I sincerely hope that events in Iraq have inched Americans toward a less Disneyfied view of democracy. It is a mistake to doggedly conflate democracy with freedom, and "the freedom to vote" with liberty. Majority rule, especially as it applies in Middle Eastern and African countries, doesn't always empower the right people.
Which brings me to another, less-than Magic Kingdom: my old homeland, South Africa, RIP.
The irony of President Bush's December 8 meeting with Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, went unnoticed. Democratic South Africa is yet another spot where the rule of the demos has turned a once-prosperous, if politically problematic, place into a lawless ramshackle.
South Africa is now the most violent country outside a war zone. The country, writes Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor, has "the highest recorded per capita murder rate in the world—with 59 homicides per 100,000 people …The US, by comparison, had 6." So violent is the "free" South Africa that, for a period, the freewheeling African National Congress government imposed an official blackout on national crime statistics. It now releases them once yearly.
In 2003, South Africa had 21,553 murders (population 44.6 million). In comparison, the "high crime" United States (population 288.2 million) suffered 16,110 murders in the same year. According to Baldauf,the number of homicides in South Africa dipped to 19,824 in 2004. The US, with 293 million at the time, had 16,150.
The last statistics available, courtesy of the CBS, "showed that between April 2004 and March 2005, 18,793 people were murdered in South Africa, an average of 51 a day in a nation of 47 million." There were 24,516 attempted murders, 249,369 assaults with grievous injury, and 55,114 reported rapes. (And by rape we don't mean what American women consider rape: waking up the next morning after a romp between the sheets with a hangover and some regrets.)
As ghastly as the official figures are, they're most probably doctored. Rob McCafferty, author of "Murder in South Africa: a Comparison of Past and Present," notes that "Interpol have South African murder statistics that are roughly double the official South African state statistics, while the South African Medical Research Council claims there are approximately a third more murders in South Africa than the official police statistics reveal." A discrepancy of over 10,000 murders is, shall we say, more than a margin of error.
Yet Westerners, conservatives included, praise the new dispensation in my old home. According to a columnist for The American Conservative, South Africa represents "the greatest triumph of chatter over machine-gun clatter." "It's not perfect," the writer effused, "and crime is at an all-time high in South-African cities, but at least the massacres are a thing of the past and life goes on much better than before."
False. Few know that during the decades of the repressive apartheid regime, only a few hundred Africans perished as a direct result of police brutality. A horrible injustice, indubitably, but nothing approximating the carnage under "free" South Africa, where thousands of Africans perish every few months. (Let us not beat about the bush; crime in South Africa is black on black and black on white.)
Take the travails of my extended family. Ordinarily, a one-case study does not a rule make. But not in this instance—you'd be hard pressed to find a family in democratic South Africa whose members have not been brutalized by barbarians. Mine includes a sister-in-law suffering permanent neurological damage after being assaulted by five Africans; a brother burglarized and beaten in his suburban fortress at 2:00am by an African gang (wife and infant son were miraculously spared). My father's neighbor was shot point-blank in front of his little girls, as he exited his car to open the garage gates. My husband's cousin and uncle were hijacked; aunt beaten within an inch of her life and raped. Two of his colleagues (that we know of) were murdered; one shot by African taxi drivers in broad daylight, as he left his girlfriend's apartment.
Despite the oppressive, undesirable, political aspects of apartheid, law and order was maintained and common criminals were pursued and prosecuted, to the benefit of all. To appropriate the gallant words of Gen. Sir Charles Napier: Before 1994, when African men raped infants because the "practice" is considered a traditional salve for AIDS, South African policemen followed their custom: they tied a rope around the rapist's neck and hung him.
Since the near-total collapse of law and order, the conviction rate hovers at 2.96 percent!
Much the way Americans dismantled Iraq's law and order apparatus, the democratically elected ANC retired most of the old South African Police and set about reconstructing a politically correct—and representative—force. The demotic orgy of crime reflects the capabilities of the renamed South African Police Service—it is mostly an illiterate, ill-trained force, riven by feuds, fetishes, and factional loyalties. In Africa, moreover, as in the Middle East, the extractive view of politics dominates—people seek personal advantage from positions of power. Corruption is thus the rule, not the exception.
Readers will often admonish me for dismissing those ink-stained Iraqi fingers. I tell them I've lived under a relatively peaceful dictatorship and was fortunate to escape a violent mobocracy. I tell them that voting is synonymous with freedom only if strict limits are placed on the powers of elected officials and only if individual rights to live unmolested are respected.
In South Africa, as in Iraq, these conditions do not apply.