Foreign Policy Blogs

Mbeki on the Links Between Crime and Racism

Thabo Mbeki recently wrote in ANC Today about the links between the role that crime plays in the country's psyche and the still percolating racism that simmers beneath the surface of the ociety.  The country's whites too often ignore the connection. Money excerpt:

“For this section of our population every reported incident of crime communicates the frightening and expected message that the kaffirs are coming. Entrenched racism dictated that “justification must be found for the persisting white fears of ‘die swart gevaar’. All incidents of crime, preferably broadcast as loudly as possible, provide such justification.”**

 There is some merit to Mbeki's remarks. There is a large segment of the white population that is almost gleeful about crime and that will use it as an excuse for lambasting the ANC. Crime is a function of poverty and lawlessness, and poverty and lawlessness were defining characteristics of the apartheid state.

 That said, Mbeki needs to be wary of the demagogic tendency to close off all criticism by tossing off accusations of racism against those critics. It is a fine line and is not an easy one to tread but for the sake of the South African political climate, this is an arrow that needs to remain in his quiver most of the time. It will be most lethal if used least frequently. 

**Swaart gevaar is an Afrikaans phrase meaning “black danger” or “black peril” and that refers to the age-old white fear of the black masses. And kaffir is the ultimate South African racial epithet, the country's toxic “N Word.”