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close this bookCountry Report South Africa - ICRC Worldwide Consultation on the Rules of War (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1999, 70 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAbout the People on War Project
View the documentCountry context
View the documentCountry methodology
View the documentExecutive summary
Open this folder and view contentsThe conflict over apartheid
Open this folder and view contentsExperiencing the conflict: horror and disruption
Open this folder and view contentsLimiting the scope of the conflict
Open this folder and view contentsCivilians and prisoners at risk
Open this folder and view contentsBreakdown of limits
Open this folder and view contentsGeneva Conventions and the rules of armed conflict
Open this folder and view contentsInternational and non-governmental institutions
View the documentLooking forward
View the documentAnnex 1: General methodology
View the documentAnnex 2: Questionnaire *

Looking forward

South Africa has emerged from the worst years of conflict, but remains a society still marked by racial divisions. One of the most striking sets of divisions relates to the outlook of South Africans towards their country’s current problems and its future, as well.

The persistence of divergent views is clearly rooted in the recent past. There is a strong sense among blacks that ultimately there was no other choice than to resort to violence. There is a related feeling that the enormity of the violence was ultimately worth it, since it resulted in the overthrow of apartheid. Unlike many of the other conflicts examined, there was less a feeling that the conflict was pointless or avoidable, and far more a sense that it was necessary and productive.

The determination of the people to free themselves... who also engaged in conflict to respond to the conflict of apartheid and to the atrocities of the apartheid machinery finally delivered the honourable thing to this nation which is the restoration of our pride and dignity. It’s our birthright really. (FG, former detained MK members, Robben Island)

I don’t have any regrets because the conflict wasn’t of my choosing. If apartheid wasn’t in existence, there would have been no conflict, but because apartheid happened, we had to fight it. It was a natural thing to do. (FG, former detained MK members, Robben Island)

I think a very positive thing did come out of it, which is the negotiations, which led to the democratic elections of 1994. (IDI, black Red Cross volunteer, Pretoria)

This feeling of necessary conflict leads South Africa’s blacks to have a far more optimistic assessment than among whites of the country’s prospects for peace. By an almost 6-to-1 margin, 46 to 8 per cent, black South Africans believe that peace will last. In stark contrast, whites believe by more than a 3-to-1 margin, 59 to 17 per cent, that there will be more armed conflict. Many blacks acknowledge that the country still has problems, but say they are far more tractable than the problems of apartheid. Whites are more likely to focus less on the end of apartheid, and more on the rise of various social problems.

The core issue is crime. Both whites and blacks cite it as one of the country’s chief problems, if not the chief problem. Yet the two sides have strongly divergent views of the origins, extent and implications of the country’s crime epidemic.

Whites are inclined to view the country’s crime problem as a wholly new phenomenon - a consequence of the political change brought about by the end of apartheid. They are much more likely than blacks to see current criminal activity as different from the armed conflict over apartheid - 90 per cent of whites express this view, compared with 60 per cent of blacks. More importantly, whites reject the notion that the current crime problem is rooted in the country’s apartheid past. By nearly a 3-to-1 margin, 65 to 23 per cent, whites say that today’s crime is not rooted in the apartheid period. In contrast, a strong plurality of blacks, 47 to 23 per cent, disagree.

The focus groups and in-depth interviews suggest that whites see a more general breakdown of social order that has permitted crime to invade their lives. Several whites suggest that types of crime occur today that did not occur in the past. One introduced this point with the remarkable assertion that, unlike today’s crime wave, the problems during the apartheid era “had nothing to do with civilians”.

We had problems in those times, but it had nothing to do with the civilians. It was contained with the blacks, but now, today it has spread out in violence. We had crime in those times, but it is more noticeable now and it is more killing of farmers and that type of thing. (IDI, white businessman, Cape Town)

The armed conflict over apartheid had a clearly defined goal to end the awful regime of apartheid. The crime now and the violence has nothing to do with that, and it started off as a group of people professing to come in under the banner of protesters, but honestly it is a bunch of hoodlums and thugs and gangsters who are out on the street. (IDI, white woman, Pretoria)

Yesterday morning, two guys walked up to him, shot him three times in the head, for his cell phone. I’m sorry, that didn’t happen prior to ‘94. I don’t care how much the press want to say that nothing was reported and nothing else. That type of shit just didn’t happen. (FG, former SADF members, Cape Town)

Blacks, along with some whites, tend to see a very different picture. They see at least four linkages between yesterday’s apartheid and today’s robberies and murders. First, and most immediately, apartheid left economic craters and pockets of poverty that created the material want and lack of education that contribute to crime. Second, many blacks believe that the country’s police forces for too long were trained to combat terrorism - that is, to crack down on anti-apartheid protesters - and were too little trained in combating street crime. Third, the struggle over apartheid brought a flood of guns into the country, which now make street crime particularly deadly. Finally, blacks see the increase in crime as more of a diffusion to whites of a problem that long existed - but was cordoned off - within the country’s segregated black communities.

And the police force is not adequately trained to deal with crime. Even some of the police are involved in criminal activities. All they were trained to deal with were what they called terrorists. (FG, former detained MK members, Robben Island)

I think the whole criminal justice system during the apartheid years was geared toward fighting, and the freedom fighters and people, like the security police, when they were disbanded they became criminal police and criminal intelligence and they were not trained for fighting crimes but above that the armed conflict led to a lot of weapons coming into the country and a lot of weapons got in the hands of the wrong people, particularly the criminals, and the armed conflicts somehow affected the morality of people generally. It created a situation where the moral values of society had disappeared. (IDI, black man, Pretoria)

The people sitting in the white suburbs read about it in the newspapers and the people in the townships, they suffer. The people in the white communities did not feel it, they did not have the crime that the townships had, and the white communities are only starting to feel the crime today. (IDI, white safety and security civil servant, Durban)

Partly because blacks see today’s crime as a vestige of South Africa’s old problems rather than as a harbinger of a new problem, they tend to have greater faith in the country’s future. Many of them suggest that it will take time for South Africa to heal and rebuild, but that at least now their country - long divided and “sick for peace” - is headed in the right direction.

I think things are slightly better. The first reason for that is that during the apartheid years we did not have much freedom. At least now we can live wherever we want to, before we could not do that. We still have problems but I believe it will take time, I don’t think changes can take place overnight, it might take 5-10 years but I am hopeful things will improve. (FG, displaced coloured persons, Cape Town)

Personally, I think things are getting better. With the coming election, there are more better things to come. Precisely because there is a difference between where we come from and where we are now. Like people have houses, sewerage, water. Things that they were not provided with before by the previous government. And there are still better changes to come. (FG, former detained MK members, Robben Island)

I believe there will be peace in South Africa. The people are sick for peace. (IDI, black artist, South Africa)