Crime and the South African Whitey

Every so often — rather more often than is bearable, actually — a mail arrives in my inbox, a forward of a forward of a forward. It’s always called something like “Enough is Enough” or “Show the Government You’ve Had Enough” or (like today) “Is Crime Out of Control?”.

These emails are always the same. Calls to action from self-appointed champions of the rights of the “innocent”, the “ordinary”, the “hard-working” citizens of South Africa. Wave after wave of futile email mass action, attempts to rouse people to sign petitions, email this or that minister or (like today) the President, to save South Africa from a perceived future riddled with disaster.

Today’s campaign asks us to SMS the President to tell him that Crime is “Out of Control”. According to this mail — and the weekend papers — President Thabo Mbeki said that crime isn’t, in fact, “out of control”. The 8 “ordinary people” the weekend papers managed to scientifically sample say it is, in fact, “out of control”. The writer of this email, and initiator (one presumes) of this SMS campaign, obviously also believes crime is “out of control” since there is no option to SMS the word “no” to the provided SMS number. Only “Yes. Yes, crime is out of control.

In fact (yes, these are still kind of important), Thabo Mbeki quoted last week, in his open letter on the ANC website, the NEC statement that “we need to make every possible effort decisively to tackle this challenge, drawing on the resources and capacity of all sectors of society in a united front against crime.” And that “The ANC will [..] seek the broadest participation of all sectors of society in this mass campaign to mobilise communities and isolate criminals”.

Yes, he also made some points about the crime statistics having decreased since 1994. Which is also, actually, a fact.

The South African Whitey — and I can assure you, this SMS campaign and probably all of the regular emails of this kind, is generated by such a person — is not interested in facts. By Whitey I don’t mean someone with white skin. I mean the whinging, whining, complaining, dissatisfied, terrified, alienated soul that drives up and down the streets of Sandton or Bedfordview or Gardens or wherever secretly wishing everyone of a different culture or political standpoint would just hurry up and die of AIDS as quickly as possible so that they can get back to the sweet, safe middle-class life they deserve.

The Whitey (of which, say, Tony Leon is an excellent example), is incapable of grasping the complexities of a multi-cultural society. Cannot accept responsibility for his role in setting up the impoverished society of which crime is an inevitable consequence. Will not credit the ANC government with anything but corruption, reverse racism and nepotism. And believes that they will still, one day, have to leave for London or Toronto or Sydney where all the best South Africans already live anyway because, well, that’s the first world and they do things properly there.

Fuelling this is the Whitey mass media, that loves nothing more than printing inflammatory articles based on selective quotes from political speeches peppered with vox pops from Mrs Tshabalala of Dobsonville or Mr Van Rheede from Mondeor.

What “out of control” REALLY means makes no difference of course. No equation is offered to determine whether it is or isn’t, nor is any required. If my son was murdered last year, or some famous historian was murdered last week, that’s all that’s really needed to win the argument. And god help you if you argue against this position because, well, it’s obvious isn’t it? Anecdote equals truth.

I’m not saying South Africans are particularly prone to this kind of hysteria, because it’s a phenomen anywhere. All you need to do is listen to the news in the US to know that we’re no worse off. Still, this kind of crazed, uninformed crap is despicable wherever it occurs. And I get really angry when I see this kind of ill-considered pseudo-mass action because it simply fuels the bullshit.

It’s an equally trite point perhaps, but if people spent their time and energy trying to improve the country rather than simply registering their complaints we might actually achieve the future they pay lip service to wanting. Instead, they want to score points against a government that has arguably achieved one of the greatest political, economic and cultural transformations the world has ever seen.

Complaining has never achieved one useful thing in this country so far as I can tell. And it’s no surprise really. Rewards are reserved for those who actually do something. And sending an SMS message then going back to life as usual doesn’t count.

9 thoughts on “Crime and the South African Whitey

  1. So what are you doing? What can an ordinary person do in South Africa? We do not even know who our local parliamentary representatives are, since they are appointed from a list and have sweet blow nothing to do with the communities that they serve.

    Tell me, what are you doing?

  2. Jens, I believe my point is that complaining about CRIME isn’t going to do a single, solitary thing to stop it. Wearing pink t-shirts to protest against crime when the criminal in that particular case has been caught within a few days of the crime being committed is so breathtakingly stupid it should be added to the encyclopaedia.

    I wonder if you think anyone hasn’t realised there is a big fucking problem with crime, as you put it? I have some news for you: we all know that. The government knows. The citizens know. WE ALL KNOW. Thank you very much.

    Now if we can move on to actually DOING something?

  3. dude. first of all you moan about “complaining” — all I see in your blog is whinging and complaining about this or that. You may confuse “complaining” with people getting off their asses and trying to do their collective bit by registering their unhappiness with crime in an attempt to mobilise and further build up pressure on those empowered to act.

    I see what you’re saying and it feels very… well, um, different to the masses who are all moaning about crime. Your view would have held currency about 5 years ago (where it was kind of cool to be a whitey going against the grain), but you need to update it. THERE IS A BIG FUCKING PROBLEM WITH CRIME HERE. THERE IS NO AGENDA. PEOPLE ARE FEDUP AND HAVE A RIGHT TO EXPRESS THIS.

