/ 5 April 2024

Can we stop our descent into violence?

South African police carry out a large-scale operation in the Westbury area of Johannesburg. File photo by Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Six years ago, two of our journalists – who still work at Mail & Guardian – traveled to SuperSport United’s training ground in Gigawatt Park to spend the day with Luke Fleurs. The resultant feature reflected his sharp rise from Mitchells Plain to a developmental side in Fish Hoek, to playing in the PSL as a teenager. Bafana Bafana beckoned in his future. 

This week the 24-year-old was shot and killed in a hijacking in Roodepoort, Johannesburg. His life encapsulates the distorted South African reality; a country that offers so much opportunity but one that is violent, unfair, and deeply unjust. 

Even amid the anguish we are forced to confront the awkward truth that Fleurs’s death only registers on our psyches because he was a public figure. Thousands of South Africans have their lives destroyed by crime every year – the majority will never have their names mentioned in a newspaper.

The headline cases – those of Fleurs, Senzo Meyiwa, AKA and the Fort Hare victims, to name a few – fan what are already palpable fears amid ordinary people. The latest crime stats, released last February, revealed that murders have increased, reversing a brief decrease last year. Police recorded 7 710 cases between October and December last year, a number that should bring shame to all of us.

In another shocking incident this week, police gunned down nine suspects in Mariannhill, KwaZulu-Natal. Provincial authorities have been quick to assert the necessity of such a severe law enforcement response and dismiss any suggestions of impunity. Many community members, having been terrorised by gangs for years, have also praised the efforts in various news reports on the ground. 

“There’s a desperation from South Africans who are fed up and tired of living in an incredibly violent country,” policing analyst Ziyanda Stuurman said of the events in Mariannhill in an interview with 702.  

We’ve seen that exasperation manifest in the political sphere too, with multiple party manifestoes calling for a return of the death penalty. Back in a November editorial, we wrote that “violence begets violence”; as we condemned the draconian reports of Panyaza Lesufi’s crime prevention wardens, better known as “amaPanyaza”, and the general strongman attitude of our leaders.

But in the aftermath of such a bloody week, the cycle of violence we’re trapped in looks destined to rev up its velocity. That reality must be treated as a crisis by our government, before and after May 29 – not just as the election talking point it’s destined to become.