WE DO not yet know what happened at the home of athlete Oscar Pistorius early on Thursday and should not jump to conclusions. The legal process must be allowed to unfold. However, the incident is a reminder of the frightening level of violence that still stalks South Africa. This has been said repeatedly in the past few decades and it bears stating again, lest we become even more inured to the violence than we already have.
There are some who will read into the Pistorius incident a moral lesson about the number of guns in South Africa. There is some truth in this, although South Africa’s gun laws are not lax. In any event, although guns make deadly and serious injury more likely, the absence of guns is not a prerequisite for a reduction of criminal violence. South Africa has recently been shocked by the case of Anene Booysen, who was gang-raped and murdered. She was killed not with a gun but with a broken bottle.
As is so often the case in South Africa, the problem is not the legislation. The mandatory sentence for rape in South Africa is 16 years in jail. If that is not a harsh enough penalty, it is hard to imagine what is. The problem is enforcement. Obviously the men who committed the rape weren’t in sufficient fear of being caught to desist.
Forms of violence don’t appear to be changing, either. The scourge of car hijacking appears to be returning, assuming it ever left. Only this week, Chrysler CEO Trent Barcroft was shot in a robbery.
One thing the Pistorius incident will inevitably bring about is a re-examination of domestic violence. There are about 16,000 murders in South Africa every year, and many relate to domestic violence. Domestic violence has its own terrible logic, and is often tougher for police to solve than robbery or theft.
But the way everyone can contribute to solving crime is to not look the other way when domestic violence happens. The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation says one of the problems in South Africa is that violence is seen as a legitimate means of resolving conflict. The result is a normalisation of violence in society.
The only real solution is to be as relentless in fighting crime as crime is itself. It would be churlish to say no progress has been made, but it would be equally naive to say the problem has become less than chronic. Everybody has a role here, not just the police.