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South Africans: 'Leave' is no answer to violence

Government minister criticized as dismissing real concerns

By Alphonso Van Marsh

Samantha Goldin says the South African government should confront violent crime.


South Africa
Charles Nqakula
Crime, Law and Justice

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Charles Nqakula, South Africa's minister for safety and security, has a message for people complaining about his country's rampant crime rate: You can pack your bags and go.

"The whingers [complainers] can do one of two things. They can continue to whinge until they are blue in the face -- they can be as negative as they want to -- or they can simply leave this country," Nqakula announced during a budget speech to South Africa's parliament in June.

The minister is riding out a political firestorm over the comments. He has been roundly criticized -- predictably from South Africa's largely white opposition parties, but also from the primarily ethnic Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, whose membership includes many who share Nqakula's anti-apartheid struggle credentials.

"It's almost as if he's saying that he could not care less," an IFP spokesman told South Africa's Sunday Tribune newspaper.

Talking to CNN, Nqakula says his comments -- televised from Cape Town's Parliament Chambers -- weren't meant for the public.

"I must admit I was a bit surprised when what I had said and done had been brought into the public domain in a way which was not intended by me in the first place," Nqakula told CNN.

Nqakula says his leave-the-country offer was aimed at three opposition politicians who have been vocal about South Africa's growing reputation as the crime capital of the world. By the minister's own office figures, more than 18,000 South Africans are murdered each year -- but police say that number is dropping.

'Why should we put up with murders?'

Nqakula has an unlikely ally in Samantha Goldin, sister of a young, well-known South African actor who was killed in April. Goldin, a South African health care management company worker, said the minister's comments are callous, disgusting and insensitive, but she also said to let the exodus begin.

"Quite frankly, I think a lot of people should get up and leave. Why should we have to put up with [thousands] of murders per year?" Goldin said. "If our government doesn't protect us, I think those who are able to should leave."

But it would be hard for Goldin to leave her parents behind in their upscale villa in the midst of a high-walled, gated community in Johannesburg. South African authorities say her brother, Brett Goldin, and a friend were hijacked, assaulted, shot in the head and later found naked in a Cape Town field.

Samantha's mother, Denise, is still devastated by the loss. Meanwhile, the case against those accused of the murders is ongoing.

Brett Goldin, 28, was an up-and-coming actor on the international stage. He'd done commercials for Pepsi and local music chain CNA, and starred in the South African hit movie "Straight Outta Benoni." But his big break came three years ago in comedy inserts called "Crazy Monkey" broadcast on MTV.

Crazy Monkey's "foot skating" antics -- going through the motions of skateboarding, but without the board -- grew a cult following. In April, Brett was set to go to Britain to perform for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was killed four days before his flight.

"We've turned away from apartheid, and it is almost the reverse," Samantha Goldin said. "The violence remains, and the attitude of government, it seems, is to turn a blind eye."

According to South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, that's not entirely the case. ISS analyst Antoinette Louw said the murder rate in South Africa has gone down 40 percent in the past seven years. The number of carjackings, Louw said, is down 20 percent since 2000.

Yet she said those facts are lost on the public when the government appears to dismiss worries about crime.

"We need to know that government acknowledges the problem and is doing something about the problem. The minister's comments made many South Africans feel that that's not the case," Louw said.

Violence hits government, too

In fact, South African authorities have suffered as well.

Last week, South Africa's Police Service buried four officers killed in an hours-long shootout with men suspected of robbing a grocery store. Eight suspects were killed in the fighting, one of the deadliest clashes in South Africa since the end of apartheid rule. Police say some of the suspects were armed with AK-47s.

Just a week earlier, South Africa's Foreign Affairs Ministry said goodbye to Kingsley Sithole, a consular officer posted to Zimbabwe. The 47-year old father of five was on leave in South Africa to visit his son, who had been injured in a bus accident. While showing a friend the home he planned to move back to after his Zimbabwe posting, unknown attackers shot the diplomat dead.

Sithole's drive-by shooting remains unsolved. There are unanswered questions: why the man accompanying the diplomat was not targeted; how the attackers knew where Sithole would be. Sithole's family members, speaking to CNN, say the death was an assassination, and they fear it will not be solved.

"If some of you know something, don't tell it to me -- tell it to the cops," Don Mattera, a former gangster-turned anti-apartheid activist and celebrated poet, told Sithole's widow and other mourners at his funeral.

"We have murderers in our midst," Mattera said from the funeral pulpit. "Our country is bedeviled by people who do not understand the virtue of humanity. This kind of filth must be eradicated from our country."

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