On the march against crime

The Million Man March, organised by
Desmond Dube, wants urgent intervention
from government against crime.
(Image: Million Man March)

The South African police need the help
of all citizens to successfully combat crime.
(Image: South African Police Service)

Janine Erasmus

Comedian Desmond Dube, a familiar face on South African television screens, took on the more serious role of activist in June 2008 when he organised the first Million Man March against crime in Pretoria, South Africa.

Thousands of South Africans from all walks of life joined the initiative, carrying signs that read “Enough”, “I May Not See Tomorrow” and “Show Us U Care”. They walked peacefully enough from Church Square to the Union Buildings, the seat of South Africa’s government, and assembled on the lawns in front of the imposing building, but later became vocal in their demands for decisive action by the government.

An emotional Dube handed over a memorandum – addressed to President Thabo Mbeki and calling for urgent government intervention – to Minister of Correctional Services Ngconde Balfour, one of three ministers present at the event.

“We say, Mr President, the people are ready. Safety and security is our collective responsibility particularly at this time when we are preparing to welcome to our shores the citizens of the world in 2010,” said the memorandum.

It was hoped that Mbeki would personally take delivery of the petition, but the president was not in attendance, to the disappointment of the crowd, who shouted, “Where is Mbeki, we want Mbeki.”

South Africa’s first Million Man March – which was supported by Tshwane police, who deployed about 250 officers along the route and also arranged a number of street closures – ended with the singing of the national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika“. Entries on the initiative’s blog call for more such events around the country.

Marching for peace and human rights

The Million Man March is not a new concept. In 1995 the first Million Man March took place in Washington, DC. Its objective was to register African Americans to vote in US elections, and increase black involvement in volunteerism and community activism. As the name suggests, that event excluded women, although the South African march encouraged everybody to join in.

That event in turn was inspired by the historic 1963 march on Washington for jobs and freedom, where iconic US leader Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1995 marchers convened on the very spot where King had given his address, over 30 years before.

Although the turnout for the South African march was not as large as expected, this was largely because the event was held on a work day, according to a Democratic Alliance representative, and also because of the low profile of the advertising campaign.

Crime at close range

Like so many other South Africans, Desmond Dube was exposed to violent crime on a personal level by the death of his neighbour and close friend Bashimane “Shimi” Mofokeng, who was shot dead at his home south of Johannesburg in March 2008. The criminals brutalised another family in the street before fleeing the scene.

Dube said Mofokeng was the third person close to him in five weeks who had died in violent circumstances – one of them was the nine-year-old daughter of a friend. Shocked and enraged, the entertainer became inspired to take up the challenge facing South African society. “This is the end of the road for crime. We have to say, now we’ve had enough!”

Dube had already started thinking about organising a Million Man March but said that his friend’s death added extra urgency to the idea. “This march isn’t against the government, it’s against crime. We want to know what we can do to assist the government in putting an end to crime.”

Organisations such as the South African National Council for the Blind have thrown their weight behind the initiative. “In the past week there have been at least three visually impaired people who fell victim to crimes in Pretoria alone,” said spokesperson Lindie Van Zyl, speaking in June 2008. “The students, management and staff have had enough of the crime in our country.”

Crime statistics released by the South African police services claim that between April to September 2006 and the same period in 2007, the murder ratio has decreased by 6.6%. Overall, murders have declined from a peak of 22.9 murders per 100 000 people in 2002, to 18.7 in 2007. The rape ratio dropped off by 3.6% in the period stated, while common robberies decreased by 12.3%. House robberies, on the other hand, increased by 7.0% and business robbery by 29.3%.

It is clear that the South African police have a big task on their hands. However, movements such as the Million Man March and Stop Crime Say Hello are mobilising communities to get involved at street level in the fight against crime.

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