Guns KO South Africa's sporting image



It wasn't exactly the thrill boxing fans were hoping for when South Africa's middleweight champion, Simon Maseko, and his English opponent, Warren Stowe, both hit the canvas at the same time in round seven at a Cape Town arena on Sunday. The men were floored by a hail of bullets, not punches.

Television viewers around the world watched in amazement as boxers and spectators alike dived for cover when gunmen blasted the ticket table during a robbery attempt at the Guguletu sports centre. A cashier was killed instantly just 30 feet from the ring. A ricochet bullet grazed the leg of a boxing trainer. Four robbers then fled the scene empty-handed amid the pandemonium.

The attack brought an abrupt end to the fight, shock to international television audiences and cries of outrage from South Africans tired of the violent crime which has given their country the reputation as the most dangerous place in the world outside a war zone.

According to government figures, a serious crime is committed in South Africa every 17 seconds, more than 50 people are murdered every day and there is a robbery every six minutes. Whereas political violence once dominated the country's headlines, now newspapers carry dozens of stories every day about murder, violent car hijackings, armed robberies, child abuse and wife-beatings. Many people, both black and white, live behind locked doors as virtual prisoners to their fear of crime.

Within the high walls and razor wire that surround houses in Johannesburg's plush white suburbs, crime is the standard topic of dinner party conversations, while in many black townships and squatter camps, residents shun gangs that terrorise their neighbourhoods.

The perceived failure of President Nelson Mandela's government to combat crime was a key platform of parties both to the left and right on the political spectrum during local elections this month. While fighting crime also tops the agenda of Mr Mandela's African National Congress, the President says lawlessness is the legacy of apartheid and cannot be resolved overnight.

But delays pose danger. Last week, South Africa's Police Commissioner, George Fivaz, warned that violent crime was threatening the country's 18-month-old democracy. "It is not an understatement to say that crime has reached such proportions that it is becoming a grave threat to democracy," Mr Fivaz said.

"If not dealt with more efficiently, our people will become disillusioned with the fundamental rights which underpin South Africa's miracle democracy ... resulting in mob justice, hysteria and unleashing an even greater cycle of violence," he added.

Signs of what some commentators have called "jungle justice" have started to emerge. Twice last week the Sowetan, South Africa's biggest selling newspaper, published on its front page photographs of would-be car hijackers lying in their own blood after being shot dead by an intended victim. The photos caused howls of outrage among more liberal people, but mostly they have been greeted with applause. "Bravo" and "it's about time" were the most common responses during a radio talk show about the gruesome pictures.

South Africa has a car culture as great as that in the United States and "carjacking" has become the post-apartheid successor to the "necklace" - the burning tyre once placed around the necks of township informers - in the minds of most South Africans. The violence associated with car theft was headlined again last week when Lee Bennett, a British doctor who emigrated in 1978, was shot dead through his car window in front of his 10-year-old daughter. The thieves could not open the locked doors and fled.

The extent to which South Africa has been dogged by its reputation was brought home last month when Disneyworld in Florida rejected the country's application to open a pavilion in its Epcot Center because, in the words of Disney officials, South Africa was "too violent" and most Americans would not want to travel there.

Violence may cost South Africa more than an exhibition booth. In the wake of Sunday's incident, sporting officials warned yesterday that unless the country was able to bring crime under control, Cape Town would have no chance in its bid to stage the 2004 Olympic Games.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her in Latakia
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report