No End in Sight: South Africa's Endless Woes. (Global Notebook)

By Dupraz, Emily | Harvard International Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

No End in Sight: South Africa's Endless Woes. (Global Notebook)


Dupraz, Emily, Harvard International Review


In 1990, after the fall of the apartheid system, the future appeared bright: for South African citizens: Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the white minority rule was overthrown, and democracy prevailed.

As South Africa continued its transformation, Thabo Mbeki, who served as vice president under Mandela, became the democratically elected president in 1999. Although the racial injustices of the apartheid system have declined, Mbeki's administration has failed to address his nation's other social ills. The crime rate in South Africa is steadily growing, causing not only physical and psychological damage but also poor economic growth and instability.

Even though government spending on crime comprised 10.2 percent of the national budget in 1999 and 2000, the crime rate has not decreased. Statistics show that 25,000 murders took place nationwide in 1997, over 10 times the international per capita average, and about 250,000 robberies were committed. Furthermore, 50,000 rapes occur every year, of which only one out of 30 is actually reported. Poor South Africans are 80 times more likely to suffer injuries as a result of violent crime, and rural women, predominantly black, are 10 times more likely to be raped than are women living in predominantly white urban areas. In addition to violent offenses, approximately 59,000 cases of white-collar crime and fraud were reported in 1997.

The high crime rate is aggravated by numerous factors. The South African Constitution gives responsibility for operating and organizing the police force to the national government instead of granting power to local or municipal governments. Therefore, the 41.2 million South African citizens are all policed by a single national force, which is corrupt even at its highest levels. Only 5.5 percent of the reported crimes result in a conviction because of an overworked, venal, and under-trained police force. According to South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, a recent influx of weapons has exacerbated the problem. The prison system falls miserably short as well. Instead of being rehabilitated, prisoners are allowed to form tight-knit gangs and act just as they did on the streets. During apartheid, many people, such as Nelson Mandela, were jailed based on unjust charges; as a result, the stigma of jail as a punishment has been greatly diminished.

But the violence stems from deeper problems than just the inadequate police force and failing prison system. Even though apartheid no longer exists, racial injustice continues to touch all portions of South African society. After years of distrust and mistreatment, the legacy of oppression has created social circumstances conducive to criminality. South African society remains stratified: blacks tend to be impoverished and often suffer from the residual resentment of whites. Even though blacks outnumber whites in South Africa, their involvement in violent crime is still vastly higher in proportion to their numbers.

The growing problem of crime in South Africa has severe and far-reaching impacts on the society at large. …

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