||All corners of the South African society have vehemently condemned the
recent killing of four police officers in Jeppestown-Johannesburg in a
bloody gun battle, which also left eight suspected armed robbers fatally
The incident has also triggered calls for a ‘tougher stance’ on criminals
and crime. As a solution to the escalating violent crime rate, some,
commenting on phone-in shows and in letters to newspaper editors, feel that capital punishment should be reinstated.
The government and the business sector have expressed shock and anger at the ‘monsters’ who think they are ‘above the law’.
Speaking on behalf of the cabinet, Frank Chikane, director-general in the
Presidency, said, “government would like to re-affirm its appreciation of
the role of the SAPS in fighting crime and to emphasise the message that
crime should not and does not pay”
Reacting to the shoot out, Charles Nqakula, minister of police, went as far
as suggesting that the police should be given absolute powers to ‘shoot to
kill’. He has also sent out a stern warning to criminals.
The Deputy National Police Commissioner, Mala Singh, who has described last week Sunday as “one of the darkest days in the history of the police”, also echoed these sentiments at the memorial service-where, according to media reports, prominent politicians told mourners “enough is enough”- for the four officers in Johannesburg.
Singh told the police "Do what you have to do... Shoot if you need to shoot.”
Also speaking at the memorial service, Nqakula’s second in charge, Susan
Chabangu, who is reported to have ‘broke down’ during her address, had very strong words for the ‘criminals’: "A black cloud has formed over our country. "There's a war going on in our country. We can't have a country
run by criminals.”
There is obviously a general feeling of “never again.”
However, sadly, thus far, the denunciation of the Jeppestown episode and the escalating violent crime rate, widely rumoured to the posing a serious threat to South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, has not been channelled towards where it truly belongs.
Also, the sudden shift towards the far right of our former liberation
fighters, regarding crime and its causes, is very disturbing.
Indeed, when former struggle icons start to talk in western cowboy terms:
George W. Bush style, and adopt the ‘skiet’ and ‘donner’ attitude of the
finger wielding P.W. Botha, one needs to be very concerned.
The same right wing mentality was evident in government’s handling of the
recent security guards strike. The victims- severely exploited striking workers-and not the greedy arrogant and stubborn bosses became the subject of much government criticism and police brutality.
The Jeppestown tragic event has proved yet another missed opportunity to
conduct the long overdue public debate on the real causes of the high crime
rate in South Africa.
The blame and responsibility for the unfortunate events of Sunday June 25
2006 and South Africa’s appalling crime rate lie squarely with the
government’s macro-economic policies that have produced an eight million
strong ‘reserve army’ of labour.
And In the era of severe “cost reductions”, many of those still ‘fortunate’
to find employment, are casualised and underpaid.
The protracted security guard industrial action once again put in the public
domain the issue of ‘wealth redistribution’ as the genuine solution to
poverty and underdevelopment.
The security industry continues to maximise profits at the expense of
heavily exploited ordinary employees.
This is a trend in every sector. The much-applauded rapid economic growth
has been made possible by such systematic attacks on workers’ rights.
In neo-liberal times where every aspect of our life has been commodified,
remunerations of many of those ‘employed’ do not constitute a ‘living wage’
It is not rocket science. South Africa’s unemployment virus -largely
affecting young people- and the endemic poverty, breed SA’s social ills,
including the high crime rate.
Nqakula ought to be aware of the evil and insensitive nature of the
capitalist systerm and the resultant socio-economic problems, which includes crime.
One would have assumed that this, and a strong belief in an egalitarian
society, is what influenced him, at a very young age, to join the South
African Communist Party (Sacp).
He should also be aware that, in South Africa, ‘trade liberalisation’ and
the entire ‘export-led growth’ strategy-enshrined in the 1996 market
oriented Growth Employment and Redistribution Programme (Gear) and,
recently, in the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa
(asgiSA) has worsened poverty in the past twelve years.
For the ‘intellectual’ Thabo Mbeki, who also holds a masters degree in
economics from the prestigious Sussex University, finding out the
correlation between SA’s high rate of unemployment, poverty, and crime,
should be child’s play.
As sociologists would concur, “whenever unemployment goes up, crime goes up” And unfortunately, given SA’s well documented tumultuous past, the crime is accompanied by senseless violence.
Ironically, the police’s vulnerability and dismal failure to deal with the escalating crime rate can be attributed to, inter alia, the country’s neo-liberal austerity measures –advocated by Gear- that encourage reductions in social expenditure, including the police budget, in order to reduce the budget deficit.
While the police union Popcru has spoken out strongly against last week
Sunday’s incident, they have not put it in the correct context: the fact is
that law enforcement officers -understaffed, poorly trained, under
resourced, grossly underpaid - are sent, literally, to their untimely deaths
by being ordered to pursue heavily armed suspects.
Given this and the generally poor working conditions members of the SAPS are subjected to, it would be safe to conclude that Chabangu’s crocodile tears at the memorial service and the cabinet’s “empathy and condolences” to the “family, friends and colleagues” of the officers killed, were nothing but a well conceived PR exercise and a very ‘sick’ media stunt.
Typically, opposition parties, who have also voiced their criticism, have
not made the obvious connection between the increasing incidents of violent crimes and the anti-poor free market economic policies of the government.
And nothing could be farther from the truth than the opposition Democratic
Alliance’s commentary. Through its spokesperson, Anchen Dreyer, the DA said "once again police officers have put themselves on the line for our safety and risked theirs with tragic results.”
Our safety? Utter garbage! Only the “safety” of money, most probably
insured, and belonging to the super-rich bourgeoisie, who make up a very
tiny minority of our society, was at stake on that fateful day.
