MEMBERS of Parliament’s police committee, the new Deputy Minister of Police Maggie Sotyu and police secretariat officials pronounced themselves disappointed this week when the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation’s report on why crime in South Africa is so violent was released.

They clearly all wanted a magic wand from the academics – David Bruce and Adele Kirsten – who compiled the study, and there wasn’t one. Indeed, after a particularly robust engagement, Bruce told the committee that worldwide there had been many studies done on violent crime and no one had yet come up with an answer.

Committee chairman Sindi Chikunga and Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald wanted to know why crime in South Africa was so often accompanied by hideous cruelty. They said the study had failed to find an explanation as to why victims of crime are so often tortured.
Indeed, this is a good question. The study reported that the history of structural violence inherent in the way in which colonialism and apartheid worked lay at the heart of the matter.

I suppose the idea is that if you are the victim of institutional violence simply because of your race then it legitimises violence on a personal level.
Also, people would have observed brutal state action from police and other departments where there were no consequences. In short, impunity.
Also connected to violent crime in the study were things like poverty, education, the destruction of family structures through the migrant labour system and, curiously, the abuse of alcohol by young mothers – often accompanied by domestic violence. Still further reinforcement.

While accepting the bona fides of the research done, it would be nice if the further research which the CSVR said was ongoing could provide answers to some of the questions. For example, there are places in the world where there is far more poverty than in South Africa but where there is less violent crime.
It would also be interesting to find out what role is played by the fact that South Africa negotiated its revolution rather than fighting to the end. Is there a sort of feeling that violence is justified because there were no real winners and losers in the revolution?

There were some startling findings which should sound some alarm bells, one being that more than a third of the perpetrators of violent crime are 19 years and younger. That is truly scary and it points to problems with education and socialisation.

Having said all that, the criticism of the report does seem to be unfair. It is an astonishing piece of work and really does serve the vital function of bringing together what we know about violent crime in the country and putting it in an accessible form in one place.

There have also been complaints that R3.5- million of public money was spent and not much achieved. Also unfair. Anything that contributes to a better understanding of where we are and why we behave as we do is worth every cent.

In The Herald