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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Essays

I speak of murder, rape, armed robbery and car hijackings …

Jameson Maluleke - 2008-12-19

As the global recession deepens its fangs into the South African economy, violent crimes will not only install transformation, but will create chaos and general instability as well.

In the midst of the festive season, many of us innocent and defenceless South Africans feel threatened by bands of criminals prowling the neighbourhood condemning people’s lives to hell and damnation with impunity. Nobody can deny that our diligent policemen and policewomen spend sleepless nights trying to protect life and property in the country, but the task of maintaining law and order is a heavy burden to bear. Many of these sons and daughters of the soil die in the course of their duties along with criminals they are trying to put in custody.

For many years now, South Africa has been rated as one of the most dangerous countries to live in. This state of affairs makes people terribly insecure and concerned about their future, since instability and unrest are the forerunners of civil war. The rich simply emigrate, while we lesser mortals are filled with bouts of helplessness, hopelessness and despair.

Violent crime has always been South Africa’s Achilles heel. Social scientists rightly maintain that the state of present crime is a relic from our violent past, that the high rate of unemployment is one of the main causes, that inequality between the haves and the have-nots would always fan chaos, and that trying to merge people of different ethnic groups in one territory such as Gauteng is a recipe for xenophobic violence. Of course, these may or may not all be major causes of crime, but at least they give an indication as to the origin of crime in our country. However, our interest in this essay is not necessarily to focus on the historical background of crime, but to search for innovative avenues for tackling crime

Politicians directly involved in the fight against the crime scourge used to advocate a comprehensive, integrated and holistic approach in the battle against crime, and when their call did not bear fruits, they manipulated crime statistics to calm people’s temperatures and to appease foreign investment, and when independent statisticians exposed the big lie, they shouted instructions to the police to "shoot the bastards”, meaning criminals, thus colliding with the Human Right Commission head on. Whatever wrong one might commit, the laws of the country imply that even criminals and potential wrongdoers have rights. Therefore, "shooting the bastards” on sight is, according to the laws of the country, a violation of criminals’ rights. Nowadays, our small-pot politicians seem to have run out of fresh ideas as to how best they can tackle rampant crime, partly because mouthing rhetoric without action soon becomes a useless exercise, but chiefly because the pending elections compel them to spend most of their time seeking charms, amulets to consolidate their positions in  Parliament. The whole task has now been shifted into the hands of demoralised law enforcers, some of whom have unfortunately been tempted into becoming the referee and the player in this fatal game of crime.

While community involvement in the fight against crime, zero tolerance, and increasing the number of law enforcers are all plausible, they are not holistic in the true sense of the word. For instance, a community member with a scant knowledge of maintaining public order, who also perceives police officers as his/her immortal enemy, will always hesitate to assist in the eradication of crime in his/her neighbourhood.

This brings me to the innovative idea suggested by a friend - a leading thinker with fresh ideas in the maintenance of public order. My friend is of the opinion that the workings of a policeman and -woman should be introduced as a syllabus at schools so that school children will grow acquainted with the duties and responsibilities of law enforcers. Giving as an example, he said that many school children who study biology as a school subject end up choosing their careers as medical practitioners, nursing sisters, botanists and zoologists. Similarly, if schoolchildren are given the chance to study police science as a school subject, some are likely to follow law enforcement as their lifelong career. Schoolchildren who follow different careers would still be well-versed in police duties and the maintenance of law in the country.

My friend is convinced that most people who stand and “pee” on the roadside do so because they are not aware that their actions are unlawful. “Public indecency is never included in their vocabulary”, either because they received poor home education or they are just legally irresponsible.

“A man may take a sharp instrument and cut off another man’s limb for financial gain, because such a man has not been fully equipped with the responsibilities of being a law-abiding citizen,” my friend said.

Teaching law enforcement as a school subject, my friend argues, would not only make responsible, law-abiding citizens of our little ones, but will also increase their knowledge of the police, thus enabling them to understand the burden carried by police officers in their daily activities. It would also create intimate friendship and co-operation between the entire community and the police, my friend concluded.

One may also argue that teaching law enforcement at school is community involvement in its true sense, in fact the learned community of tomorrow. If we start now, in five years’ time we will have an informed community whose members will always be ready to work with the police.

In fact, my friend’s vision is similar to the idea advocated by this author in one of his articles about crime, the idea being that we should begin now to include morals as one of our school subjects as we can’t expect any citizen to abide by our country’s laws if such a person is not different from bestial cave-beings and other antisocial animals.

Teaching law enforcement at schools around the country would in future also help depoliticise government departments such as the one under discussion. Able policemen and -women are often demoralised when their work is not recognised by their seniors or when they work for five years in succession without promotion simply because they do not belong to this or that ethnic group, or because they do not affiliate to certain political parties.
Generations which would be well read in law enforcement would have more understanding of separating maintenance of law enforcement and party politics whose only purpose is to disturb committed policemen and -women.

As a Christmas gift to all peace-loving South Africans, it is our earnest hope that the Minister of Education will listen to the call of her people this time, and introduce law enforcement into the school syllabus from January next year.

While making to this plea to our beloved minister and his dynamic department, one is aware that the government is unburdened with laws, policies and plans which it cannot implement either because of the lack of expertise and time or because of the lack of willpower. One is also aware that the Department of Education in particular is struggling to introduce foreign teaching methods at schools, colleges and universities. To avoid these bureaucracies, the minister and her top leadership team may just include the maintenance of public order in our school syllabus as a school subject from senior primary level upwards, and the whole country would thank you and your department for the job well done.