Why we left South Africa

“What made you leave South Africa?”

It’s been almost a year, since my wife and I and our little Pomeranian-Chihuahua rescue got on a flight, leaving our family and friends and the country that we’ve known our whole life.

And over the last year, I have been asked some version of this question from almost every new person I speak to in our new home – a small island off the coast of Africa, Mauritius.

My answer is often the same each time – “the crime”. It’s the truthful answer – though it feels insufficient.

How do I explain to someone I just met, that we were tired of holding tight to our belongings when we were out, for fear they were stolen. Constantly checking the driveway and the gate as we left and came home, for fear of being hijacked. How do I share about how my wife – after multiple break-ins and home invasions – developed OCD-like tendencies and would spend up to an hour each night repeatedly checking that doors and windows were locked, before she could go to sleep?

That even if we had decided to have children, that we could not imagine choosing to bring them up in a country where they had a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually abused? [1]

Answering “The crime”, to that question, doesn’t adequately explain all of this. But I also feel it is too much to bombard someone I just met, with all of this.

I decided to put it into words, in this post. To properly express why we made the difficult decision to leave.

We are so very grateful every day we are in Mauritius. It’s not easy to uproot your whole life. And very expensive, too – especially if you have children. We understand that leaving is not a possibly for everyone that wishes to. For others, they feel too connected to the land and had family living there for so many generations they feel they belong. That is their personal choice.

South Africa – a War Zone?

There is no denying that war is one of the worst events a country can go through. Comparing stats like the South African murder rate shows just how bad daily life in South Africa is for its citizens.

The Vietnam War lasted just shy of 20 years – 1955-1975. In that time period, 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties occurred.* [2]

In South Africa, in a 3-year period from 2020-2022, there were 66,478 reported murders.

The Iraq war lasted 8 years, from 2003 to 2011. 4,550 U.S soldiers were killed.* The Afghanistan war lasted 20 years, from 2001 to 2021. 2,401 soldiers were killed.*

From January to March 2023 6,289 people were murdered, which equates to 70 murders every day. [3]

Violence and crime is the norm is South Africa, rather than the exception. And the numbers are incredibly high.

*Note: I am not counting civilian deaths but for the contrast only U.S soldiers who died in an active war zone compared to the murder rate in South Africa. But as is usually the case, the civilian pawns of the industrial-military complex [4] are killed in wars sometimes by orders of magnitude more than the soldiers.

Source: https://www.saps.gov.za/services/crimestats.php

Below you can see a chart I made showing the difference of rape and murder in South Africa compared to the Republic of Mauritius.

The first set of charts show the rate of rape and murder, per 100 000 of the population. The second set of charts show the total numbers, not adjusted for the population.

I generated these graphs from the following data sources:
https://statsmauritius.govmu.org/Pages/Statistics/By_Subject/CJS/SB_CJS.aspx
https://www.saps.gov.za/services/april_to_march_2019_20_presentation.pdf

With population normalized, there is a Relative Risk of murder (excluding attempted homicide) in South Africa of 1359% when compared to Mauritius. Conversely, The Republic of Mauritius has a Relative Risk of 7.4%.

When it comes to rape, (excluding other forms of sexual assault) the Relative Risk is 1605% in South Africa when compared to Mauritius and 6% in The Republic of Mauritius.

Formulae used for calculating relative risk:
Murder Rate = (Total number of murders / Population) * 100 000
Relative Risk = Murder Rate of Country A / Murder Rate of Country B

Some of the Highest Suicide Rates in the World

This is not directly crime related, but I feel that the suicide rate says a lot about the mental state of the citizens of South Africa. They are clearly struggling, and many who experience trauma are more likely to commit suicide whether medical staff, or victims directly – and while you can say that the high rate could be due to the proper support systems not in place, or the stigma around getting help, when you look at it in the context of the daily threat of violence, I believe it plays a big role.

Despite having worked with many people who have been impacted by the effects of suicide and attempted suicide, as a former medic and trauma worker, these stats still took me surprise.

From the Global Health Estimates report, South Africa has the third-highest suicide rate out of all African countries, at 23.5 per 100,000 population. [7] (By comparison, in 2019 Mauritius had a suicide rate of 9.5 per 100,000 and the United Kingdom was 7.9 per 100,00) [8]

I think this says a lot for the quality of life in South Africa.

