South Africa Seeks Solutions to Crime Problems
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault has this report on whether violence in South Africa has gotten out of control.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER: The nightly fare on South African television.
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HUNTER: Sheldean Human's body was discovered last night. The man was arrested after nearly four years on the run. It was essentially a vote of no confidence in the national intelligence agency, correctional services, and the police.
HUNTER: We are not happy...
HUNTER: South Africans are not happy with the kind of crime generating this kind of news. Ramigia Tloubatla is a matron at Leratong Hospital for the Dying, in the poor black township of Atteridgeville, just outside Pretoria, also known as Tshwane.
INSKEEP: This is where he was shot for the first time.
HUNTER: Sister Tloubatla is describing the attack on Father Kieran Creagh, the priest who heads the hospice. He built Leratong Hospice, which means "a place of love" in Sutu, after seeing so many in this poor black community dying alone in shacks. On the night he was shot, Father Kieran had responded to the bell usually rung when he's being summoned to give last rites to a dying patient. Only this night, it was robbers who rang the bell.
INSKEEP: They rang the bell and then they shot him there. And then, he faced and shot him again here.
HUNTER: Sister Tloubatla jumped into the ambulance taking Father Kieran to the hospital.
INSKEEP: I saw him with a wound on the side here, on the chest, and then it was also in the underarm. As he was seated, the blood was now trailing on the floor of the ambulance, then he said no, he has also been shot here, in the back.
HUNTER: Sister Tloubatla says the only words the priest spoke were:
INSKEEP: Why? Why? Why did they shoot me?
HUNTER: Why indeed. For before he set up the hospice, Father Kieran had volunteered to become one of the first human guinea pigs to be injected with a trial vaccine for AIDS.
INSKEEP: I think that the government should do something about this crime. Because the people here, they were really angry.
HUNTER: But their anger is found countrywide, from the poorest, who are the greatest victims of crime - though their cases rarely make the news - to the most affluent. Some say the media's coverage of high-profile cases is feeding the perception of a rising crime wave, perception that doesn't square with reality.
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HUNTER: Crime is high, but the latest crime statistics show a consistent decrease in crime levels for the past three years, ending March 2006, dropping at a rate of an average of 6 percent a year. Still, news reports suggest an average of 50 murders and more than 100 rapes a day. And analysts like Amanda Disell at the Center for the Study and Violence and Reconciliation say there's good reason for concern.
M: Obviously the crime rate in South Africa is very high. So while we're optimistic about crime rate coming down, we are recognizing that we're working with a very high base of crime, and I think that is of concern.
HUNTER: Disell says South Africa inherited a long history of violence from the apartheid years, but says the government hasn't had a strategic vision on crime since the new democracy came into being in 1994. She said the nation needs more experts to analyze crime and more training of police, who face some of the same challenges others do as a result of apartheid's separate and unequal education.
M: In South Africa we find that a lot of kids start dropping out at secondary school level, and when they start dropping out a lot, many of them get drawn into petty crime, organized crime, or unsocial activities.
HUNTER: But there are also new realities of the new society.
M: The gap between the very rich and the very poor is increasing. And there have been a number of studies which have drawn a link between the level of inequality in a country and the level of violent crime.
HUNTER: Maybe so, but citizens like Sister Tloubatla at the Leratong Hospice say poverty is no excuse.
INSKEEP: If it is poverty that other people are able to go along in the streets. They are buying things and selling. Even if you get five cents or whatever, you - and then if it's poverty, where do they get the guns, where do they get the money?
HUNTER: As South Africa grapples with the complexity of its crime problem, Father Kieran's family and friends wait near his bedside in intensive care. The priest's father, Jim Creagh, who arrived from Ireland with another son the day after the shooting, says it has not soured him on the country.
M: Not at all, not at all. There's crime worldwide, and we don't blame anybody. It could have happened anywhere. We know these people. I haven't just come this time. I've been here eight times. So we know the pressures that they're under of dealing with conflict resolution. And we in Ireland have emerged from the same thing, so we know something of it.
HUNTER: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Sewanee, South Africa.
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