South Africans ‘mostly caring, peaceful’

8 March 2013

While rightly expressing outrage at recent acts of violence in the country, South Africans should not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of their countrymen and women are “peaceful, caring, law abiding citizens”, says President Jacob Zuma.

Addressing the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Cape Town on Thursday, Zuma said that, while it was right that South Africans expressed their disgust at acts of violence, “we should be careful not to rubbish our country” by “painting all South Africans as violent and brutal”.

At the same time, Zuma said, South Africa needed to tackle persistent inequalities, and weaknesses in family and community structures, that threatened to undermine the achievement of a peaceful, caring and stable society.

In doing so, he said, the country would be tackling the underlying causes of violence, including violence against women and children which, he said, remained unacceptably high.

Violence in the spotlight

Zuma’s comments come in the wake of a number of incidents that have resulted in an intense local and international media focus on violence in South Africa.

These began with the shooting of illegal strikers by police at Marikana in North West province in August, and culminated in the last four weeks with the gang rape and murder of a teenager in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape, the fatal shooting of his girlfriend by Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, and the death of Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macio, who was dragged behind a police van by a number of police officers.

“These incidents remind us that we come from an immensely violent culture,” Zuma said, noting that the apartheid system that ended with South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 had been sustained through violence.

“For that reason, our struggle became deliberately a struggle to eliminate all forms of violence. It was a struggle to achieve a peaceful, caring, stable society.”

South Africans, Zuma said, had been “correctly angered by the rogue elements and criminals who molest women and children and commit other extreme forms of violence. Others burn and loot properties during what should be peaceful protests.

“However, in expressing our disgust, we should not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the 52-million South Africans are peaceful, caring, law abiding citizens. They love their country. They do their best each day to make South Africa a better place.”

Gender-based crimes ‘unacceptably high’

Zuma noted that, while the overall level of crime in South Africa continued to decrease, crimes against women and children remained unacceptably high.

However, the authorities continued to make inroads against this, he said, citing the fact that the police had secured over 363 life sentences in 2012/13, with a 73% conviction rate for crimes against women above 18 years old and of 70% for crimes against children under 18 years old.

“I have also directed the justice, crime prevention and security cluster to implement measures to nip violent protests in the bud. We are doing this to build a culture of responsibility, accountability, respect for authority and respect for one another,” Zuma said.

“People have a right to protest, but there is no need to use violence to get the message across.”

However, while the government would continue to improve its interactions with communities, and the police would continue to improve their arrest and conviction rates, winning the struggle against violence ultimately “depends on all of us”, Zuma said.

Tackling the root causes of violence

In order to tackle the root causes of violence, the government would continue to tackle the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, while prioritising the strengthening of families and communities.

“We are aware of the diverse nature of families and households in our country. We have single parent households, granny-headed households, female-headed households, child-headed households and others.

“The period of apartheid colonialism brought immense pressure to bear on the African family in particular,” Zuma said, with the legacy of apartheid geography combining with rapid urbanisation, the HIV/Aids pandemic and unemployment to put huge pressure on the family structure in South Africa.

Building more cohesive families and communities – the foundation for a more caring, united and prosperous South Africa – would require overcoming great challenges, Zuma said, but most importantly would need everyone to take responsibility, to “play their part”.

This included parents taking responsibility for their children, ensuring that they attended school and supporting their teachers. In particular, Zuma said, it included fathers taking on their role of building and sustaining strong families.

Absent fathers

“South Africa has a serious challenge of absent fathers in many households, especially African households,” Zuma said, citing research by the the Department of Social Development showing that the proportion of fathers who are “absent but living” increased from 41.6% to 47.4% between 1996 and 2010.

“African children have the lowest proportion of present fathers at 31.1%, while Indian children have the highest at 83%, with white children following closely behind at 80.8%. For coloured children the proportion is 53%,” Zuma said.

While poverty, unemployment and financial constraints might make explain why fathers failed to take responsibility for their children, “this should not be an excuse,” Zuma said. “Nothing stops a father from loving and caring for his children, even if he is poor.”

The President said the outrage expressed by South Africans at recent violent incidents “was most welcome, as it indicates that South Africans have not lost their sense of right and wrong.

“The recent shocking incidents should shock us into positive action, by making us focus on what can bind us as the South African nation.

“We must identify how we can support families and households in distress, strengthen our communities and take forward the mission of building a caring, united and prosperous society.”

SAinfo reporter