Kempie van Rooyen

The focus of this TVD section in PsyTalk is on the invaluable work of Prof Juan Nel and Ms Yolanda Mitchell in the sensitising of hate crime perpetration in South Africa.  Prof Nel and Ms Mitchell are both TVD members, but their efforts predate the existence of TVD and their passion has carried the work independently of divisional support.  Both have been well-known voices in the fight against hate crime perpetration and their labour over the last 5 years culminated in the launch of the Hate and Bias Crimes Monitoring Form Project on the 8th of February 2018.  The project runs under the auspices of the Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG) and the launch at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre was attended by civil society, the media and academia.  Prof Nel (Project Leader) and Ms Mitchell (Lead Researcher) were part of a panel that presented the project and findings on behalf of the HCWG.

The HCWG is a multi-sectoral network of civil society organisations that work with sectors of the population who are most at-risk of becoming victims of hate and prejudice motivated attacks. The monitoring form was collaboratively developed and used in a five-year longitudinal research study, to gauge the types, nature and impact of hate crimes. The project set out to collect a sample of 900 cases in 5 provinces (Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Limpopo, Western Cape) and of the 1061 cases captured, 945 were retained for analysis.

The report is the most comprehensive and in-depth study of hate incidents in South Africa, to date, and provides evidence for the recurrence, nature and impact of hate crimes that is now at the disposal of legislators and policy makers. The report indicates that hate incidents have an “especially traumatic effect on victims, with additional consequences for communities & society” and that no population demographic escapes the effects of these incidents. The high visibility of these incidents contribute to fear and distrust spreading vicariously to other victims, who witness the ineffectiveness and contempt experienced by those who “dare” report these crimes to the police or seek help from medical services.

The types of crimes recorded in the sample was varied and included robbery/theft (285 cases, 30% of the sample), damage to property (255, 27%), assault: (135, 14%), being threatened with a weapon (112, 12%), serious assault (106, 11%), murder (36, 4%), attempted murder (38, 4%), rape (40, 4%), other sexual assault (19, 2%), police brutality (11, 1%), extortion/blackmail (12, 1%), arson: 8 (0.8%).

Other incidents included intimidation: (322, 34%), hate speech (223, 24%), harassment (209, 22%), intentional unfair discrimination (184, 19%), illegal eviction (160, 17%) and defamation: (102, 11%)

Hennie Nel (Chairperson of the Student Division) was in attendance at the launch and comments as follows:  “The effect of ‘othering’ was witnessed in context and what stood out to me in this research, is that hate motivated crimes and discrimination had severe impact on the individuals and their community. Emotional, mental, physical, economic factors were described as cumulative, lasting and debilitating, which also translated into their family and community contexts.”

Although data on perpetrators were limited due to the current intake procedures at participating organisations, 34% of the time perpetrators were known to the victim and 32% of the time they were not known. Perpetrators included the police, public and government officials, medical professionals and school staff. Incidents also seemed to cluster around certain dates where divisive issues or comments where prominent in the media – something that implies that the influence of prevailing hate speech and rhetoric on the perpetration of hate crimes is unmistakable.

What can we do as society? Research into these cases are expensive and drawn out.  Currently legislation does not assist to organise resources and civil society cannot bear the burden to effectively address these issues without such legislative support. “Social problems require social solutions” were one of the take home messages of the presentation and should an intended draft bill enter the legislative process, all South Africans will have the chance to comment on the bill and shape it to the needs of the country. A first step to being part of the solution, is to sign the petition to get the bill to cabinet.

Sign the petition here now.

The full report and infographics are available at https://hcwg.org.za/resources/

While this news is being reported under the TVD section, the endeavour is seen as a PsySSA activity and the valuable contribution of Prof Nel and Ms Mitchell as well as twelve student volunteers from the Student Division (PsySSA SD) is acknowledged. The Student Division played an active role in the final stage of data collection and were able to observe, assist in data capturing and take care of the procedural duties while the researchers conducted interviews. Some members of SD took part in the interview process with case managers of participating institutions.

Other ongoing and concluded activities of TVD include consultation (in collaboration with Medicins Sans Frontieres) with Section 27 related to the Life Esidimeni hearings.  Section 27 is a public interest law centre that pursues substantive equality and social justice in South Africa.  Members of the TVD executive also provided technical and conceptual consultation to the Networking HIV&AIDS Community of South Africa (NACOSA) regarding national funding applications from large multinational funders (USAID and the Global Fund) and developing standard operating procedures for a number of gender based violence programmes (some applications still pending).  NACOSA is a primary recipient of inter-country grants to combat HIV, TB and Malaria in Southern Africa and provides funding for a substantial portion of the gender based violence work in South Africa.

The collaborative efforts above bring the science of trauma and violence psychology directly to the people, policy makers and contexts that need it most in our country.  If you would like to become actively involved in these activities, please contact Kempie van Rooyen (kempie.vanrooyen@mandela.ac.za) or Larise du Plessis (lmduplessis@uj.ac.za).

Note: Special thanks to Hennie Nel from SD for contributing the text on the HCWG Monitoring Project.

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