you will never be able to save up enough money to retire and will more than likely have to work until you die. Its real, and it's heartbreaking to watch. Don't get me wrong, optimism is great and i was as optimistic as i could be. But there comes a point when you have to think long and hard and actually LISTEN and absorb what is being said. Let it sink in. Instead of immediately jumping on the defensive and gunning down anyone who even mentions the word crime and SA in the same sentence, take the time to understand why they are saying these things. If you have lived through what Zim has gone through in the last 10 years your blood would run cold when you realised the EXACT same patterns happening south of the border. It is frightening. But whether you like it or not it's happening. Believe us. Don't believe us. We're all big enough to make our own decisions. I just hope that some of you will be spared the heartache and anguish so many of us have suffered - it's not something i'd wish on my worst enemy.
Ok, i'm done.

Jak said...

The unfortunate truth is it almost impossible to have a non-hysterical disucssion about crime, neither in developed nor developing world contexts. There are piles of studies demonstrating again and again that people's perception of their own risk level is out of kilt with any kind of reasonable probability. In some contexts, that goes both ways - as New Labour discovered when they started tracking "fear of crime" as a performance indicator in their second term - doesn't work because suburban grandmothers with a risk profile somewhere near zero are convinced they're under criminal seige on account of neighbourhood gossip circles, and young guys in Hackney who have a 1 in 3 chance of being a gunshot victim walk around oblivious. People are notoriously bad at working out their own risk probabilities.

In SA, the extremely violent nature of syndicate crime takes amplifies the tendency to over-estimate personal risk, and that effect strengthens with every new social network a tragic crime event touches, since your fear/awareness of a specific kind of crime is much higher when it effects someone you know. This is why it's almost impossible to have a reasonable discussion about the issue - cite stats at someone who's lost a loved one, and you're likely to get screamed at or punched (for entirely understandable reasons) even if, in the coldly reasonable world where real policy has to be made - you're right.

Also consider that crime is a notorious "sponge" issue - it draws in people's people's rage about all kinds of other social dynamics - and in a country like south africa we shouldn't underestimate how much class and race tension is being smuggled unspoken into people's feelings about crime. In the case of expats, also add the need to justify their potential status as permanent immigrants to somewhere else.

The sponge effect and peronsal risk-profile issue both make pretty efficient kindling for a media frenzy, not to mention an informal version of the same that works it's way through social networks. The negative spin cycle has not been - from what I can tell - well handled by the Mbkei government (the ministry of safety and security in particular) but that's a seperate issue from actual policy direction.

There are not now, nor will they ever be, clear single solutions. Read the latest state of the nation, and I'd say Mbeki's put the case pretty well - you need more police recruitment (and better working conditions), better forensic capacity (deployed smartly), intelligence gathering on syndicates etc in partnership with multi-national cop-shops like interpol, a much better regulation of the private security industry (which has twice as many sets of boots on the ground as the cops do), and ongoing, smarter investment in criminal justice capacity, reinvigorating community police forums - all of these are on the books and going forward. But that's only the direct side of the fight - the rest is the matrix of government action and services designed to uplift people economically - and the pro-active version of that policy agenda is only getting going now (the govt having done pretty well in its first-decade priority of attracting investment into the first economy).

I'd say it's a very fair bet that a lot of the variation in SA crime rates from hereon in will be driven by success or failure of the poverty alleviation program mix, part of which is how much the provinces and localities take real ownership of the responsibility they've been given as engines of local econ development. That's a bloody complex space to access, and I don't think much of the crime-talk either in or outside of SA is considering it at this kind of systematic level. The sad part is that's the level where the changes have to happen. Neither naive optimism nor shallow fatalism is of any real use, but I'm guessing this will continue to be the language in which the crime debate is waged.

Kate said...

Thanks guys, for all your comments, those I agree with and those I dont. I dont think we should under-estimate the worth of a discussion like this, as long as everyone comes to the table with the right attitude.

I'm not going to comment on the reasons for crime or the zim comparison. I have my opinions on both.

What I will say is that SA has shown itself to be a country that doesnt follow the anticipated patterns - such as the resolution of apartheid and the dismantling of our nuclear capability. So let's hope we can buck the trend on this one too!

JAK: do you know anything about how NY turned itself around? is any of it transferable to a SA context?

Jak said...

Katie, I've been lucky to get the NY turnaround story from a number of angles, including a couple of city government insiders. The big drop-off during the Giulliani years has to be cast against the massive downturn in urban crime across the states as a whole in the mid-90's (which socio geeks will be breaking down and analyzing for another half century at least) .

But NY did have a couple of high-voltage policy moments that really worked with the trend - but most of those had to do with how you manage resources. The most famous is the compstat system, which was basically a big, badass stats model which used real-time information to assign patrol cars and officers to areas with the highest crime spikes (it also monitored response rates, etc). That helped break the dense nets of crime in certain areas.

As did a much more controversial and confrontational strategy, what became known as the "broken windows" approach - basically going heavy on minor crime and disorder so that criminal heavies didn't get the signal that an area was safe to operate in. The name comes from a criminology theory that pushers and gang-bangers knew they were under the radar if the buildings in a neighbourhood had broken windows, because it meant buildings weren't being taken care of and law enforcement wasn't in the area often.

Stuff like this is already, as far as I can tell, part of SA policing and urban management strategy - and it provides a useful model for how to deal with certain kinds of dense crime clusters.

It just can't remedy the kind of stuff that goes down when abject poverty isn't a condition at the margins of society, but the lived reality of the majority of your population. Desperation at that scale provides plenty of foot-soldiers for cold-blooded syndicate bosses and their greed-rotted clientele....

Kate said...

Thanks JAK! Worth giving it a think...
by the way: what do you make of the Freakonomics claim?

Jak said...

Was going to mention that, but I thought only inveterate stats geeks would know about it....

We actually did the full paper Levitt based the Freakonomics chapter on in my Advanced Quant Methods class at Columbia - and it's a very rigorously specified piece of work - myself and most of a viciously sceptical crew of MPA's came close to being convinced. There's SOMETHING there, and the mechanism Levitt suggests isn't the worst answer that's been thrown out there - if less desperate single mothers gave birth after abortion was legal, it obviously cut down the raw numbers of one of the most at-risk demographics for criminality 20 years later . But there's too much the controls can't catch that might really be driving some (or most) of the effect - macro-economic effects, social trends, new police practices - Levitt's proxies for all of them are imperfect. It's clever, and it might just be a visionary piece of social quant work, but I wouldn't write policy off it (plenty of other reasons to support legalized abortion, and no politician would dare use this one anyway....)

africa addio said...

"I'm not going to comment on the reasons for crime or the zim comparison. I have my opinions on both"

So if you have opinions, esp about the Zim analogy, why not express them so that we can judge whose are more realistic? This is a very important topic and Granny Wranglers story was both poignant and very well-expressed and doesnt deserve a haughty "no comment" to be airily dismissed as you have done. It seems to me that you are either pretending not to see the similarities or ignoring them and hoping they will go away.

Your "let's hope we can buck the trend on this one too!" says it all.

As for the nuclear dismantling, dont forget that that was done by the white govt under orders from the Americans because they didnt trust the ANC (can you guess why Katie?). So that event actually contradicts your (implied) trust in the good intentions of the ANC.