Fear and Self-Loathing in Las Azania

February 3, 2007

sa_flag.jpgI live in South Africa. In crime-ridden South Africa. In Beautiful Cape Town. In the murder capital of South Africa. In a place ruled by fear where “no-one is safe*”. Where crime is out of control. Apparently.

These are, all of them, the views of our local television and print media. Media who rely on advertising. media who rely on readership. Media who rely on grabbing our attention and on holding it. There is no better attention getter than fear.

We continually refer to ourself as the crime capital of the world yet we are one of the few third world countries to provide anything near accurate statistics. China, India, Russia, Nigeria, Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, and Pakistan have no reliable numbers and in some cases no numbers at all. Even where you have statistics certain murders, like honour killings in Muslim states, are not included.

I have lived here in Cape Town for 14 years straight, since before our first democratic elections. In that time no member of my family nor any one of my friends has ever been murdered. When I owned a bar with upwards of 300 regular clients who I knew well, would drink with and chat to not one of them ever told me of a close friend or family member criminally murdered. There was always “my mother’s cousin this” and “my cousin’s mother that”, all third-person tales but never “my dad was shot in the head last night and my mother raped and killed.”

I do not want to detract from the pain and suffering of those it has happened to, and I promise you it has happened- in your country too. But in this attention-seeking world where people have no time to have a life worth speaking about, where we no longer discuss philosophy at dinner, where politics is debated in sound-bytes not substance and religious coversations alway end in someone shooting someones dad in the head and raping their mother we humans are desperate for conversational topics that will give us attention.

Crime is an attention-getter. Fear is an attention getter. Telling ‘ghost stories’ is an attention getter. I firmly believe in the old axiom: “never let facts ruin a good story.” I am, at heart, a teller of tall tales and interesting anecdotes. I like to play with words. But I try and garner attention from humour, from the positive. It is far, far easier to attract attention and galvanise people with the negative. Ask these people and organisations: Hitler, Stalin, Moussolini, Al Queda, Neo-Nazis, Christian Fundamentalists, George W. Bush, Isreal, Tony Blair, Fatah, Hammas… I will not bother going on. You get the point.

Just so you know i am not claiming a Utopian State here in South Africa and that there is crime. Here is a list crimes I and my family have had to ‘survive’ since 1994.

Me: 1994- car stolen (inconvenient), 2003- cellphone stolen from bar, 2003- hit by drunk in a bar (are you looking at my bird? Yes. Wallop.)

Mother: 1996- car stolen, 2006 house break in (slept through it).

Father: 2004- tools stolen from garage, 2005- front door key stolen by someone doing work on the house (changed lock), 2006- front door key stolen by someone doing work on the house (changed lock).

All of the above is merely mildly annoying, not tragic. None of us now lives behind an electrical fence or razor wire. We still live our daily lives with doors unlocked. I still go out drinking. I got another cellphone. My car was insured. And through all this the most traumatic crime I had to deal with was the way the insurance company screwed me on my claim.

Although we do have higher crime in South Africa than first world countries, it is not nearly as bad as the hysterical media portray. It is true our police are ineffective against it: we have more crimes per police officer to deal with than Europe and less budget for training and the technology to assist them. We do have corruption in our police force as does every country in the world. I can, with confidence, state that looking at our statistics for crime and the size of our poice force that I cannot see them getting our violent crime down to first world levels with things as they are.

For all our vocal complaining and apparent fear when I, at a dinner with white and coloured friends, no black people**, bring up questions like “what do you think the causes are?” everyone says “poverty” first. Quite a few of people say “culture issues” and the ones who are not coy or who are drunk say what the people who say culture issues really mean, “black South Africans have no respect for human life.”

We all seem to agree that poverty is the problem. So, if you are bitching about crime and poverty is the leading cause- “what have you actually done, personally, about it?”

“We pay our taxes,” is the reply. Okay, what if that isn’t enough? What if that means we only get out of this in 30-50 years? Are you willing to pay more taxes?

