FIGURES on the rate of homicide among young black men in SA were presented at a joint Sonke Gender Justice and Harald Wolpe Memorial Trust seminar on masculinity and violence by Unisa professor Kopano Ratele recently, Jean Redpath reports in Business Day.
Ratele’s figures (derived from the 2006 National Injury Mortality Surveillance System data) indicate that young black men in SA die as a result of homicide at the annual rate of about 500 per 100000. Ratele notes these figures are similar to the homicide rates one would expect to see during times of war.
In a World Health Organisation bulletin in 2007, Rosana Norman and others used the 2000 national mortality data in conjunction with population data from the Actuarial Society of SA to estimate the homicide rate for the country as a whole.
The age-standardised homicide rate per 100000 was estimated at 113 for men and 21 for women separately, and 65 per 100000 overall.
If police were to be killed at the rate that young black men are killed, the 190000-strong South African Police Service would be expected to experience 950 homicides a year.
This year to date, there have been 50 killings of police — a rate of 46 per 100000 if adjusted pro rata.
The emphasis on police homicides by the government and the relative silence around the continuing extremely high rate of homicide among young black men is puzzling given these figures.
But perhaps the disconnect relates to the lack of obvious solutions for the larger problem.
Compulsory bulletproof jackets may indeed improve survival rates for police caught up in shooting while patrolling. But what can be done to protect young black men?
At the same seminar, Gary Barker of the Instituto Promundo of Brazil presented qualitative evidence that in Brazil’s favelas the most important protective factor was the existence of another person in a young man’s life whom he did not want to let down — such as a grandparent.
My own research on victimisation on behalf of the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention in Galeshewe township (population of about 100000) accords with this finding, as it indicates that the most important protective factors relate to the “connectedness” of men.
Married men and men with children were much less likely to be victims of violent crime in Galeshewe.
Men aged 27-31 were most at risk. This Galeshewe profile of likely victim (male, single, childless, 30-ish), close to that of the likely perpetrator, in turn points to a lack of social distance between victims and perpetrators, and the role of exposure to risk in victimisation.
There is little the government can do directly to ensure the connectedness of young men.
But the Galeshewe data also threw up a limited number of risk and protective factors over which the government does have control.
Easy access to alcohol and marijuana increased the risk of victimisation in Galeshewe. Regulation of alcohol and drugs falls squarely under government control.
Further risk factors included a high prevalence of graffiti and more than half an hour’s travel time to the nearest police station. Again, removal of graffiti and access to police is under the control of the government.
Protective factors identified in the data were the perceived adequacy of refuse collection and adequacy of schooling in the neighbourhood.
What this means is that simply ensuring the rubbish is collected and schools are operating adequately may save some young black men’s lives.
Granted, adequate schooling is not easy to achieve comprehensively, but surely SA can ensure adequate refuse collection?
There may not be a bulletproof jacket for young black men, but these are concrete actions well within the mandate of the government, which the evidence suggests will help to reduce homicide rates among young black men.
The core problem, however, is that no one really cares about disconnected young black men. Until they are cared about and become connected, they will continue to be caught up in violence and die at wartime rates — and the rest of society will continue to experience the deleterious knock-on effects.