What the latest police statistics don’t tell you about murder: iLIVE

25 September 2012 - 12:44 By Kopano Ratele
File photo.
File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

... the best time to save you from early violent death

There’s no better time to make men aware that many of the behaviours the majority of them tend to associate with true manhood are more likely to lead them to an early death than the delivery room. Use the teachable moment when a man’s wife or girlfriend is giving birth and we might start to see some changes about how men think about life and death.

That’s pretty much the answer I gave to a question I was asked earlier this week. The question was when is the best time to intervene to change and save men from premature violent death early this week after a presentation I did on men, violent death and fear at Stellenbosch University.

I was wrong, of course. I will tell you why in a minute. It has nothing to do with my idealistic, or whipped manhood, or even whitened notions that men ought to enter the labour room.

I am no idealist.

That question is the same one to be kept in mind when reading the 2011-2012 crime statistics released yesterday by the South African Police Services.

The SAPS indicates that 15 609 reported cases of murder were reported for 2011-2012, down from the 15 940 reported for 2010-2011. You don’t need to be a statistician to know that this is a non-significant drop.

Attempted murder is said to have dipped below 15 000, decreasing from 15 493 to 14 859. That too cannot make any government concerned with social well-being happy. If we add the 64 514 total sexual offences reported for 2011-2012, even though it is a decrease from 66 196 for the previous reporting year, all of this makes for depressing news.    

Look, it is clear that we are better off today than we were in 2004-2005 as far the murder, sexual offences, grievous bodily harm, common assault and other crimes figures are concerned. The number of people killed, raped, badly beaten up, or just slapped remain unacceptably high, but they are down from 7 years ago, if the police are to be trusted.

What the police statistics won’t show, if your interest is murder for example, is who is at greatest risk of getting killed? You can infer some things from reading the maps of murder in South Africa. Thus, if you consider Western Cape for instance, your chances of dying a violent death are elevated around Delft, Harare, Nyanga, Mfuleni, Mitchells, Philippi East, and other place nearby these areas, as opposed to Camps Bay, Simon’s Town or Fish Hoek for instance. Tembisa, Katlehong and Kagiso are among the areas that have high rates of murder in Gauteng.

What the maps suggest then is that you are endangered if you live in predominantly black and coloured areas, especially if you are in the Western Cape. That is not unknown. 

What you still won’t know though is that dying young from murder is largely a male activity. That understanding comes from the surveillance and research work of the Safety and Peace and Promotion Research Unit at the Medical Research Council and other bodies which has shown a consistent distribution and pattern of violence mortality over the years. The picture is not likely to have changed.

The likelihood is that the majority of the 15 609 bodies reported to be killed are those of young black and coloured men. We know that this is the group whose rates are highest in the country. We know that they start dying in their late teenage years. We know that the most dangerous period to be a young man is the 20s. And, although most men are unaware of the quality of the breathing, we also know that they won’t be out of the dark cloud of death till they get to 50 plus.

This lack of awareness or lack of self-care about how close to death we as men fly each day has absorbed my attention for a while now. That lack of awareness and care contributes to the probability that the country will not bring down the body count to a few hundred in the next year or two. Even then, it may just help to save a few more lives if men were shown how death stalks their days. The problem is much bigger than one of awareness or simple policing though.

But that is not the reason I think I am wrong in how I answered the question after my talk at Stellenbosch. It is also not because the levels of murder in South Africa will be drastically reduced by recruiting more police, shooting criminals and giving them harsher sentences, as opposed to encouraging men to witness the pain and miracle of birth on its own. Some experts have sought to show that we need is not more but better policing, not more guns but preventative interventions.

The best time to intervene to save men from an early violent death is, as someone suggested to me after I had answered, is to intervene even before conception. To save men from an early grave we need to intervene before children are conceived, before sex, before the idea of boyhood and manhood congeal.  

  • Professor Ratele is the head of the Programme on Traditions and Transformation at the ISHS at the University of South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.