ELIZABETH JACKSON: South Africa has a reputation for being one of the most violent societies on earth.
A newly completed study has found that the country has a culture of violence. Disturbingly, among those most deeply affected are children.
Our Africa correspondent Andrew Geoghegan questions why the brutality experienced during the apartheid era continues to be felt in South Africa.
(Sound of police helicopter)
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: That's a sound I wake up to regularly in Johannesburg.
My first thought is, I hope that didn't wake the kids.
But, then if my mind wanders I'll imagine what the police chopper was chasing. It may be a stolen car. Often the answer is splashed across the morning's paper. South Africans are fed a daily diet of crime stories, robberies that turn into shootouts; vicious rapes; victims who are tortured; murder.
Given their country's history of violence, South Africans don't seem easily shocked but they were this past week, with the murder of a tourist in Capetown.
(From news report)
NEWSREADER: … hijacked, British couple Anni and Shrien Dewani while they were apparently sightseeing in Gugulethu on Saturday night. Anni's body was later found on the back seat of the vehicle in Khayelitsha.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: The honeymooning couple had their taxi hijacked. The husband was freed but his wife was later found shot dead. There's no apparent motive for the crime.
The tourism industry is reeling. The incident has severely eroded the positive publicity South Africa received during the World Cup.
International news organisations have been quick to remind readers and listeners of South Africa's crime statistics; 46 murders and 300 rapes every day.
ADELE KIRSTEN: Of those countries that gather this kind of evidence, we usually rank sort of 4th or 5th as one of the most violent countries in the world.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Adele Kirsten is the executive Director for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
The centre has just completed a government-commissioned study examining why crime in South Africa is so violent.
ADELE KIRSTEN: The most reliable statistic is our murder rates. We have 16,500 murders annually but in South Africa they seem to be kind of a set of rules which govern our interaction with each other, which says that violence is acceptable, it's normal and in fact we argue that it's also seen as legitimate. So that your peer group then sees the action that you've taken more than just acceptable, that it's reasonable.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: How can it be explained? Is there one particular cause?
ADELE KIRSTEN: Well I think that's the complexity around violence in which all of us struggle as researchers but I think just citizens is we want one single explanation for violence, because then government or community organisations or ordinary citizens can say well if we do that one thing then it will take away the violence.
But one of the key causes and one of the more difficult to understand and take on board is the legacy of apartheid, both its structural violence, its institutional racism.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: It's some 16 years now since the end of apartheid; that's almost a generation; why is it still affecting South African society so deeply, particularly among the young, who many of the perpetrators of crime weren't even born when apartheid had ended?
ADELE KIRSTEN: An important point and as you say the bulk of our perpetrators are young men and in the murder study several of them under the age of 19; that's younger than in many of the countries in the world.
But I think what you're seeing, just to give you one example, is that the experience of being a South African remains highly racialised. The kind of structural nature of apartheid is that we continue to live in separate areas and so you begin to see it becoming much more of a class issue, rather than just a race issue. But the separation among racial lines remains present in present-day South Africa, so that's one thing to say.
We're working with military veterans and we're talking about people who were in the war in the 80s and they're talking about the impact that their experience, both of apartheid and being in exile is having on their children and they're experiencing similar levels of poverty and depravation; poor access to schooling, their parents being unemployed; many military veterans are unemployed and so in a sense our history is carried over.
And it's what we call trans-generational trauma and experiences of collective violence, so it's a group experience. So it's the legacy of apartheid but it's intersecting with a daily experience of lack of access to jobs, basic services and education.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: So you're saying that the crime problem will only be addressed if South Africa addresses the issue of poverty and unemployment?
ADELE KIRSTEN: Absolutely. It's, it's… and the report makes it clear that although it's a report on trying to understand the nature of violent crime, this requires a whole of government response; it's not just within the purview of the police; Department of Education, Health, Social Development, Economics; is that unless we get some of that right, we will not significantly reduce our violent crime.
And on the other hand we are also saying that there are some very immediate things that the police can do, such as reducing access to firearms and strengthening the implementation of existing legislation.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Adele Kirsten from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation speaking to Andrew Geoghegan in Johannesburg.