South Africa is often portrayed in the domestic and international media as a crime-ridden hellhole, a place where blacks visit unceasing violence on the white minority. There even exists a host of reactionary websites devoted to promoting the idea that South Africa’s white minority faces genocidal levels of violence, with Afrikaner farmers being primary victims.
One of the common fantasies before the death of Nelson Mandela was that blacks were biding their time until he passed away, after which they would unleash a gigantic pogrom aimed at ridding the country of the white minority once and for all.
While it is true that South Africa suffers high levels of violent crime, the reality has little in common with these racist fantasies. The primary victims of violent crime are black workers, and the reasons for such high levels of violence can mostly be explained by South Africa’s history of capitalist development, geographic segregation, sky-high levels of inequality, and the continuing effects of apartheid. But what should be the Left’s response?
This episode of Jacobin Radio South Africa explores crime and punishment in post-apartheid South Africa. Too often the Left has dodged or been unable to formulate a theoretical or political response to violent crime that goes beyond blaming capitalism. The result has been a surrendering of the discourse on crime to liberals and the right wing. For leftists, the starting premise should be that crime in South Africa cannot be treated as an exception to the everyday realities of the working class, but instead as deeply embedded in the country’s social fabric.
This episode’s guest is Dr Kelly Gillespie, who works in the anthropology department of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She is currently writing a book on crime and punishment in South Africa. She is also a feminist and queer activist who works with a movement called Johannesburg People’s Pride, which we also discuss in this installment.