WE WERE on the outskirts of Harare in one of those townships Zimbabweans elegantly call high-density suburbs.

We had been driving in the scorching heat for several hours looking for trouble when we decided to stop for cooldrinks at a local shop. It must have been my colleague’s long-lens digital camera that convinced a group of men gathered under a tree that we were foreign journalists.

They called us over and asked if we were from South Africa.

“So, what brings you to Zimbabwe?” asked one of the men.

We were there to cover a planned mass strike by the Movement for Democratic Change and other opposition groups, we responded.

Although the “mass strike” had proven to be a failure, with most citizens ignoring calls for a stay-away, we had decided to take a drive around high-density suburbs in the capital to see if there had been any violence.

The mention of violence seemed to amuse the men.

“Violence, where? Here? There is no violence in Zimbabwe. If you want to see real violence you should go back to South Africa,” said one of the men as while the rest broke into laughter.

Suddenly, they were sharing stories they had heard from relatives who went across the border about how dangerous the streets of Johannesburg were.

“In Alexandra, people actually get killed for a cellphone. What is a cellphone compared to human life?” asked another.

Although it was clear to us that most — if not all — of the men there were ruling Zanu-PF supporters, who would not admit to the violence that was instigated by the state against its opponents at the time, what they said struck a nerve.

By then I had been to a number of countries on the continent — some of them with a long history of political turmoil and civil wars. But none of them felt as unsafe as home.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, currency exchange vendors trade without any fear of being robbed.

But, sadly, just like many other murders and other acts of violent crime that have left the nation seething over the years, in a week or two many of us will have forgotten about Meyiwa’s killing.

Blocks of banknotes are carefully stacked up and lined up on tables in the open-air markets as a way of soliciting business from those who seek to exchange their dollars and euros for with to the local currency. Yet there aren’t many reports of money being stolen from these tables, let alone incidents of armed robbery.

On a visit to Nigeria at the turn of the century I was stunned by how shocked many were in Africa’s most populous country when a gang stormed into a bank and fled with what amounted to just over R400 000. Back home such robberies had by then become so commonplace that they were barely reported in newspapers.

Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, is infamous for its traffic gridlocks, which really make rush hour traffic out of Sandton Drive look tolerable. Yet, the kind of road rage that leads to people being shot at is unheard of in Lagos.

The killing of Orlando Pirates goalkeeper and Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa is once again shining the spotlight on our violent crime.

The news has shocked many within and outside the soccer fraternity around the globe.

Attempted robbery or not, if one so popular can be shot and killed in an area that was practically his neighbourhood, who is safe?

But, sadly, just like many other murders and other acts of violent crime that have left the nation seething over the years, in a week or two many of us will have forgotten about Meyiwa’s killing.

If our history is something to go by, the current public outpouring of anger will be followed by non-action.

Yet violent crime is a real crisis in this country, one that needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency.

When the current administration came into power, it identified the fight against crime as one of its “apex priorities”. Having done that, those who were supposed to lead the campaign then went to sleep.

The moderate success of the administration’s earlier years — which saw the rate of armed robberies decline, along with many other categories of crime — is now being reversed.

It is no wonder that within hours of Meyiwa’s death there were growing calls for former national police commissioner Bheki Cele — who left the job under a cloud — to be recalled to the post.

Clearly, the current national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, does not inspire much public confidence in the police. She is more of a business executive than a police commander.

But it is highly doubtful that a mere change of police commissioner would radically improve the country’s fortunes in its fight against crime.

Indeed, there is a need for a decisive leadership at all levels of our criminal justice system. But, above that, society as a whole needs to root out this culture of violence that continues to grip us 20 years after we attained our freedom.

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