    Ask Bullard, Gordimer, Cachalia, the guy from Crazy Monkey to name a few. People have a right to complain and they will complain. Hey you are. You just blogged about. FUCK YOU ARE DUMB.

  4. Tim

    You’ve raised some valid points. Jarred, I apologise if I’ve misrepresented you, or misunderstood what you’ve said. Have a good Tuesday.

  5. Bill,
    firstly: ‘I honestly think that if we settle down with “this is acceptable” then pretty soon the problem will flare up’ – I disagree that Jarred was implying that we ever settle and call it acceptable. Jarred was making a valid point about the effectiveness of the current outcry and the manner in which it is largely conducted.

    Secondly: Jarred was pretty clear in his definition of a whiney whitey. Hint: skin colour is a notable pattern, not the ultimate criteria.

    And lastly, ‘I prefer a public outcry … to a feeling of apathy which seems to be the alternative.’ – In my opinion it is this exact apathy that Jarred is protesting. What can be more apathetic than signing your name to an email or sending an sms to an unknown number? People use this type of protest to absolve themselves of any responsibility toward their communities and the circumstances they find themselves in.

    Before you craft a response aimed at painting me as an un-post-modernist too, please just consider what I’ve said objectively.

  6. You said that I bring emotion into the argument by my endless anecdotes, sure, I’ll give you that. My point was to show that people are emotional about it because it is an emotional issue. My point was exactly that people will not reasonably look at stats when they are in pain because of their circumstances.

    I obviously don’t agree with mob justice, but as people get more and more emotional, things might regress to that.. I’m not saying we should make decisions based on emotion, I’m saying that telling people to “be part of the solution and consider the statistics” just might not work to shut them up. The anecdotes serve to support this.

    No government should be beyond criticism, but that should be fair and done according to the appropriate channels. I think that the media is one of those channels. It is however their responsibility to report things fairly as they are, with as little political agenda as possible. Whether they do that effectively in South Africa is another discussion.

    I was trying to put forward two things: possibly why the whiney whitey won’t easily shut up and be a part of the solution (being a part of the solution is something I actually agree with), and then that the people who have an issue with crime don’t necessarily match the whiney whitey criteria.

    PS. You’re always right? Thats very un-post-modern of you, come now…

  7. Yeah, because I’m always right and you’re always wrong 😛

    You endlessly appeal to anecdote – like knowing people in Alex or some mother who was charred to death — and yet to proclaim to not want to tarnish the debate with emotion. This is a classic emotive tactic: trying to win the debate by stirring up my feelings (or anyone else’s) on the basis of individual horrors.

    You have to pick your battle. If you want me to agree that a mother being charred to death in a car or people in Alex suffering from crime, then I’ll happily do that. I’m not arguing that point, after all.

    What I do disagree with is the idea that these anecdotes actually mean anything. I mean, really. I mean statistically, such that anyone should base policy decisions on them. Because if that’s what you’re suggesting, then we’re headed right back to mob justice. Which is exactly the “emotion” you’re always trying to take out of discussions.

    As Thabo Mbeki basically said on the weekend: stop spending your time telling me what I already know. Stop telling all of us. We all KNOW there is a crime problem. Be part of the fucking solution, or shut the fuck up.

  8. Jarred, you do have some valid points about media hype and that it is fueling the fire of people’s emotions. Statistics, however scientific, do little to calm down the family of the mother who was found charred to death in a car set aflame with her in it. They do little to console the lady who was assaulted at a home break in, while all their goods were taken.

    People are up in arms because they are victims, or the friends of victims, or the family of victims. The media adds fuel but the fire is already there. I prefer a public outcry (which should be governed by facts, not just emotion) to a feeling of apathy which seems to be the alternative.

    I don’t believe the government are doing nothing, but I honestly think that if we settle down with “this is acceptable” then pretty soon the problem will flare up. The law is there for the lawless, but it needs to be enforced to be of any use.

    More people are speaking out because while statistics are in favour of lower crime, statistically, it can’t always be the same people being affected, so as time passes more people share the same outrage. I also believe that we need to stop moaning and start doing something, and sending an SMS is not going to change things. But to reduce the outcry against crime to the “whitey” I think is not describing the situation as it is. I know many people affected harshly by crime who happen to live in Alex, Thembisa and the likes, who do not fit your Whitey persona, yet they too have had enough.

    Wow, we really disagree on a lot of things hey? 😉

  9. Jarred, I hear you, but as a whitey its far more convenient to sms someone about how much I hate crime than say, stop buying illegal dvd’s, or choosing not to bribe the officer who just pulled me over for talking on my mobile. Also, should 4 priveleged white kids kill an unarmed homeless man and then get 12 year sentences each, don’t expect me to say hooray for the justice system, noooo, instead hear me bemoan the victimisation these poor angels had to endure…

    On a serious note however, I can’t stop but think about how unforgivably stupid someone must be to think that sending an sms text is going to suddenly make someone in the Office of the President go: ‘Holy crap they’re right! We must do something now!’

    People are ejits…

Comments are closed.