The high levels of violence in South Africa can be described variously
The high levels of violence in South Africa can be described variously, including its roots in the country’s history. Apartheid left South Africa with a deeply embedded “culture of violence”. The apartheid society was one in which violence was used by those in power as a legitimate means of achieving their goals. The act of violence to solve problems was thus socially sanctioned from the top. The decades of apartheid, with its attendant political violence and state sponsored oppression, alongside widespread gang and other forms of criminal violence within communities, contributed to a scenario where, for many people in the country, violence was and continues to be used as a strategy for conflict resolution. While the entire levels of violence in the country are high, violence tends to be concentrated in less economically developed urban areas such as the townships, which were created in terms of the apartheid-era Group Areas Act and informal settlements. The differences in levels of violence reflect historical and often ongoing differences in access to services, ranging from police services to basic social and infrastructure services, including access to safe school environments. Underlying the apartheid-era differences in access to services and other forms of discrimination was the view that certain categories of people (whites) were superior to others and deserved better treatment, while others (blacks) were less human – and thus could be treated less well. This creates a situation in which violence against others seemed less objectionable. The different values attached to people from different groups extended beyond race and colour. In particular, patriarchal values devalued women as well as children and established concepts of masculinity that encouraged violence. Meanwhile gender stereotypes shaped and constrained the options open to girls and the way they interacted with and were treated by others. South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution begins with a Bill of Rights that outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex and gender. However, many of the social inequalities created by apartheid remain and provide a fertile ground for violence. In addition to inequalities between groups, apartheid also left South Africa with fragmented family forms that can encourage violence. While children generally benefit from living with both parents, the nuclear family form is not the only form of family that can provide adequate care and protection from violence for a child. Indeed, violence against children often happens within nuclear families, accompanied by domestic violence against the women in the family.