By Tauhierah Salie
Little needs to be said about how dark and demoralizing a time the apartheid regime was, with the international community eventually stepping in against what was deemed a crime against humanity. People of colour were stripped of their human dignity and freedoms, discriminated against, denied human rights, received ‘gutter’ education, lost their land and homes and were dehumanized.
Enter the Constitution of South Africa. The book that brought an unspoken peace treaty and commitment to peace and equality for all. But, nearly 25 years later and we ask ourselves: Has this been achieved?
South Africa is at a crossroads. Aggravated levels of crime and gender-based violence continue to plague the country and many have lost faith in the criminal justice system. Crimes are becoming more gruesome, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen and government struggles to keep up with an ever-increasing population. The 2018/19 statistics put South Africa among the most dangerous countries in the world. Coupled with a high crime rate, is an ailing economy and a lack of confidence in the government.
Director at the Centre for Constitutional Values, Edward Shalala, said crime has always been a problem but that it appears to stem from a lack of human dignity.
“South Africa had a high crime rate during apartheid and its continued to grow after apartheid. There are many reasons why we have that crime rate. Its well-researched and well known and much discussed, the link between our terrible socio-economic conditions and crime. Many socio-economic ills come from apartheid,” he said.
“One of the key things that also contributes to high crime rate is a lack of human dignity. And in South Africa, we are notorious for our inequality rate, we are the worlds mis-champions if you want to put it like that. And inequality and a lack of human dignity are closely related. Our constitution wants equality for everybody and human dignity for everybody. Yet we see so little of that in our society.”
“The absence of equality and human dignity, as well as the absence of awareness of it, contributes significantly to the high crime rate.”
In the public domain, South Africans are at either end of the spectrum when it comes to asking whether or not “law and order” was better or worse under the Apartheid regime.
Such emotive statements often throw the immediate spotlight on what was considered “lawful” at the time. Painful memories of slavery, segregation and denial of basic human rights that included freedom of movement, speech, religion and access to opportunity are recalled.
In spite of these violations, the current youth are accustomed to the freedoms they were “born with”, others are disappointed in the current scale of lawlessness.
This is evident through the 2018/19 national Crime Statistics which had shown increases in murder, attempted murder, sexual assault, common assault, house robberies and robbery with aggravating circumstances, compared to the previous year.
The level of violence is another cause for concern following persistent reports of brutal crimes taking place across the country. Of the reported murders, it was revealed that 50% of murder weapons were guns and 36% were knives.
The accessibility of illegal weaponry also remains problematic. Community activists have noted that the lucrative lifestyle of gangsters has become increasingly appealing to children as young as nine. The convenience of having illegal firearms at ones disposal and greater interest by novice shooters , has seen dozens of innocent lives being lost to gang-cross fire.
Despite statistics pointing to an incredibly bleak picture, a recent survey titled the Global Optimism Outlook Survey revealed that South Africans are among the most optimistic of people across the globe.
The survey, commissioned by Expo 2020 Dubai, studies how people feel about their futures. More than 20 000 people between the ages of 18-64 were interviewed, with participants coming from 23 countries on 6 continents. Shalala explained that at the core of our crisis is a lack of values and ethics.
“We have this crisis of values in our country. If we look at what are the values of South Africa, most people couldn’t even begin to tell you, but the it is embodied in the constitution. According to the preamble, the constitution is the supreme law of the land and its purpose, among other things, is to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.”
“Chapter one contains the founding provisions, the key building blocks. And it states that South Africa is founded on the following values: human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism, non-sexism, the supremacy of the constitution and rule of law.”
The public consensus is that crime is perpetuated by socio-economic ills, with communities now getting to a point where they are demanding government take steps to rectify this.
The situation, in Cape Town in particular, deteriorated to such a degree that President Cyril Ramaphosa heeded the calls of dozens of communities to declare a state of emergency on the Cape Flats. At the time, gang murders were rampant with numerous murders being recorded every other weekend.
In a move, that had not failed to receive criticism, the South African National Defence Force was deployed to 10 hotspots to assist police in trying to tackle gangsterism and its accompanying criminal activity.
After three months of Operation Lockdown, and the arrest of thousands of suspects for various offences, community members still do not feel that the overall crime has been reduced. But are the right people in the driving seats and who are we really putting behind the wheel?
Shalala added that the constitution we adopted is among the best in the world and that we should monitor our understanding and implementation thereof.
Shalala emphasized the need to ask the right people the right questions.
“Sadly, in the 23 years since (the constitution) has been adopted, (there’s been) an insignificant amount of implementation. And why? What happened? It’s a betrayal- we need to unpack that. Who didn’t implement it? Why not? What were their motives? Were the motives criminal? Were they hoping NOT to empower people? Or was it just an oversight?
“Oops, we forgot to implement the constitution, we didn’t get around to empowering people with the constitution. Or was there something else going on? Looking back at all the corruption we’ve been through with the state capture and the extra suffering our society has had to go through, we may well want to start to ask were there deliberate reasons for not empowering people to know and own this constitution? That may be another crime in itself.”
In the next part of the series, we will be delving into “Apartheid vs Democracy”; how the effects of Apartheid have impacted our current education system, housing backlog, poverty and inequality and leadership.