April 27th was the 14th anniversary of Democratic South Africa.
In Oakland, we attended a celebration of the event, hosted by Sagren Govender of COSAS, Committee for South African Democracy. The event recognized great leaders and folks here in the USA who spearheaded the movement for change and democracy. Talented artists read poems and sang inspiring songs. It was followed by a delicious pot-luck dinner and interesting socializing.
Many brave men and women protested and even died for a free and better South Africa. While laws no longer separate people and equal opportunity is preached, there are many who are still poor and struggling to make ends meet in South Africa. Organizations like COSAS in the USA organize and provide material help to fund schools, provide school supplies and school uniforms to poor communities in South Africa.
Major problems facing the citizens of South Africa, apart from unemployment and AIDS are crimes of burglary, assault, hijackings, murder and rape. Innocent victims are often caught unawares while entering their driveways, at traffic lights or just anywhere in the city. It is very common to have cars and homes broken into, tires stolen from cars, and clothing stolen from washing lines repeatedly.
Many major stores and businesses have relocated from the city center to malls in the suburbs to avoid being victims of holdups. There are safety measures evident everywhere from banks, to homes, vehicles, security systems and car guards at public parking areas.
Almost everyone has experienced being robbed or attacked or knows others who have had these experiences. Crime is so rampant that it has almost become a non-event. There is a certain complacency about the existence of crime. When my nephew was completing an insurance claim as his car was broken into, he appeared quite calm and relaxed. The manner in which he talked about it and casually filled in the forms indicated that this is something that happens all the time and is not out of the ordinary. It just happens.
Lifestyles have changed in order to ensure safety. Strolls in downtown and window shopping at night is not possible anymore. Not wearing jewelry and covering up watches on the wrist has become the thing to do if you go into downtown. In many homes it has become acceptable and nobody questions the need to lock all inner doors in a house as well as the outside doors. One also looks around to ensure that nobody is lurking in the vicinity before finally locking up, setting the alarm, and stepping out into the car quickly. High walls, burglar guards, and security systems are evident everywhere.
One often hears heartbreaking stories of young women, children and babies who are raped. According to the organization, One in Nine, 1 in 9 women in South Africa report rape to the authorities. Of these 1 in 9 women, there is a less than 7% conviction rate. For more on this organization check this link, http://www.oneinnine.org.za/default.asp
People there are being robbed of a sense of security and peace. It is not just the material value of things being taken away, but the emotional toll is very high. It is humiliating to be confronted by armed men who shame, rape, destroy and forever leave the victims with fear and hopelessness. We know of a friend who is afraid to sleep and has to cope with the associated health problems. How can a young lady, raped in the presence of her father cope with life? How does her father cope?
Perpetrators often get away from the crime scenes and even when arrested, sentences are brief. Even visitors are at risk, as perpetrators hang out at tourist spots and attack them. It seems that the authorities are making attempts to keep such spots crime free. What of the rest of the country?
Were it not for the fact that we have close family and friends in South Africa we would not risk our lives by returning. We fear for the safety of South Africans and dread hearing that someone near and dear to us has lost their life as a result of the violent crime.
The struggle for safety, a basic human need must now be addressed.