Much ado about 36 Dutch tourists, but what about the other 390?
On Sunday‚ 36 Dutch tourists were robbed at gunpoint. They are understandably traumatised and have left the country. In other news‚ 390 South Africans were robbed at gunpoint on Sunday. They are understandably traumatised but all of them are still here.
I don’t want to diminish the horrible experience suffered by those visitors. It must have been terrifying. But‚ in the small-scale war that is this country’s crime catastrophe‚ it was a relatively small and blessedly bloodless footnote.
And yet it has dominated headlines this week and even moved Police Minister Fikile Mbalula to stop congratulating himself on Twitter for reaching a million followers (I’m not joking) and to visit the tour group to offer comfort.
On Tuesday‚ he urged South Africans not to buy anything stolen from the Dutch tourists. Some might urge South Africans not to buy anything from a member of a government stolen by Indian siblings. But perhaps this is unkind. At least he’s out there‚ right?
It’s a fair retort‚ but it raises a much more important question‚ namely: why is he out there‚ specifically? And when was the last time a senior government official visited one of the 390 South Africans who are victims of armed robbery every day?
To be fair‚ it’s not just Mbalula. Questions must also be asked of the media. For example‚ why has this incident been so heavily covered when South Africans need to be tortured by robbers before they warrant a two-paragraph story on page six?
One explanation might be racism‚ where crimes against white people are viewed as a shocking upheaval of the natural order while crimes against black people are chalked up to some sort of perverted normality; “sad but that’s just the way things are”.
The economic repercussions of the crime are another factor. Tourists contribute over R100-billion to the country but most will now feel nervous about going anywhere near OR Tambo.
And of course there is the anxiety felt in violent or dysfunctional homes when the misery is made public: what will the neighbours think?
Ultimately‚ however‚ I think that this intense focus on 36 foreigners is a way of avoiding looking at 55-million South Africans; to defer‚ for another day‚ our thoughts about crime and the fear that hangs over this country like dirty air.
It’s not even conscious‚ nerve-jangling‚ sweaty-palms fear any more. Rather‚ our relationship with crime‚ its causes and consequences‚ seems defined by cautious avoidance and even exhausted acceptance. It’s a natural response‚ given the absence of leadership and any sense of a plan.
Much better‚ then‚ to look at those Dutch tourists‚ shake our heads‚ and put it all away again for another day.