Senzo, Cry the beloved Country

The senseless killing of Orlando Pirates and Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa has placed the spotlight firmly on violent crime in South Africa. What kind of a nation are we, where rampant criminals have equated  human life with the price of a cellphone? If indeed Meyiwa’s killers wanted cellphones when they committed their dastardly act then this country is in trouble indeed.

Because Meyiwa is a national celebrity his untimely death at the hands of marauding thugs, the matter of violent crime is hogging all the headlines in the entire national media. Thousands of unknown South Africans have perished at the hands of these wild animals masquerading as human beings. They die violently with little or no fanfare. They are the unknown victims and heroes of our country.

It is time that all South Africans stood up against this outrage. We cannot allow a situation whereby the entire country is held hostage by a few criminals and malcontents. It is time to fight back against these monsters. We congratulate the police for the excellent work they have done in apprehending the suspects in the Meyiwa case and hope that they will answer to our courts and that justice will be done.

The weakest link in our judicial system has always been the prosecution and detective work.After the police have apprehended suspects quite often the detective work required to strengthen the prosecution is sloppy and leads to guilty criminals not spending their time in jail. It is the underbelly of the system. The reason why most criminals take their chances is because they believe they won’t be caught and when they are caught they expect not to be jailed. This is unfortunate and encourages crime in our beloved country.

Now that we agree that the state has limited capacity to deal with violent crime what is it that we as ordinary people can do to combat crime? During the time of apartheid the majority of our people resisted the evil policy and took responsibility for their lives. Communities were organized and easily mobilized for issues affecting the community.

In the final assault against the apartheid regime in the mid 1980s, communities de-legitimised organs of the apartheid state like police stations and courts and established organs of people’s power. People’s courts, street committees and village committees sprung up throughout the country in replacement of apartheid institutions. Criminal activities in the townships and villages were considerably reduced as the people took control of their lives.

Criminals were virtually defeated as they acknowledged and subjected themselves to the power and authority of the “Comrades” as the people asserted their hegemony. It was common to see a criminal tried by a court consisting of elected representatives of people and dealt with sometimes too harshly while apartheid courts remained empty. Any criminal harassing the people was delivered to the street committees for instant justice. Although later on criminals infiltrated organs of people’s power to give them a bad name, the people had created their own crime-combating structures that were more effective than apartheid police and courts. It was a real experience of people’s power.

Today the people are helpless and defenseless against marauding criminals, rapists, murderers, robbers and child molesters. It is time for our communities to reclaim their streets in the battle against crime. Now that we live in a democratic state it is only appropriate for these organs of people’s power to be revived in support of the work of the police and the courts. A mechanism must be worked in communities to ensure that these structures are not hi-jacked by criminals for their nefarious ends. We can’t afford to be helpless prisoners in our homes as we live in mortal fear of criminals. The people cannot be defeated by a devious minority.

This piece is a call to arms. We all know that criminals do not live in space. They live with us in the villages, townships, squatter camps and towns. Criminals were born into our homes by our mothers, aunts and sisters. Criminals went to school with us some of them  work with us. Criminals live with us on the same street, in the same house and play football with us in the same clubs. We cannot pretend that as a community we do not know who the criminals are. It is the height of cowardice and hypocrisy when we pretend that we do not know the people killing, maiming, raping and harassing us. It is time to ACT in unity. A united community can never be defeated.

As I wrap up I would like to quote Alan Paton when he declared in his seminal novel that “Cry the Beloved Country.”

Sello Lediga is a journalist and author based in Polokwane

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