Fearing life itself

Last week, our lead story shouted “A hot spot for crime”.

The inside stories of Northern News attested to the ongoing crisis that is wrecking our society – with news of the murder of a middle-aged woman for her cellphone, the death of an alleged attacker by a train driver who fired a fatal shot in self-defence, and the story of the brutal assault of a pensioner who dared to leave his vehicle to reconnect the roof of a golf cart that flew off his trailer on the N1 near Cape Gate.

All these heinous crimes happened within close proximity to each other and, barring the attack on the pensioner, within the space of a few days.

Tragically that’s life in this country: not a particularly unusual week in the crime stakes, but for the fact that it bore testimony to what our front page story conveyed, that Kraaifontein is one of the top-10 crime spots, as per the latest crime statistics released by Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko on Friday September 2.

The stats demonstrated, once again, that all people are vulnerable to criminal attacks. But the attack on Denise Nel, 52, who had been getting on her feet after being on the edge of society by staying in a shelter for the homeless in Eikendal and managed to find work, makes it even the more tragic (“Stabbed to death for a cellphone”). She had been walking early in the morning to catch a train to her job.

As I wrote the story, I thought to myself, surely even criminals have a bottom line where they don’t go?

But these days, absolutely nobody’s immune to crime. And if crime has become such a given, it makes me wonder whether we have become inured when we read the never-ending stories of this all-dominating aspect of life in our country?

Yes and no. In community newspapers, such as ours, we try to put a local spin on the story, to highlight the person behind the statistic and, when we can, the circumstances surrounding the event. By doing so, we can make the story more immediate.

Often it is difficult because there is a dark cloud of fear on the side of the victim’s family and there’s official protocol and procedure to follow. But we do what we can, to create awareness in the hope that it may, in some small way, improve society by showing that we are not inured to acts of violence and lawlessness and to demonstrate the humanity behind these dreadful acts.

While nobody’s immune to crime, the poor are far more vulnerable. They can’t afford the elaborate security laagers in the suburbs. Often a simple padlock is all that stands between them and the gangsters and tik monsters stalking their neighbourhoods daily.

The rich can push a button to summon their armed response firms; the poor must rely solely on the police. Herein lies another tragic fact: poorer areas, such as Nyanga, which remains South Africa’s murder capital, has one cop for every 754 residents, well below the national norm of one cop for every 358 residents.

Until more resources, of all kinds, not just cops, are prioritised for poor neighbourhoods still grappling with the legacy of South Africa’s biggest crime, apartheid, the vicious cycle will remain, feeding on our collective fear, wasting our creative energies, squandering potential and destroying young lives.