Home invasions, Car Thefts, Muggings, and Hijackings

From 2021 to 2022, “common robbery” increased in South Africa by 21.2%, and ‘Robbery with aggravating circumstances’ increased by 10.8%. [9]

In 2022/2023 financial year, approximately 128,000 individuals experienced hijacking. In a population of 59.38 million, that is 0.2% of the population. If you only look at licensed drivers (7.8 million), that percentage jumps to 1.6%. In one year. [10]

I feel it necessary to point out that in South Africa it is not so much the break-in and robbery that is the biggest concern. In South Africa, the bigger concern is ‘home invasions’. Home invasions occur when the homeowners and/or family members are present during the break-in. Home invasions are more likely to be violent, and the homeowners and/or family members (including children) risk being assaulted, tortured, raped, and even killed – and doing this in front of the family to traumatize them even more. There have been reports of these men torturing victims with tools like drills, and even putting infants in a hot oven.

Between myself, my wife, and both of our families, we have experienced crime in multiple forms. Most often in the form of home break-ins.

My wife has had FIVE separate break-ins in 4 different homes, in 4 different towns. One incident occurred when she was a teenager – she was still at home during the break in. She locked herself in the bathroom and phoned for help – fearing for her life.

My mother has had her house broken into on three separate occasions.

In South Africa it’s a common safety practice to not pull up into your gate of your driveway before it is fully open, but to wait in the street – this is so you are ready to pull off in the event of a hijacking.

My grandfather was hijacked. My wife’s aunt was hijacked just outside her home, and shot in the stomach.

Source: Police Recorded Crime Statistics, Republic of South Africa, 2021/2022 Financial year (April 2021 to March 2022)

My wife’s car had been broken into once, my mother’s car had been broken into multiple times.

My grandmother used to walk to the shops for her grocery shopping. However, one day (when she was in her sixties), she was violently shoved to the ground, and her handbag was stolen. Her immediate reaction was to clutch her bag tightly, but the thieves persisted in their efforts to snatch it from her. This struggle left her knees scraped and bloodied. Her routine of walking to the shops and carrying her groceries came to an abrupt end.

Even something simple as going hiking on Table Mountain – something I used to enjoy weekly – isn’t safe anymore – not even in groups. [11]

You’ll find many people downplaying the level of violence and crime. These people are either very fortunate to have net yet been on the receiving end, or privileged enough that they can live in upmarket areas, and gated estates, removed from the daily crime and violence that the majority of the population experiences.

I worked as a medic, as well as a trauma counselor where I would be called onto scene by the police (even in areas such as Nyanga, where a British doctor was recently murdered after taking a wrong turn, with his wife and 2-year old son in the car). [12] I have dealt with rape victims as well as the whole gamut of general violence cases in South Africa such as home invasions, hijackings, businesses robbed at gun point, etc. I have experienced and seen more than the average person. It really is this bad.

Child Safety

In South Africa we have some of the highest rates of child, infant and adult rape. And yes, you read correctly, INFANT rape – babies as young as 1 week.

“She is the youngest victim in a spate of child rapes fueled by the myth that sex with a virgin cures AIDS. Some 21,000 cases of child rape were reported to South African police last year.” [13]

In 2020, Interpol named South Africa the “Rape Capital of the World”.

This is a good article from the Guardian on the problem:
Until 2000 most rape victims were adults. but there was an abrupt turn-around from 2001, when 65 to 70 per cent of victims were children, some as young as two weeks old. [14]

This research paper goes into more detail on the problem on Infant Rape in South Africa, including about how it is often based on “the myth that intercourse with virgin infants will enable the perpetrator to rid himself of sexually transmitted diseases.” [15]

“…the population rate of 6.6 cases of fatal child abuse per 100 000 in South Africa is much higher than the rate of 2.4 per 100 000 reported in the United States. Caution should be exercised when comparing rates because routine data sources tend to underestimate fatal child abuse.” – [16]

South Africa’s child homicide rate is more than twice the global estimate. [17]

In South Africa, this study showed that in 2009, the child homicide rate was 5.5 per 100,000 for individuals under 18 years old. [18] Child homicides were most common in two age groups: 0–4 years for females, with a rate of 8.3 per 100,000, and 15–17 years for males, with a rate of 21.7 per 100,000. Child abuse was the cause of 45% of all child homicides, with a higher incidence in the 0–4 age group. A significant proportion of these cases (64%) occurred within the home, and in most instances, the responsible party was the child’s mother.

