Friday, July 8, 2011

Into the Cannibal’s Pot. Extracts from Ilana Mercer’s latest book (Part 3)

TAKE NOTE: The following extracts of this book were sourced from the Smashwords edition, where approximately 20 percent of the content can be viewed for free. Because Smashwords does not deliver the content in print form, but in various digital formats – the extracts I’ve published here will thus not reference any page numbers. Reference numbers used to indicate the author’s sources, have also been omitted.


Crime, the Beloved Country

It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority...from the absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge but treason. -- Lord Acton, The History of Freedom In Antiquity, 1877.
If a young South African were to ask me whether to stay or leave, my advice would be to go. -- Breyten Breytenbach,  The Afrikaner poet who was incarcerated for anti-apartheid activism.

The Williams family is emigrating - leaving South Africa for good. The family will be departing for the UK without their twelve-year-old daughter. Emily Williams was killed at seven in the morning on her way to school, a victim of an armed robbery underway at the home of a classmate who was being fetched by Emily and her mother. Many of the family’s friends are following Roger Williams’ lead. An executive director and chief financial officer at AECI, a South African chemicals group, Mr. Williams believes “everybody should have the right to go about their business and go to school without worrying that you’re going to become a victim of crime.”

René Burger is the little sister of Schalk Burger, a young rising star in South African rugby. Twenty-year-old René, a medical student, was headed for classes at the Tygerberg hospital in Cape Town when she was abducted from the well-patrolled hospital grounds by three men. They drove her to a remote location and gang-raped her at knife-point.

Young Noah Cohen emerged from soccer practice in time to watch his father die. Sheldon Cohen had been sitting in his car outside a Johannesburg sports stadium waiting for Noah when he was shot by “three young men.”

An elderly Jew is murdered on his way to synagogue in Johannesburg on Saturday morning, shot for refusing to hand over the “valuables” in his tallit bag, the pouch in which an observant Jew carries his prayer shawl.

A family friend writes: “Crime is out of control down here - you hear of truly horrific stuff all the time. Johannesburg is particularly bad. I recently sold my house and moved into a security village where all the houses are accessible only through one entrance. There are guards who phone you if someone you know wants to get in to see you. Insane!”

This is a snapshot of life in suburban South Africa circa 2008, fourteen years since freedom. Ordinarily, case studies do not a rule make, but you’d be hard pressed to find a family in democratic South Africa whose members have not been brutalized. The travails of this writer’s extended family are fairly typical. They tell of the lives of good people ruined by rubbish: A sister’s partner suffering permanent neurological damage after being brutally assaulted by five Africans; a brother burglarized and beaten in his suburban fortress at two in the morning by an African gang (his wife and infant son were miraculously spared); a father whose neighbor was shot point-blank in front of his little girls as he exited his car to open the garage gates; a spouse, two of whose colleagues were murdered (one shot by African taxi drivers in broad daylight, left to bleed to death on the pavement near his girlfriend’s place), and whose cousin and uncle were hijacked, aunt raped and beaten within an inch of her life.

Sean Mercer, Ph.D., found out recently that a fondly remembered professor at his alma mater had been beaten to death with an umbrella by an angry African student. A Cambridge graduate, Brian D. Hahn was a prodigious applied mathematician at the University of Cape Town. He is no longer, but his webpage is still online. Hahn, it states, was born in November 1946 in Cape Town, born again in August of 1966, and died in February of 2005. His colleagues tell of a humble man who practiced his profession and faith faithfully. Rest in Peace.

“The circle narrows,” mourns Afrikaner poet and former anti- apartheid activist, Breyten Breytenbach in an essay for Harper’s Magazine:

The grandmother of a close friend - she’s as old as [Mandela] - pleads with her robbers not to be sexually violated, she even claims to be infected with a communicable disease; the nephew of a fellow writer is shot in the face, killed in his own house by a night intruder whom he mistook for a rat; the son of my eldest brother is stabbed in a parking lot outside a restaurant, the blade pierces a lung, the police never turn up, he is saved because his companion calls her boyfriend all the way in Australia by cell phone and he could summon a nurse he happens to know in Johannesburg. (The woman is on a first visit to the country; she leaves the next day and swears never to return.)

This writer and her immediate family, presciently, left South Africa in 1995, shortly after the white minority ceded power to a black majority. A year prior, we had voted in South Africa’s first democratic election. In 1990, I’d been on the Grand Parade in Cape Town, among a crowd of thousands, to witness Nelson Mandela’s release after twenty-seven years in prison (it was a riot, literally). In previous decades my father, Rabbi Ben Isaacson, had been a well-known anti-apartheid activist. With him I attended the inauguration of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and met and took afternoon tea with the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall.

When we departed, South Africa was still a country with a space program (on which my husband Sean Mercer worked), gleaming skyscrapers, and department stores that rivaled Macy’s. The Central Business District in Johannesburg bustled. Crime was controlled, or at least confined. When mobs stoned cars en route to the D. F. Malan Airport in Cape Town (geographical names across the country have since been changed to expunge Afrikaner history), a tough and competent police force sprung into action. An equally impressive Western system of Roman-Dutch law, and a relatively independent judiciary, dished out just deserts in response to the ubiquitous “muti-murders” (African ritual killing, including human sacrifice in Venda7), and to “necklacing” (the more contemporary African custom of placing a diesel-doused tire around a putative offender’s neck and igniting it). Or to the rape of babies. To borrow from Gen. Sir Charles Napier: Before 1994, when African men raped infants because they considered the “practice” a traditional salve for AIDS, South African policemen followed through with their custom: they tied a rope around the rapist’s neck and hung him. “Afrikaner rule,” the noted liberal historian Hermann Giliomee has observed, “was characterized by an obsession with imposing restrictions through proper legislation and with due process in executing these laws … The government did not attempt to cover up deaths in detention, despite a torrent of unfavorable publicity. Although political opponents were at the mercy of their interrogators in prison, both the policeman and the prisoner knew that neither was outside the law.”

