NO FREEDOM FROM FEAR : REFLECTIONS ON FREEDOM DAY 2015

‘Now Everyone is Afraid’, the title of a 1988 book about abuses by the apartheid police and their surrogates, is an appropriate description of South Africa twenty one years after the first democratic elections. Democracy has not banished fear – it is everywhere. Fear of the police is still widespread, especially among victims of continuing police abuse, including torture. Fear of violent crime is endemic, and threat and intimidation is rife, especially (but not exclusively) in poorer communities. Whether protests are about service delivery or the removal of colonial symbols the tactics used are either overtly violent or intimidatory. Like tantrums thrown by children trying to get their own way the threat of violence is used instead of the normal democratic options of showing displeasure through the ballot box and reasoned debate. As one conscientious police member (and there are many) aptly put it, when the violence against foreigners erupted, ‘There is no law’ Despite our outstanding Constitution, the laws which should be giving it teeth are constantly broken with impunity. The lawlessness is a consequence of serious problems with the criminal justice system, especially with policing. Violence, however, has far deeper roots, and is inherent in the essentially unchanged structure of our country since 1994, including its impoverished and underdeveloped rural areas and squalid, badly policed urban hostels. The current state of near anarchy, coupled with structural inequality and a growing culture of secrecy and unaccountability on the part of government has extremely serious consequences for what is essentially as nascent – and fragile democracy.
Why everyone is afraid
Crime, fuelled by factors such as powerless, prison gangs and criminal syndicates, long predates democracy (and the arrival of Nigerians) in South Africa. It has flourished since 1994, becoming an overt presence, and spreading fear, in the formerly ‘whites only’ parts of the country. Those who can afford it rely on private security services to safeguard their homes. Women and children live in fear of rape. All travellers run the gauntlet of potential hijacking, rock throwing and smash-and-grab thugs (not to mention criminal drivers). However, the safety of those living in apartheid’s townships and rural reserves – and relying on taxi transport – is the most precarious (as evidenced by murder statistics) Historically, these areas bore the brunt of poor policing and, while there has been improvement in some places (depending on the quality of station management), rural areas remain grossly under-resourced and stations often too far apart to offer adequate protection to all.
The policing of large, colonial era hostel complexes is particularly problematic, especially when police members themselves are complicit when serious violent crimes are committed, as in Glebelands hostel The climate of fear is palpable, with men, women and children – including witnesses in court cases – living under constant threat of attack from thugs protected by police.
Many taxi operators, too, fear violence, with some spending much of their lives in hiding. In the volatileMaphumulo/KwaDukuza/Mandini areas the ongoing conflict is linked to alleged irregularity in the issuing of permits, and internal struggles linked to the use of known hit men and certain police members.. Marandi Mthethwa, one of those harassed by members of the Cato Manor ‘hit squad’ is the latest victim, and was buried on Freedom Day. His former colleague, Dalisu Sangweni was assassinated at his Outer West home in March, a month after his colleague Charles Khuzwayo met a similar fate. Both attacks appear linked to their investigations into alleged SANTACO (the government taxi body) corruption, and their unsuccessful attempts to extract public interest information from eThekwini Transport Department..
A Melmoth a church minister and community leader is also living under threat of death following an inaccurate, inflammatory and defamatory media article in a Zulu language paper – which appears linked to his working with community members opposed to open cast iron ore mining by a huge international mining conglomerate in the area. .
Short and long term solutions to freedom from fear
Without an effective criminal justice system crime will continue to thrive. The democratic government’s handling of policing has been little short of disastrous since it assumed office. In the name of affirmative action it rewarded incompetence and, with some exceptions, sidelined competence. Like the NPA and intelligence services policing, has deteriorated even further during the past few years as a result of increased political interference. It is only when political meddling ceases and all appointments to management are made on the basis of merit – proven competence and integrity -, that a start can be made to remedying the glaring wrongs of the criminal justice system. There is no indication that this will happen.
In 21 years virtually nothing has done to break the cycle of violence rooted in the past to which succeeding generations of children remain subject. Despite huge funding, there is virtually no true development in the impoverished rural labour reservoirs of the former Bantustans. Traditional leadership continues to jeopardise land security in many areas, and unemployment in the agricultural sector has shrunk considerably, so migration to urban areas continues. Migrants often end up in or around hostels which have historically been known for high levels of violence which scar children for life. Children continue to suffer violence at home and school, and often lack the presence of appropriate male role models in their lives. Those who grow up in such circumstances perpetuate the cycle of violence – and violence thrives in an environment of powerlessness, since it gives those who use it a sense of power. Simply having a vote does not in itself empower people, especially if they are badly educated, poor, and the recipients of patronage rather than being actively involved in decisions about their own lives.
The government has had 21 years to change the colonial era structure of society, and the bantu education legacy and it must take responsibility for not having done so. If it does not have the will to make changes the culture of violence and fear will remain with us for the foreseeable future, thwarting progress to true democracy, and threatening the existing order.