Where the grass is greener

My attention was captured recently by a post on a friend’s Facebook wall. This friend, who emigrated from South Africa to New Zealand, and then to Australia some years later, posted an image of three men standing in a South African courtroom with a smug look on their faces. The caption read:

RUTHLESS KILLERS: See the faces of the barbarian scum who will kill you and your family without mercy. They have ruthlessly killed a man and his wife, and drowned their 12-year-old son in a bath filled with boiling water—and they stand and laugh in court. Why? They are proud of themselves. They are not losing any sleep about it.

 

And still South Africans sleep. Still we convince ourselves that we will be able to handle ourselves when criminals strike. Still we convince ourselves that this stuff only happens to the people we read about in newspapers. Are you really prepared or is it all just talk?

 

Wake up South Africans—because the criminals are not sleeping!

 

“Concerned South African Resident”

 

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Adding his own thoughts to the image posted, my friend wrote, “This is why I will never set foot in South Africa again.” The comment reveals the widespread opinion among the South African population—particularly the white South African population. It is generally agreed that South Africa is far too dangerous a country in which to raise children, and South Africans of all races and classes are leaving the country in droves.

Now, let’s be frank: The factual validity of the argument cannot be debated. Official police statistics have 15,940 reported cases of murder in 2010/11. Reported cases of attempted murder contribute another 15,493 to the same period. For the same period, there were a further 66,196 reported cases of sexual assault; 198,602 reported cases of assault with the intent to afflict grievous bodily harm; 10,627 reported car hijackings; 999 reported truck hijackings; and 3,604 reported cases of kidnapping. And those are only officially reported cases!

Wikipedia’s entry for crime in South Africa reveals that

a survey for the period 1998–2000 compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranked South Africa second for assault and murder (by all means) per capita and first for rapes per capita in a data set of 60 countries. Total crime per capita was 10th out of the 60 countries in the dataset.

Indeed, it is difficult to find someone in South Africa who has not in some way been affected by criminal activity. Prisons are overflowing and reports are heard in the news fairly frequently of offenders—even murderers and rapists—being pardoned and released, many of whom become repeat offenders. The security and insurance industries in South Africa are booming.

But it actually gets worse than the official statistics reveal. Widespread opinion among the general population is that official statistics are a serious underestimation of the true state of affairs, and policing of existing laws remains woeful.

Legally speaking, prostitution in South Africa remains illegal. The government, however, has largely turned a blind eye to the booming sex trade in the country, and the ANC Women’s League has made it known that it would like to see the trade decriminalised.

HIV-AIDS stands at epidemic proportions in South Africa, no doubt exacerbated by the wide berth given in the country to freedom of sexual expression.

Decriminalised activity, such as legalised abortion, adds fuel to the fire. A 2007 article published on the IOL news website revealed that half of pregnancies in South Africa end in abortion, while a more recent report adds that an abortion is performed every ten minutes in the Eastern Cape. Simply put, South Africa has a lot of blood on its hands.

The country’s constitution is considered one of the most liberal in the world, and the debate over same-sex marriage that are currently raging in various first-world countries was long ago settled in South Africa—in favour of homosexuality.

To add further evidence to the docket, consider the current state of public education in South Africa. Reports of drugs, alcohol, violence and teenage pregnancy in our schools come as no surprise to us anymore. Popular opinion of the country’s education might be summed up in the words of one opinion piece: “South Africa: Public Education Doesn’t Need Fixing—It Needs to Be Euthanised.” Nobel peace prize winner Nadine Gordimer spoke of South Africa’s public education system as “a wreck.”

When the full criminal and moral climate of the country is considered, is it any wonder that South Africans have such a bleak outlook on the land of their birth? Does it come at all as a surprise that greener pastures are sought abroad? Is this where resolution is to be found? For those who are wary of raising families in the current cultural climate, is the solution emigration? Are we to concur with my friend that we will never again set foot in South Africa? Is all hope lost for the country? I would propose that at least two questions need to be asked.

The first question to ask, I think, is whether things are really always better over the horizon. Motivated by an alarming rise in crime, it is easy to understand why many choose to leave the country for safer havens. There are far more comfortable places in this world to live than in South Africa; places in which crime is less frequent and less violent and infrastructure is far more advanced.

As Christians, however, I think we should realise that poverty and crime are not the only factors that should drive such a decision. To be sure, it is not always wrong to immigrate to places of greater stability. When famine struck Canaan, Jacob moved his family—with God’s explicit approval—to Egypt, where food was plentiful (Genesis 45:25–46:4). Life in Egypt certainly seemed easier, given the present circumstances; and yet let us note that Egypt became forever imprinted on the mind of the Israelite nation as the place of greatest hardship.

In our quest for peace and comfort, we must realise that Christians ultimately are not called to a life of ease. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). I am not suggesting that we should deliberately put ourselves and our family in harm’s way, but we should at least admit that a life of ease is not what the believer is called to.

But we must ask a second question: Whose fault is it anyway? South Africans who complain about the widespread violent crime and other social ills in the country are quick to lay the blame at the feet of the government. Poverty-stricken South Africans expect the government to create jobs and provide homes for them. Those affected by crime are grieved that the government is so passive in its punishment of criminals.

Now, to be sure, the government must bear blame where it has failed. The presiding government, which prides itself on “rehabilitating” rather than punishing criminals, will one day have to answer to God for its passiveness regarding criminal activity. Corruption in the government will not go unanswered.

But while the government must bear some responsibility for failing to protect the safety and security of its citizens by swiftly punishing evildoers (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:11), it is not government’s fault that its citizens sin. Each person must rightly answer to God for his own evildoing.

And yet, on another level, the church itself must accept some responsibility for the state of affairs. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Perhaps one reason that crime runs rampant in a country is because the Christians of that country do not take God seriously. Perhaps it is time for South African Christians to humble themselves, pray, and seek God’s face. I am not saying that it is the church’s fault that criminals perpetrate their crime, but perhaps if the church took God at his word we would see God fulfil his promises.

So here perhaps is the challenge to South African Christians: For better or worse, God has placed you in South Africa. The criminal element of the country is not operating outside the sphere of his sovereignty. The government that presently rules has been instituted by God (Romans 13:1).

Rather than unthinkingly fleeing the country, and rather than pointing our accusing finger at the government, let us be people of prayer. Let our churches be churches of prayer. And may God be pleased—as we humble ourselves, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways—to hear from heaven, forgive our sin and heal our land.

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