Rich-poor divide fuelling violent crime in SA

Respected academic and World Bank director Mamphela Ramphele told a conference reflecting on the work of South Africa’s former Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that they should “not be surprised” by the extreme levels of crime the country was struggling to rein in.

Ramphele, who is a former vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town and one of the World Bank’s four managing directors, said the anger and brutality sweeping across South Africa was due to the country’s failure to acknowledge the socio-economic inequalities that the country was facing.

She said many in the country were still disgruntled that the TRC process had failed to adequately address their social and economic situation as the commission did not have any “terms of reference” for socio-economic crimes.

South Africa was not a poor country, and should have placed priority on the issue of reparations as a way of restoring dignity to people who were “so deeply wounded and yet were so generous”.

“Yet we find money to do a whole lot of other things, including things that have got us into trouble like the arms deal,” Ramphele said.

South Africa currently has some of the highest crime statistics in the world, with a violent crime believed to take place somewhere in the country at least once every 10 minutes.

While the crime wave has been a cause for concern, government officials and security experts are particularly worried about the extreme levels of violence accompanying criminal activities.

In what the government has said was a first step towards trying to solve the problem, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula launched a study into the cause of violent crime in South Africa earlier this year.

The findings are expected to be revealed early next year.

Following the atrocities of South Africa’s apartheid era, the TRC was tasked with identifying crimes against humanity that were committed during the period with the hope of considering reparations for the crimes, with some people receiving financial payouts for their losses.

But, according to Ramphele, the commission failed in limiting its mandate to “politically defined crimes against humanity” while ignoring crimes committed in socio-economic terms.

A recent study by the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) said glaring income disparities and a jobless rate of close to 26 percent were widely blamed for violent crime and other social ills in South Africa despite its burgeoning economy, which grew by 4.9 percent in 2005, and is rated as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa .

But while things are getting better for some, the SAIRR report said life was getting more difficult for the country’s low income groups.

“While growing inequality is in part an indication of the growth of the black middle class and, therefore, a positive indicator, it is of concern that such growth has been accompanied by an increase in poverty among the lowest income groups,” said Jane Tempest, head of research at the institute.

The survey said statistics had indicated that the number of people living on less than R6 a day, the main measure of absolute poverty, had more than doubled since 1994 to more than four million.

“Using a different measure of poverty, 50 percent of South African households lived on less than R2 899 per month for a household of eight in 2004, up from 40 percent in 1994,” SAIRR said.

Ramphele urged the government to do more for those who had suffered socio-economic exclusion and deprivation at the hands of apartheid.

She said excluding crimes perpetrated in socio-economic terms in South Africa had been “a great mistake” because the majority of the people in the country “continue to bleed”.

These people, who were materially poor but spiritually rich, had given so much to the TRC process “and we can’t even say thank you by providing dignified reparations”, said Ramphele.

December 2006
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