“We already give 30-40%, the government should be able to do it’s job with that!” But, of course, it cannot. It cannot raise company taxes either because it wants more jobs to come to the country. It cannot raise taxes on fuel because that will push up food prices (transport). It cannot get more money without raising taxes. And whats more I think we are right not to want to pay more taxes. Governments should not be trusted entirely. The whole concept of democracy is based on distrust of our leaders. About 40-50% is the highest we should give directly to government.

What of the “culture” issue. The same people who say “black people have no respect for human life” are usually, in my experience, the same people who own guns. They are also the same people who are obsessed with their right to protect their property and “will shoot anyone who tries to rob me!” I would not dream of killing someone for trying to steal my television or my car. I might want to give them a bit of a kicking but that is natural anger. A prominent Afrikaans rugby player recently (last 10 years) killed his own daughter by emptying his gun into one of the family’s cars being backed, engine off, out of the driveway in the early hours of the morning. She was sneaking out to meet friends. If he respected life over property his daughter would still be alive.

These are also the same people who complain about beggars at traffic lights. I cannot give to every one and I cannot give every day. But when I cannot give I smile, ask them how they are today and then politely refuse. Respect. Most of these people would rather not be there. Many would prefer to have a job. For the professional beggars who pressure you and guilt you there is no reason to get angry. If they carry on you say, “I did say no, to carry on is really not nice. Please stop. Now.” If they still pressure me it becomes: “Now you’re being impolite, I will remember you and never give anything to you.” The next time they are at that light I remind them. Not angrily. Respect.

A culture clash is not the problem. A general culture of disrespect for the suffering of others and human life prevails in all communities in South Africa. Our property is more important than our neighbour’s well being. Oddly another country with the same philosophy has an unusually high murder rate. America. Covered well in Michael moore’s “Bowling for Columbine”.

The fact is, if we want a crime-free South Africa the first thing we need to do is show that we give a crap about the people who have nothing. Whether you give your time to a building project on Sundays as free labour. Whether you can afford R15000 to buy a plot of land and build someone a small house. Whether you can go to a poor school and offer R1000 per month to pay for an after-school sports program. If we want a better life for ourselves we not only have to pay taxes to pay for infrastructure, we have to make direct contact with the people who have little or nothing and let them know: we give a shit.

midnight jester

* Newspaper Headline, supposed quote from head of our top police unit.

** Black, white and coloured are not insults in South Africa, just convenient reference points. I pity all of you in other countries who have to tiptoe around these words.

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7 Responses to “Fear and Self-Loathing in Las Azania”

  1. Loser Prince Says:

    Hey, I just found your blog this morning and I love it. Love it!

  2. Oscarandre Says:

    Giving a shit is the least likely sentiment to be found in modern Australia. There is a meanness of spirit entering the Australian soul that has no foundation or justification borne of hardship, war or disaster. Acquisition is the lifestyle of choice, the have-nots the victims of their own lethargy. But if we don’t give a shit about those that have not, then we are ourselves diminished.

  3. grantsi Says:

    Midnight Jester- Outstanding!

    Quite possibly the best article on this topic I have read in a long time. Frank, humorous, educated, insightful. Check out http://www.sarocks.co.za if you haven’t already. It’s sole purpose is to promote positive aspects of SA.
    Again- superb!


  4. […] the full post here, as well as another great post by midnightjester here. Share the Rocking:These icons link to social […]


  5. Dear Oscarandre,

    Some sort of laxative may be in order. I do note that you lead South Africa not only in every sporting endeavour ever created, but in car theft too.

    Well done! Over-achievement appears to be a disease in Oz, in capitalism and acquisition too…

    jester


  6. Dear Loser Prince,

    Many thanks, it is nice to know I now have 4 readers…

    jester


  7. Dear grantsi

    Thanks for the compliment, reader number 5! Also appreciate the link in from you. That makes you the second, I believe. Oscarandre, the misguided fool that he is, did it first.

    jester


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