Wed, Feb 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Murder of renowned South African historian places spotlight on violence


A judge has sentenced a member of the gang that killed a prominent historian to 25 years in prison amid an escalating dispute about government attempts to tame high violent crime rates.

The Jan. 27 murder of David Rattray, an expert on the 19th century Anglo-Zulu wars who drew tourists from around the world to hear his colorful recountings, made headlines some feared would scare away the foreign visitors who are vital to plans to boost economic growth.

Some 50 people are murdered every day in South Africa, a country of about 46 million.

South Africa has gained notoriety as the crime capital of the world, although rates are falling.

There were 18,545 murders in 2005, down from 21,405 in 2001; and 20,553 attempted murders in 2005, down from 31,293 in 2001, according to police statistics.

President Thabo Mbeki in a television interview last month said there was no evidence that people thought crime was spinning out of control.

The opposition Democratic Alliance on Monday urged all South Africans to write to Mbeki before his State of the Nation address on Friday "to convince him that it is time to act on crime."

It also said it would introduce parliamentary questions on whether governing officials threatened to close government accounts with First National Bank to pressure it into withdrawing a planned anti-crime advertising blitz.

The bank shelved plans at the eleventh hour on Friday to distribute 1.5 million pamphlets and prepaid envelopes addressed to Mbeki asking him to do more on crime.

According to letters leaked to the Business Day newspaper, top executives from other corporations put pressure on the bank to scrap the campaign fearing it was too confrontational.

Corporate bosses have joined forces with the government in the Business Against Crime partnership, but this has done little to calm investors' jitters that crime is seriously impacting on business.

A senior official with Business Against Crime, Alan MacKenzie, was seriously wounded last week during an apparent attempted robbery at his sister's home on the eve of addressing a parliamentary committee.

On Monday, the chairman of accountancy firm Grant Thornton South Africa identified crime as the main reason that South Africa had fallen from third to seventh place in the company's survey of business optimism in 32 countries.

Leonard Brehm wrote that 84 percent of respondents reported that "they, their staff or families of staff have been affected by house break-in, hijacking, violent crime, road rage or similar crimes in the past year."

"This means that nearly every business of the 200 surveyed has experienced decreased productivity, creativity and motivation as a result of violent crime."

Rattray was well known on the international conference circuit for his vivid lectures from a Zulu perspective on the 1879 Anglo-Zulu war.

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