Letter to the Editor: Middle-Class Myth Lacks Empathy

Letter to the Editor: Middle-Class Myth Lacks Empathy

The opening paragraph of your report on the latest crime statistics refers to business robberies, house robberies and car hijackings stating that these are the crimes that 'South Africans fear the most', a statement also reflected in the articles headline.  ('Most feared crimes show steep rise', 23 September 2009)

If we accept for the sake of argument the reliability of the current crime statistics it would appear that aggravated street robberies account for 60% of aggravated robberies compared to the 38% constituted by the 'trio' of crimes which the article refers to. Related to the fact that they make up almost two thirds of aggravated robberies they are also likely to make a greater contribution to the murder rate, and related to this, to make a substantial contribution to the fears of poorer South Africans, upon whom they impact almost exclusively.

Does it also make any sense to presume that the average woman in South Africa is more afraid of business robberies than of sexual violence? A study of 2003 SAPS rape dockets produced by a consortium of NGOs indicated that 58% of rape victims were attacked while walking alone or accompanied or otherwise using  public space or public transport. Rapes during housebreaking or house robberies accounted for 12% of the total. The way in which the majority of people in South Africa are victimized by violent crime therefore has a much to do with the extremely vulnerable position which they are place in as pedestrians and users of public transport.  Of course most South Africans do not have their own cars and it is absurd to talk about them fearing car hijacking.

It would seem that your article falls into the unfortunate habit which middle class South Africans have got themselves into, of projecting their own anxieties about crime onto the whole country. Regrettably government and police leaders too, being good middle class South Africans, seems also to have become party to perpetuating this type of mythology.  This reflects a gross failure of empathy on our part. And then we wonder why there is so much 'senseless'  violence.

David Bruce, Senior Researcher
Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

Published in Business Day, 28 September 2009.

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CSVR is a multi-disciplinary institute that seeks to understand and prevent violence, heal its effects and build sustainable peace at the community, national and regional levels.

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