May 14, 2007

Towards a Progressive Approach Towards Crime and Poverty

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 7:21 am

The greatest deterrent to crime is the likelihood that offenders will be apprehended, convicted and punished. It is that which is presently lacking in our criminal justice system; and it is at this level and through addressing the causes of crime that the state must seek to combat lawlessness.

Constitutional Court former president, Arthur Chaskalson


During early March, I received a call from Firoz Cachalia, MEC for Safety and Security, for greater participation by civil society organisations to be involved in the fight against crime and injustice. Yet he called for a “more considered and progressive participation”. In passing I mentioned that crime is one of the few themes that is often spoken about widely and suggests to me it is the only truly trickle down that the globalisation has given us. Today many politicians, not excluding Tony Blair, can be heard talking the mantra “tough on crime” and “tough on the causes of crime”. Whilst sloganistic in some ways, it does in some way capture the tension political leaders have to walk on addressing directly crime and also broader issues of the unequal distribution of wealth, power and other resources.

This has been a long struggle and struggled over since the advent of our new democracy. Under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, crime and safety have been a big topic. Also their media coverage, which is later addressed in this article. This emanates in part from the president’s “letters” to the nation and in one particular letter he correctly identified that the “freedom from fear is a necessary part of the range of objectives of those who fight for freedom.” In other letters he lambastes those who seek to profit from the perceptions of crime for political, racist or other purposes.

Was the Apartheid really safer?

In his most recent letter on the subject, the president asserted: “We still have a significant proportion of people among the white minority, but by no means everybody who is white, that continues to live in fear of the black, and especially African majority.” For this section of our population, that does not “find it too difficult to revert to the accustomed world of fear of the future”, every reported incident of crime communicates the frightening and expected message that “the kaffirs are coming!”[1] Media reports gave extensive coverage – not all correctly – to the article as some responses were so off the mark that it demanded a response by a respected member of the profession to put them right. What it clearly demonstrates is that crime is a hot potato and for many it is still code for “things wrong with the transformation” and “things were better in the past under Apartheid.” It is true to say that these views are articulated not only by White South Africans, although they constitute the majority and thus requires some discussion. Those who hanker after the supposed peace and stability under Apartheid, must realise that this stability was imposed through repressive laws and brute force of the police and military establishments. Racist laws worked well for some in terms of keeping stability, whilst other real crimes – providing they were not POLITICAL – continued unabated. Apartheid conditions of lack of transparency and accountability by the police, and political leaders nurtured this situation.

The culture of Apartheid racism and the iniquitous distribution of resources – social and public goods -, including the failure to form and nurture sustainable economically viable and socially cohesive communities, is well known. The repressive legislations on the statute books from the consolidation of legalised racism and exploitation meant that most things we take for granted today, like kissing a person who is supposedly of a different colour, were regarded as criminal. The bill of rights of our constitution is subversive as today it allows us to think, read and enjoy actions that were forbidden and criminal. Policing under racist and non-representative apartheid was like most security establishments aimed at protecting private property (and state – unrepresentative) and life (but here mainly white lives). There was order then and it was keeping mainly Black South Africans in their place! This is the legacy that lived and still lives, which we must always bear in mind as we try to rebuild a vision of safety and security for all. Yet it does not mean that we must gloss over the difficulties and challenges that occurred post-1994 democratic breakthrough, in both policy and implementation of redress and equity in the area of particularly safety and security – despite noble and gallant efforts at a gigantic challenge.

In this essay I take the view that crime and criminality must be located in a broad holistic and historical context. They must be located within the context of a transitional, constitutional society in a world where public resources and services have been under severe political/ideological attacks resulting in a lessened role for the state and government in services including security.

Click here to continue reading – Towards a Progressive Approach Towards Crime and Poverty: the Challenges

* By Hassen Lorgat, Media and Communications Manager for SA NGO Coalition. He has also worked for various trades unions in SA.

1 Comment »

  1. […] its Integrity?, by Zanele Twala · Political Control and Electricity Generation, by Tristen Taylor · A progressive approach towards crime and poverty, by Hassen […]

    Pingback by Contents of Theorising Practice, May 2007 issue « newritings — June 18, 2007 @ 7:27 am | Reply

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