WHEN it comes to doing pan-African shock murders – the type that stun and outrage Africa and the world - South African criminals are the continent’s champions.
Late Sunday they struck again, killing the captain of the national football team Senzo Meyiwa. The 27-year-old was killed at the home of his pop-star girlfriend Kelly Khumalo after an altercation, in a slaying that stunned the crime-weary nation and football fans in Africa.
Police Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale said Meyiwa was gunned down at a house in Vosloorus, a township about 30 kilometres south of the Johannesburg at around 1800 GMT.
Makgale said that the motive behind the attack remained unclear.
“There was an altercation and Senzo Meyiwa was shot. The three suspects fled on foot after the shooting,” he said.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Monday led a shocked nation in voicing outrage at the killing of Meyiwa after the talismanic goalkeeper was shot dead outside Johannesburg.
“Words cannot express the nation’s shock at this loss,” said Zuma, amid a national outpouring of grief.
Fighting back a flood of tears, national football coach Shakes Mashaba described Meyiwa as a “very kind person” who was the first name on his teamsheet.
Police have offered a reward of $14,000 for any information leading to his killer’s arrest.
A nation still reeling
South Africa is still reeling from the jailing of fallen paralympic hero Oscar Pistorius, who killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, in the African murder case that was most covered by international media.
Meyiwa played for his club in Soweto on Saturday, and had been in outstanding form for the national team during recent 2015 Africa Cup qualifiers.
He displaced national squad goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs as first-choice at Pirates, the only South African side to be crowned African champions.
And a recent injury to South Africa captain and goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune gave Meyiwa a chance in the national team, popularly known as Bafana Bafana (The Boys).
New national coach Mashaba not only promoted Durban-born Meyiwa to replace Khune but also made him captain of a team that has been in the doldrums for some years.
Meyiwa responded to his promotion by leading the team to victories over Sudan and Congo Brazzaville and draws with Congo and Nigeria, a country South Africa traditionally struggle against.
The Lucky Dube killing
The response to Meyiwa’s killing is, however, surpassed by the October 2007 slaying of South African reggae superstar. South Africa, Africa, and indeed the world gasped in horror when Dube, who was dropping his teenage son and daughter off in a Johannesburg suburb was attacked and killed by what at that point seemed like car thieves.
South Africa’s leader paid tribute to him and called on people to “confront this terrible scourge of crime”.
Alongside Bob Marley, Lucky Dube was thought of as one of the great reggae artists - singing about social problems.
The BBC reported then that “the killing of the 43-year-old singer has shocked South Africans who are already accustomed to one of the highest murder rates in the world”.
Fourteen years earlier as the sun had just set on apartheid, the continent was again shocked when Chris Hani, who was the leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), and a fierce opponent of the racist regime, was assassinated on April 10, 1993.
To this day, stories of who killed Hani and why are regular fare wherever the African political left is gathered, in much the same way conspiracy theories are still swirling about Dube’s death.
Despite the calls for action that these and other crimes in South Africa have provoke, improvements have been moderate or temporary.
For example, according to one media report on the latest official crime statistics for 2013/14, for the first time in 20 years the number of murders and the murder rate have increased for a second consecutive year, and South Africa’s look bleak. It noted that:
•Incidents of murder increased from 16,259 murders in 2012/13 to 17,068 in 2013/14.
•South Africa’s murder rate is about five times higher than the 2013 global average of 6 murders per 100,000.
The legacy of apartheid-era violence, inequality, the related breakdown of the social fabric, and police corruption are often cited as the main reasons for the runaway violent crime in South Africa, including the highest rape rate in the world for a country not at war.
That said, most post-conflict societies tend to face the same crime problems, driven by the easy availability of weapons and the proliferation of criminal gangs.
However, some analysts have argued that apartheid created a political problem unique to South Africa – a deep-rooted reluctance, and even fear, by the ANC not to bring the hammer down very hard on violent criminals because it would attract comparisons with the violence of the apartheid regime.
In countries like Uganda, on the other hand, President Yoweri Museveni came to power after a five-year guerrilla war in 1986 and confronted the same crisis. Freed from the burdens of history, within weeks the military launched massive and heavy-handed cordon and search operations in which suburbs of the capital Kampala were shut down and every nook and cranny in homes and buildings searched.
Shoot-outs with suspected criminals were common, and it was not unusual for several of them to be killed in a day. In later years, periodic “cleaning out” exercises against suspected criminals were carried out.
In the early years the results were dramatic: After decades of fear, it became a normal sight to see a group of female students walking back to their campus after a night of clubbing at 4am several kilometres away without fear of being attacked.
A similar heavy-hand was seen in Rwanda, whose capital Kigali today has one of the lowest crime rates on the continent.
If history has tied the ANC’s crime-fighting hands behind its back, it might not be long before another Dube or Meyiwa is in the news.
-Additional reporting AFP and linked sources.