It goes without saying that a condemnation of the New South Africa is not an affirmation of the Old. More crucially, realism is not racism. The undeniable reality is that, a decade since this abrupt transfer of power, the rule of the demos has turned a once- prosperous, if politically problematic, place into a lawless ramshackle. The BBC World’s John Simpson recently - and reluctantly - disclosed that South Africa jostles with Iraq and Colombia for the title of most violent country in the world. So violent is the “free” South Africa that, for a period, the freewheeling ANC government imposed an official blackout on national crime statistics. It now releases them once yearly.


The surfeit of crime statistics, say those who chronicle crime, can be misleading because “crime definitions vary from one country to the next.” This is an argument that the African National Congress’ grotesquely mistitled Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula often seizes upon, to conceal the blood-soaked facts of violent crime in his country. Following its chief’s example, the South African Police Service (SAPS) has developed an agile facility with misleading statistical comparisons. To diminish crime under its jurisdiction, the SAPS is fond of drawing skewed comparisons between low-crime spots in South Africa and high-crime spots in otherwise low-crime countries.

Juxtaposing the incidence of murder in low-crime Pretoria and high-crime Washington, D.C (29.1 per 100,000 inhabitants10) is an example of the practice. The same sources like to point to the incidence of rape in Canada: evidently one of the highest per capita in the world, having surpassed both the U.S. and Zimbabwe. But the only way First World Canada—with its 1.77 murders per 100,000 population - can lay claim to this dubious distinction is by legally redefining rape. The cause of this is the baleful influence of feminist Catharine Mackinnon on American and Canadian jurisprudence. The consequence of it is that a woman can seek and find in the law a legal remedy to the regret or rage experienced following an impromptu romp between the sheets.

The redefining of rape in American and Canadian law is the product of the collaboration between advocacy groups and feminist stakeholders, and has been exposed by John Fekete in Moral Panic: Biopolitics Rising. Undergirding this sub-science are statistically promiscuous surveys such as Statistics Canada’s 1993 “Violence Against Women” survey, and its American equivalent. As Professor Fekete has demonstrated, this voodoo consists of single-sex surveys with no input from men; is fraught with problems of unrepresentative sampling, lack of corroboration, a reliance on anecdotes, and a use of over-inclusive survey questions. Suffice it to say that, contra North America, in South Africa, where a rape occurs every twenty-six seconds, the crime of rape is unlikely to mean mere sexual harassment or sexual disappointment. Very many South African young men consider rape a form of recreation, their rapacity even finding expression in the vocabulary: gang rape is jocularly referred to as “jackrolling.”

Ironically, the provincial chauvinism of the cloistered gender feminists of the West has helped trivialize the plight of their African sisters.

Ultimately, murder in all its horrible finality cannot be statistically finessed. This is why, in proportion to population size, it is the best gauge of the precariousness or safety of life in a given society. The U.S. Bureau of Justice concurs: “Homicide is a fairly reliable barometer of all violent crime.”

Let us, then, survey homicide statistics for South Africa. They are easy to understand, if hard to digest.

Dan Roodt, “Adapt and die - South Africa’s New Motto,” Praag, November 2004.

Between April 2004 and March 2005, 18,793 people were murdered in South Africa (population 43 million). In comparison, the “high-crime” United States (population 299,398,00016) suffered 16,740 murders. Put differently, South Africa has sixty homicides per 100,000 people; the US approximately six.17 The European Union (population 728 million) has approximately 1.59 homicides per 100,000 per year.18 On average, in South Africa, sixty-five people are murdered every day, three times that number are raped; and 300 are violently attacked and robbed daily.

These official figures, say other researches, are more serendipity than science.

According to Robert McCafferty of the United Christian Action, Interpol had pegged South Africa’s murder rate at “114.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants,” roughly double those released by the South African Police Service (SAPS). In 1995 and 1996, Interpol counted 54,298 annual homicides to the SAPS’s 26,883. While slightly more optimistic, the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) corroborated the trend Interpol uncovered. It reported approximately a third more murders in South Africa than the official police statistics reveal,” tallying an average of eighty-nine daily deaths, or 32,000 a year. A discrepancy of over 10,000 murders is, shall we say, more than a margin of error.

McCafferty, whose data is a distillation of information from criminology journals, the SAPS, Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC), Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Interpol websites, and “the major newspapers on crime statistics and related issues,” concluded that “what sets South Africa’s crime apart from basically every other country on earth is the incredibly high levels of violent crime” - murder, attempted murder, serious and common assaults, rape, and all categories of robbery: that is, robbery with aggravating circumstances, armed robbery, and car hijacking.

During his term of office, former president Thabo Mbeki wielded the “racist” ad hominem deftly. Mbeki ignored the BBC’s otherwise incontinent exhilaration about everything else South African, choosing instead to frame as racism the network’s newfound realism vis-à-vis crime. Mbeki countered a BBC crime exposé by asserting that “nobody can show that the overwhelming majority of the 40-50 million South Africans think that crime is out of control. Nobody can, because it’s not true.” It so happens that South Africans are fed up (“gatvol” in Afrikaans) with crime, as is evident from the petitions, protests and vigils staged across the brutalized country. Asked about their feelings of safety compared to 1994, a majority (seventy percent) of South Africans surveyed by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in 2001 answered that South Africa was “not safer than it was before1994.” Even if Mbeki had been able to get most South Africans to concede that crime was insignificant, that would not settle the matter. Unfortunately for Mr. Mbeki, truth is not adjudicated by majority vote.

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