Homicide rate among children and adolescents aged 0 – 19 in 2016 (based on data from 41 countries worldwide)
Data obtained from: https://dataunodc.un.org/dp-intentional-homicide-victims
https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/gsh/Booklet_6new.pdf

In a 2018 article, DA Shadow Minister of Police Zakhele Mbhele said that only 21% of child rape cases and only one in three child murder cases resulted in successful convictions. [21]

Even our medical experts are experiencing burnout and PTSD due to the overwhelming number of rape and child rape cases they have to handle [22]. I know of someone who was in the midst of their internship as a medical doctor but had to quit because they couldn’t endure it any longer. In cases of child rape, there are instances where the perpetrator becomes physically attached to the victim, necessitating their separation in the emergency room. However, the medical staff is not allowed to harm the perpetrator.

Corrupt Police, Military, & Government Officials

The policing sector accounted for the highest percentage of reported cases of alleged corruption in 2021 – coming in at 10% of reported cases – according to Corruption Watch’s annual report.
Corruption Watch is a non-profit organisation working to fight corruption in South Africa.

We have police officers that have been arrested for murder, rape, cash in transit heists, and transporting drugs, even high-ranking members of the police force. Just this month we had two police officers arrested for transporting guns and explosives presumably for a cash in transit heist.[23]

The South African Police has a reputation for not taking rape and domestic assault cases seriously, even going so far as to turn away victims, and outright blaming and antagonising them.

As a former medic and trauma counselor who spent a lot of time in police stations, I witnessed this behavior first-hand.

The UN women’s rights committee ‘Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’ (CEDAW) published a report in May 2021, on the level of domestic violence in South Africa. The report showed that those “who reported their abuser often did not get the protection they needed, CEDAW found. According to official figures, out of 143, 824 requests for protection orders in 2018-2019, only 22,211 were granted – and in many of these cases, the protection order just instructed the abuser to sleep in another room in the same house.” [24]

Here is a video showing how the Blue Light Brigade treats taxpayers on the road when escorting, especially if someone doesn’t yield quickly enough.

In the video you see 8-10 armed men that form the blue light brigade of the vice President of South Africa – ANC leader Paul Mashatile, kicking and stomping on the heads of unarmed citizens, and continuing the assault while the victim lays unconscious.

Numerous other stories about the Blue Light Brigade’s behavior have been reported, indicating that incidents like this are not isolated.

We have police that are under-reporting the horrendous racially motivated farm murders, which is a very serious issue.

I recommended reading the latest 2022 report from Afriforum here and watching the 2018 documentary, Farmlands. More information on the brutal farm murders can also be found here: https://friendsofafriforum.com/farm-murders/

Violence as the norm

South Africa is known for its friendly people. And yes – that is very true. But many countries with high crime rates, are also known to be filled with friendly people. Brazil – for example. There is a theory that it is an evolutionary adaption, in countries were crime is high, to be very friendly. [25]

The country’s high rates of violent crime and severe car accidents have led to a unique situation where South African doctors and medics are valued in other countries that typically only encounter such levels of medical trauma during times of war or in places like South Africa.

We also face the issue of notoriously low sentences for crimes. Murderers can end up getting released from jail after a few years. [26] The same leniency applies to cases of rape as well. It’s hard to imagine a family having their lives shattered by a rape or murder, only to find out that the perpetrator is out of prison after just a few years, seeking revenge and unleashing all the resentment and pain they’ve experienced behind bars. The numbers of recidivism bears this out clearly. Sadly, this is the reality of our country.

It’s not just South African citizens who are at risk of daily violence. Foreigners are also attacked and killed due to xenophobic violence in the form of stabbing, stoning, or even necklacing (where a car tire is put around a person so they can’t move, gasoline is poured on them, and then they are lit so they burn alive, after being brutally beaten).

