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The death of Nelson Mandela on 5 December 2013 was in a sense a wake-up call for South Africans, and a time to reflect on what has been achieved since ‘those magnificent days in late April 1994’ (as the editors of this volume put it) ‘when South Africans of all colours voted for the first time in a democratic election’. In a time of recall and reflection it is important to take account, not only of the dramatic events that grip the headlines, but also of other signposts that indicate the shape and characteristics of a society. The New South African Review looks, every year, at some of these signposts, and the essays in this fourth volume of the series again examine and analyse a broad spectrum of issues affecting the country. They tackle topics as diverse as the state of organised labour; food retailing; electricity generation; access to information; civil courage; the school system; and – looking outside the country to its place in the world – South Africa’s relationships with north-east Asia, with Israel and with its neighbours in the southern African region. Taken together, these essays give a multidimensional perspective on South Africa’s democracy as it turns twenty, and will be of interest to general readers while being particularly useful to students and researchers.
A Fragile Democracy – Twenty Years On, the fourth New South African Review, is one of doubtless numerous attempts to characterise the state of South Africa some two decades after those magnificent days in late April 1994 when South Africans of all colours voted for the first time in a democratic election. As we write this, we are approaching the country's fourth such election, a significant indicator of the overall success of our democratic transition – for although there may prove to be wrinkles there is every expectation that the forthcoming contest will again be ‘free and fair’. Nonetheless, there are likely to be changes in the electoral landscape, there being significant prospect at time of writing that the ruling African National Congress's (ANC's) proportion of the vote will fall below 60 per cent, the level of electoral dominance it has consistently achieved hitherto. While the ANC can claim many triumphs, and can convincingly claim to have transformed South Africa for the better (materially and spiritually), there is nonetheless widespread discontent abroad. The ANC itself displays many divisions. The Tripartite Alliance (which links it to the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)), is creaking; it is threatened by new opposition parties which appeal to disaffection – especially among the poor and those who feel excluded from the benefits of democracy – and even the established opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) today seeks to cloak itself in the mantle of Mandela. Even while the ANC boasts about steady growth, more jobs, improved service delivery and better standards of living for the majority, critics point out that the economy is stagnating, unemployment remains stubbornly high, corruption flourishes, popular protest abounds, and government and many public services (notably the intelligence agencies and the police) have earned an alarming reputation for unaccountability. So we could go on – but we won't, as we would rather encourage our readers to engage with the wide-ranging set of original essays provided by our authors.
Whether it is news that ships have been pirated off Somali and Sweden, or word that Scottish authorities have released a notorious prisoner on grounds of compassion, those interested in the practice of comparative criminology can find significant fodder for their investigations in various news sources. For example, The New York Times reported on a brazen bank robbery in Baghdad in which nine culprits made off with $4.3 million in two get away cars after executing eight bank guards (Nordland & Mohammed, 2009). The robbers neglected the presence of security cameras and the time of the rising sun, so they were caught on videotape and observed by witnesses as they fled the scene of the crime. After a brief trial, four of the defendants were convicted and sentenced to death while one defendant was acquitted. Four other defendants, the suspected ring leaders with ties to the Shiite political elite, are still on the run. Intrigue is added to the case since many of the robbers were also bodyguards to Iraq’s Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. News reporters Nordland and Mohammed (2009: A1) observed that the case “resonat[es] loudly for what it says about high-level corruption and the uneven application of law in Iraq.” For a comparative criminologist, other questions might also be raised by this story: How does the legitimacy of the judicial process affect the standing of the government in the eyes of the public? How are CCTV and other surveillance practices integrated into the ordinary police practices of various nations? How does social reaction to robbery vary between societies? Whatever questions they might ask, our primary contention in this chapter is that criminologists engaged in comparative inquiry employ particular methods in order to produce more defensible understandings of crime and justice.
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