By Roxy Marosa
(HN, January 3, 2011) One of the pieces I wrote in 2010 was about my tour with friends of one of the first townships in Cape Town - the sprawling and impoverished Langa. I expressed my emotions on a video clip.
It’s a township where a large number of poor black South Africans reside. Although there are a few residents regarded as middle class, the majority of the people are poor and face daily security and health hazards. On the tour, our guide explained that people freely roam around the streets during daylight hours but, as early as 7:30pm, most retreat into their homes - due to the security risks at night.
Their fears are well-grounded: there have been a number of muggings and even murders in Langa. People have reported these to the authorities, and in some cases, the perpetrators were never caught or brought to justice.
Fed-up, the community has taken charge and formed a community policing forum - essentially a group of responsible residents who receive crime reports and take swift action. They also work together to quickly bring the crimes to the attention of law enforcement authorities, who are then forced to act fast on the crimes. When a member of the forum witnesses a crime, they punish the perpetrators immediately, in addition to making a formal police report. This innovative collaboration has seen the crime rate in Langa decline. The members of the forum are known and respected in this township.
These acts of crime are a clear indication that South Africa is a country still overcoming it’s apartheid history. The highly-publicized November 2010 murder in nearby Guguletu Township of Annie Dewani - allegedly by a hit-man hired by her wealthy British businessman husband Shrien Dewani - reinforced the doubt many people here have in the security of the country and in the government.
It is no secret to South Africans that many people who were previously disadvantaged before apartheid are still mired in grinding poverty. Indicative of this is is the reported $2,200 payment received by the perpetrator and killer of Annie - in what has now become known as the "Honeymoon Murder." Although many people, especially the disadvantaged, want situations to change fast or have their society changed already, it is logical that this will not take place overnight. And the past 16 years have demonstrated change as a process, that it takes time - sometimes a painfully long time.
South Africa’s political future is also capturing worldwide attention. The blood and sweat of many who have contributed to the country’s current prosperity are seeing a growth in tourism fuelled, in part, by the 2010 World Cup.
Although an attractive tourist destination for many, South Africa still attracts ample criticism from others, due to a high murder rate (nationwide an average of 46 murders occurred daily last year, among the world’s highest rates), low level of safety and security and other reasons.
Having said this, the murder of Annie left many South Africans apologetic and doubting their own country. Even many South Africans government officials, fearing a backlash to tourism, offered apologies or felt compelled to explain what happened. As friends reflect on the country’s aftermath of the killing, interesting views were expressed to me, particularly about South African’s lack of confidence in the country. It came to light that these friends had pride over the country’s legal system.
In the end, the murder was solved (the suspect is on $350,000 bail in the UK, facing extradition back to South Africa) with the puzzle put together in a relatively short space of time. My friends acknowledged the soundness of the legal system and saluted it for the action and fast resolution.
All this begs the question: ‘Do South Africans have overall trust in their country?’ Responded to by friends, the answer was a clear ‘NO’. More views about other countries were expressed. ‘If Shrien had taken Annie to what is regarded a dangerous area in America, and she got killed there, Americans would protect their country by saying ‘What were they doing in that area at that time? People should not be hanging around the streets during that time,' " said one friend.
Is this confidence and love for a country or what?
So, knowing that South Africans are still recovering from the apartheid history and that the healing process will take years, should the accused Shrien Dewani apologise to playing on the vulnerability of South Africans?