James Oatway / Gallo Images

And when it comes to women’s safety – “South Africa has a female homicide rate six times the global average, with half of murdered women killed by an intimate partner” [27]

South Africa also ranks #7 worldwide in the number of kidnappings, with 9,569 annually in 2017. [28]

Mob justice is a common occurrence in South Africa. But when you have a broken and corrupt legal system, sometimes this is the only justice that people and a community can have. And at the end of the day, they are trying to protect their communities.

Muti killings is another extreme problem within South Africa.

“Muti killings are incredibly gruesome as victims are dismembered while alive and sangomas order genitals, fingers, hands, kneecaps, tongues and eyes.” [29]

South Africa – Sad to leave

There are things that we like and dislike about South Africa and the people and there are many beautiful places across the country. But overall, our direct experience with crime has made it a place that we wanted desperately to leave.

In South Africa, 33% of the entire population of 60 million are unemployed, and the youth are 60% unemployed. When you have so many people in a desperate situation, people will do anything to survive.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/south-africas-unemployment-rate-rises-329-q1-2023-05-16/

The literacy crisis in South Africa is getting worse. And then on top of that you have politicians fueling resentment of a particular race because of the past. [31]

“Eight out of 10 South African school children struggle to read by the age of ten”, an international study has found.

“South Africa ranked last out of 57 countries assessed in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which tested the reading ability of 400,000 students globally in 2021.”

The threat of social collapse is eminent. The electricity grid is barely hanging on, with South Africans regularly experiencing up to 6 hours of loadshedding every day. There is regular interruption of water supply and the breakdown, dereliction of the sewerage systems, Pete’s Post, does an excellent job investigating this. It is a country of many grave and serious issues with many more on the horizon.

This is really so unfortunate as South Africa had so much promise, vast, almost unimaginable resources when you compare it so some other countries, but it seems South Africa is headed the toward the same fate as the growing list of failed African states.

References

  1. https://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0256-95742018001100001
  2. https://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics
  3. https://businesstech.co.za/news/lifestyle/696063/lock-your-doors-home-robberies-on-the-rise-in-south-africa/
  4. https://www.hoover.org/research/military-industrial-complex
  5. https://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=15601
  6. https://publicnotice.govmu.org/publicnotice/?p=12718
  7. https://www.safmh.org/world-suicide-prevention-day-2022/
  8. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/suicide-rate-by-country
  9. https://www.saps.gov.za/services/crimestats.php
  10. https://businesstech.co.za/news/lifestyle/713630/what-the-official-crime-stats-dont-tell-you-about-hijacking-in-south-africa-2/
  11. https://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/321791/four-hikers-mugged-on-table-mountain-suspects-arrested
  12. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12393973/Murdered-British-doctors-family-covered-blood-shot-head-taking-wrong-turn-South-Africa-witness-victim-reveals.html
  13. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/week-old-baby-girl-raped-in-south-africa-1.431499
  14. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jun/29/southafrica.aids
  15. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11530681_Infant_Rape_in_South_Africa
  16. http://dx.doi.org/10.2471/BLT.12.117036
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738312/
  18. https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/18/Suppl_1/A183.4
  19. https://dataunodc.un.org/dp-intentional-homicide-victims
  20. https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/gsh/Booklet_6new.pdf
  21. https://ewn.co.za/2018/05/16/41-of-rape-cases-reported-in-past-3-years-involve-children
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9660261/
  23. https://www.citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/crime/two-flying-squad-cops-nabbed-transporting-guns-explosives/
  24. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2021/05/south-africa-failure-tackle-domestic-violence-violation-womens-rights-un
  25. aom.is/strangers
  26. https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/pitch-black-afro-released-from-jail-after-serving-3-years-for-killing-partner-20230824
  27. https://academic.oup.com/bjc/article/51/6/960/346103
  28. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2023-05-02-the-confusion-about-kidnapping-in-south-africa-the-numbers-just-dont-add-up/
  29. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/woman-lover-arrested-raid-killers-29817205
  30. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/south-africas-unemployment-rate-rises-329-q1-2023-05-16/
  31. https://www.groundup.org.za/article/literacy-crisis-in-south-africa-says-new-report/

2 thoughts on “Why we left South Africa”

  1. Incredible article showing the true side of South Africa we never knew. Hope the situation will be charged but definitely not in the nearest future.

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