As a matter of fact, to a very large extent, crime committed against the
poor is never investigated or resolved.
Clearly, there is something fundamentally wrong with a systerm that sees
nothing wrong with expecting poor working class police officers to lay down
their lives trying to recover a mere R35 000 belonging to multi billionaires
of Pick n’ Pay.
Are twelve lives worth so little? These are some of the questions we need
to start asking as a country.
The unfortunate drama has also once again exposed our rulers’ and society’s limited understanding of what constitutes ‘crime’. While the Jeppestown incident has elicited fresh calls for drastic measures against ‘criminals’,
the biggest criminals who commit the most horrendous of crimes against
indigent communities and the public never go to jail.
Instead, of being prosecuted, the executives and shareholders of big
corporations, such as Mondi and Engen in the South of Durban, responsible
for massive air pollution- resulting in life threatening illnesses, global
warming and climate change which pose a threat to the existence of the human species-receive accolades and praises from our growth obsessed government representatives for their ‘valuable’ contribution to the ‘booming’ economy.
The frustration and anger at this gross injustice which goes continuously
unpunished, is brilliantly expressed by a South Durban Community
Environmental Alliance [SDCEA] leaflet “All in the name of economic
development, but the people here don’t benefit”
When our prisons are overcrowded to maximum capacity with petty thieves,
many of whom suspected or convicted for ‘poverty’ related crimes and
offences as minor as marijuana possession, is it naïve to then ask why are
thieving politicians in the travel gate scandal-involving R30 million- also
not sent to jail?
Surely, our newly declared “war against criminals” should also target these
people. Otherwise, statement that “crime should not and does not pay” will
forever remain laughable.
Who are the biggest criminals? The nine dead Jeppestown suspects accused of stealing R35 000 from the rich, the shoplifter who steals to feed and clothe his/her starving family, the sex worker forced onto the streets by starvation, or the crooks and thieves in parliament who have confessed to stealing millions from the poor?
Ironically, the list of the travel gate culprits includes ‘anti crime’
crusader Nqakula’s wife Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and many of his trusted
In addition, South Africa, like most capitalist societies, is a very
materialistic society. A person’s success is measured by the car they drive,
the house they live in, and other possessions.
Many ordinary South Africans look up to, and have the utmost respect for the new black petty bourgeoisie. Their expensive outfits, environmentally harmful 4x4s, ‘Tony Yengenis’ and Lexuses have become the envy of many poor people.
As internationally acclaimed Uruguay born writer and poet Eduardo Galeano
puts it “Whoever doesn’t have, isn’t. He who has no car or doesn’t wear
designer shoes or imported perfume is only pretending to exist”
In their calls for a ‘tougher stance’ on crime and criminals, politicians, the corporate owned press- the biggest promoter of consumerism even amongst the have-nots- and the middle class [black and white]-very out of touch with reality in opulent suburbs of Constantia and Houghton- wrongly assume that the poor have no desire for material things.
While fat cats, such as Smuts Ngonyama, in their pursuit of wealth and material goods-produced at a huge expense to the environment and with the sweat and blood of heavily exploited workers, justify their self enrichment
manoeuvres with claims that they “did not struggle to remain poor”, the rest of the population, who also struggled and lost friends and relatives in the struggle for liberation, to earn the public ‘respect’ that comes with wealth, are only encouraged to hopefully queue up every Wednesday and Saturday night to play the lottery.
Many working class people continue to believe in this illusion. Their hard
earned cash has, and continues, to fatten the pockets of Uthingo’s mega
For many others, in true “Vukuzenzele” spirit, crime and armed robberies,
particularly for those with military training, remain the shortest cut to
instant wealth and ‘respect’.
In what is probably one of the biggest contradictions of the capitalist
systerm the public, via the media, is tantalised with numerous desirable
goods and services, but only a few have the buying power.
Only a few ‘blessed’ - politically well connected- are awarded lucrative BEE
deals and municipal tenders. The rest are left to fend for themselves.
The heartless capitalist systerm has turned many people into cold-blooded
‘monsters’ and armed robbers who have no, or little respect, for human life.
The return of the barbaric death sentence is not the answer. We should,
instead, seek to send to the ‘gallows’ the government’s anti poor policies
and not its victims.
A serious review of SA’s ‘developmental’ path needs to be conducted. The economy is growing very impressively. Our GDP per capita remains at almost R19 000.
In this “season of hope” why do the hungry remain hungrier?
Should we not also fight the prevailing systerm, which has drastically
increased the gap between the rich and the poor, with the same amount of
vigour, as that which characterised our struggle against apartheid?
For many within the left [inside and outside the tripartite alliance] the
latest developments within Cosatu and the SACP are encouraging.
Without a doubt, an alternative to a systerm which advocates for exports of
agricultural products when many of our people go to bed hungry on a daily
basis is urgently required.
The shooting has once again brought into the spotlight the issue of drug
abuse and addiction, especially amongst the youth.
The reality however, is that, growing up many young people from neglected
communities realise that, in this world where profits supersede peoples’
basic needs, opportunities are only available to a select few.
Many are forced into the life of gangs and crime, and they waste away on
drugs and alcohol. A kid from destitute Alexander is less likely to ‘make
it’ in life than a kid from upmarket Sandton.
Therefore, the public’s rage emanating from the Jeppestown tragedy should be re-directed towards the capitalist systerm and its custodians and agents in the country’s bourgeois institutions, such as parliament.
This could help prevent a repeat of Jeppestown and numerous other
preventable loss of lives. It will also mark the beginning of the end for
many of SA’s endemic social ills.
“Never again” is a reality only in a just and different society.
***Ngonyama is a social-movement activist based in Durban
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