The news that Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, caused me to try and put down a few more thoughts on the terrifying rates of violent crime in South Africa.
On 16th February 2013 The Guardian ran an article that summarized the situation: the national murder has been declining but there are still 43 murders a day; the chief executive of Chrysler in South Africa, Trent Barcroft, is in intensive care after a robbery outside Johannesberg, 12% of the population – 6 million people – own firearms leading to an arms race between citizens and criminals, and although there are strong laws on gun ownership there are doubts as to their strong implementation by the state. Gender violence remains at epidemic levels as witnessed by the recent gang rape and murder of , Anene Booysen, a 17-year-old who ‘died after her ex-boyfriend and others allegedly gang raped and disembowelled her on 2 February’ (see Guardian, 17th February, 2013).
I have also been reading another of Deon Meyer’s detective novels set in Cape Town, Devil’s Peak, where he mentions the widespread rape of children under 12 in South Africa and the belief that having sex with a virgin can cure HIV/Aids (pp.96-7) (see also Wikipedia: Sexual violence in South Africa and numerous media reports) – the so-called virgin cleansing myth that appears to have emerged in 16th century Europe and 19th century Victorian London as a mythical cure for syphilis and other STDs and also from Christian legends of virgin martyrs (see Wikipedia: Virgin Cleansing myth).
I have also started to read Frank Welsh’s History of South Africa where he talks about the ‘shockingly quick transition from a pastoral and agricultural economy to an industrial and urban society, and, most disturbing of all, the shattering revelations of a confident Christianity’ that swept away a culture that had developed a less tangible but ‘ultimately more powerful heritage’ (than the ‘magnificent art of the west coast’ of the African continent) that consisted of, ‘a peaceful and adaptable society in which disputes could be settled by a patient consideration of recognized laws’ pp. xxii and xxv.
For more on crime, violence and the legacy of colonialism and Apartheid see my pages The Fear I-IV