Guns KO South Africa's sporting image

ROBERT BLOCK

Johannesburg

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
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Ashdown Group: Senior Web Developer - C# / ASP.NET - London - £55K

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Web Deve...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower