President Nelson Mandela declared that Heritage Day would help South Africans use their “rich and varied cultural heritage to build our new nation”. He added that declaring this a national holiday was crucial in the attempt to create a strong and proud nation, “We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.

Twenty-two years since Heritage Day was first celebrated warrants pause for reflection.

While much has taken place over this period, both positive and negative, a profoundly unsettling set of statistics were released on 11 September 2018 by Police Minister, Bheki Cele. The crimes reflected in the statistics were largely committed on Fikile Mbalula and Nathi Nhleko’s watch, and coincide with the worst excesses of the Zuma administration.

The 2017/18 Crime Statistics present not only a bleak picture but one that is retrogressive and risks damning generations of South Africans to a heritage that we will decry. Crime, criminality and a criminal justice system gone astray are corroding the very fibre of society. Numbers of serious crimes are up, including that of murder, attempted murder and sexual offences, while the ratio of police officers to citizens is down. The murder of 57 people a day drew parallels with a war zone. The increase of cases of rape, reported at 109 a day, is disputed by criminal justice analyst, Lisa Vetton, who claims that these are likely to be more than double this number due to under-reporting. Other noticeable crime categories that spiked include cash in transit heists and bank robberies.  These are audacious acts of violence with consequences that will scar generations.

The upshot of the above is that these statistics have alarmed South Africans across the board. We collectively desire a safe, free and prosperous country in order that the heritage it bestows on future generations resonates with Mandela’s vision quoted above. President Ramaphosa’s priority appointments on assuming office in 2018 were to fill critical positions hollowed out in the Hawks and Crime Intelligence. He futher filled the position of National Police Commissioner with a career officer, as opposed to a political appointee. These developments bode well for South Africa’s criminal justice system and the challenge for both government, business and society at large is to ensure participation and oversight.

The impact of crime is disruptive and crucially it breaks down social, economic and political associations. Fear of crime and its impacts strip and corrode productive and healthy relations and it is the antithesis of that which must be savoured and allowed to flourish. Perhaps this Heritage Day might give pause to many that the country has come a long way but unless South Africa unites to fight that which ails it, there may not be much left to endow.  Yet the words of Nelson Mandela must offer us succour in trying times, “Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africansmust produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul, and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all”.

By Zohra Dawood, Director Centre for Unity in Diversity 

Photo credit: aldodeandrea on / CC BY-NC-SA

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