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SA crimes are much more complex



SOUTH Africa’s media is ablaze with headlines of Basotho gangs allegedly committing murders, rape and robberies.

The pernicious ‘terrorist’ tag evoked and the incidents are now being framed as a ‘diplomatic crisis’ in some quarters. None of the brandings is appropriate.

The governments of Lesotho and South Africa should resist jumping on to the bandwagon of blame-shifting.

While there are some hints of truth to the allegations of some Basotho dabbling in violent crimes, we sense some exaggeration and political spin in the narrative.
South Africa’s media has a penchant for the sensational, especially when foreign nationals are the subject of bad news.

The ANC, already derided for its inept reaction to rampant crime, appears to have seized on these superficial and uncritical chronicles to find a convenient scapegoat in the form of foreigners.

From the stories, one would be forgiven for thinking there is an army of Basotho criminals crossing the Mohokare River to vandalise an otherwise peaceful country.

It’s as if the criminal gangs are exclusively Basotho.

The truth is however more nuanced and it is the oversimplification of the issues that make it hard for South Africa to decisively deal with the crisis.

Both Lesotho and South Africa have a serious crime problem. That some of the crimes inadvertently manifest in either of the countries is a function of proximity, shared porous borders and historical connections.

A person can be a South African-Mosotho in the morning and a Lesotho Mosotho in the evening. Some might be dual citizens.

Nothing stops a Mosotho from South Africa from claiming to be from Lesotho. Because none is branded, it is unhelpful to jump to conclusions about the identity of criminals.

Illegal gold mining and trade, for instance, is a well-oiled criminal enterprise made up of foot soldiers, handlers and barons who are from both countries.

Crimes like murder, rape and robberies are not a new phenomenon in South Africa. South Africa has the third highest crime rate in the world, consistently ranking high in rape, murder, assaults, robberies and other violent crimes.

An estimated 68 people are murdered every day in South Africa. Some 526 000 were murdered between 1994 and 2019, nearly a quarter of Lesotho’s population.

Globally, South Africa has always ranked high in rape cases. An estimated 40 percent of South African women are raped in their lifetime and a measly 14 percent of perpetrators are convicted.

The influx of foreigners doesn’t feature high among the major causes of that dubious distinction.

Research has shown that crimes committed by foreigners do not have a significant tilt in overall crime statistics.

Studies have consistently blamed poverty, inequality, lack of inclusion and a culture of violence inherited from the Apartheid era.

To that toxic mix is the fact that the police are underfunded and corrupt.

This, however, doesn’t mean that Basotho are not playing a role in the crimes.

Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro admitted as much in his recent national address. He said he was shocked that the gangs find refuge in political parties of Lesotho.

He was talking of the political parties, within his government, openly associating with gangs for political and financial support.

The bottom line is that these are two countries facing similar problems. That there are some spill-over effects should not blind the two governments to the bigger problems. None should point fingers at the other. To escalate it to a diplomatic disaster will be to miss the point. Each should deal with its internal problems but find ways to cooperate on fighting crime across borders.

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