THIS week, video footage of a South African news crew getting mugged while reporting live went viral.
The video shows two men accosting one of South Africa’s best known journalists, Vuyo Mvoko, from the national broadcaster South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), who was outside a Johannesburg hospital to report on the arrival of Zambia’s president for medical tests.
The robbers appear unperturbed by the presence of a camera, and later Mvoko said that one of the muggers threatened him with a gun when he did not want to give up his mobile phone. The crew was robbed of their phones and laptops but were unharmed.
The video has been shared widely on social media and discussed on news networks.
The irony of a news crew getting robbed while their cameras were rolling – and so becoming the news they had set out to cover – is not lost on viewers.
The police have now put up a R100,000 ($8,100) reward for information leading to the arrest of the muggers, which seems curious given that the video footage shows the men’s faces clearly. But having video evidence is not a guarantee that they will be caught.
One YouTube comment put it depressingly: “There are so many criminals in this country that it is near impossible to identify and find any of them. It is like having video footage of an ant that carries away a crumb and trying to find that same ant again. In all probability they will never be seen again.”
For its part, the South African National Editors’ Forum said in a statement Wednesday that “every South African” lives with the reality of crime, “but to see thugs brazenly ignoring television cameras and robbing media workers in the course of their work, yet again brings home the level of criminality in our society.”
The robbers are clearly identifiable on camera, so what is intriguing is that listening the commentators on the incident, the muggers’ actions are described as more “stupid” than brazen.
SABC crew got mugged live on camera, that was the most stupid act of criminality I’ve ever seen. I mean what were those robbers thinking?
— Karabo :-) (@Kay_Jay_Molops) March 11, 2015
just saw a SABC reporter being mugged infront of a camera during a live crossing. hahahhaa. stupid tsotsis. why didnt they steal the camera
— Sinya Ebackien (@ebackien) March 11, 2015
SABC reporter gets mugged just as he was about to go on TV. The camera kept on rolling. The fools are all on tape http://t.co/VgV5j1mXuN
— Azad Essa (@azadessa) March 10, 2015
One South African (half-jokingly) told this writer that some robbers are so single-minded that if you had R50,000 ($4,060) and a fancy mobile phone (worth a tenth of that), they would rob you of the phone but leave the money, because stealing a phone was the mission as they set out to do, and so will not be distracted by anything.
He was saying it tongue-in-cheek, but even comments on social media have tended to suggest that the problem of the video is the foolishness in execution.
It speaks to just how normalised crime is in the country. In October, even a police station was robbed – thieves made of with R100,000 ($8,100) from Chatsworth Police Station in Durban.
It means that the private security industry in South Africa is booming like few other places.
In 2013, it was reported that there were 400,000 security guards in South Africa – more than the numbers of police and army combined.Some of the people setting up private security companies are ex-police or ex-military, and the guards are often well armed and trained in how to use automatic rifles and handguns.
But paradoxically, such a heavy-handed response to crime could actually make robbers more violent, not less.
Having armed guards on patrol, alarm systems, high walls and razor fencing deters opportunistic crime, the kind that some idle teenager might commit just out of boredom.
But it makes the criminals who do dare to follow through their plans to expect, and be prepared, to meet armed resistance, thus making confrontations inevitably more brazen, violent and brutal.
It has happened before, that well-meaning anti-crime measures took a life if their own. In the 1990s, in Cape Town, residents of the Cape Flats formed the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD), which was a neighbourhood watch group created to put pressure on the government to do something about the drug trade and crime in their area. But the group soon began taking matters into their own hands, when they perceived that the police were not acting fast enough.
Initially the community and police were hesitant to act against PAGAD activities, recognising the need for community action against crime in the gang-ridden communities of the Cape Flats. But the vigilantes soon ran out of control, setting fire to suspected drug dealers and lynching gangsters, and was eventually proscribed as a terrorist group.
In Nigeria, the now notorious Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has its origins as a number of local vigilante groups, who set out to pressurise the government to give Niger Delta communities a greater share of the country’s oil wealth. Initially, the government supported some militias, and played off groups against each other.
But it backfired badly, with MEND growing far beyond its sponsor’s control; the group is thought to be behind the recent spikes of piracy off the Nigerian coast.
It makes the rise, and immense popularity of Nairobi Senator Mike “Sonko” Mbuvi worrying. “Sonko” - Kenyan slang for rich guy - is the quintessential populist politician, endlessly giving handouts to his supporters.
Last week, he launched the ‘Sonko Rescue Team’, a personally-funded fleet of ambulances, hearses, vehicle breakdown, water bowsers, and fire brigades, to respond to citizens emergencies, and as a way to provide employment to urban youth and keep them out of crime.
It even has a fleet of S-Class Mercedes Benz, Land Cruisers, limousines and a Hummer to provide transport for bridal parties during weddings.
A paid for documentary on the rescue team last weekend drew mixed reactions from Kenyans.
Sonko is not just generous, he is intelligent. He is able to get into pples’ hearts in a way no politician has done before. #SonkoRescueTeam
— Mainado (@mainado) March 4, 2015
— Sedaula Mwangi (@MwangiSimon) March 4, 2015
— Kublai Khan (@talakinu) March 4, 2015
Good intentions sometimes have unintended consequences.