The leader of a large Reformed denomination in South Africa says a crime wave gripping the country is a moral issue that cannot be solved only by having more police officers and state-of-the-art forensic equipment - writes David Wanless from Cape Town for Ecumenical News International (ENI).
"Something has gone very wrong with South African society," the Rev Prince Dibeela, general secretary of the United Congregational Church, told ENI. "There are too many guns, too many people are angry, and there is too large a poverty gap. So for us, this is a spiritual issue as well as one with social and economic causes."
Crime has even entered churches themselves. The Salem Voice Ministries News Service reported on 30 January 2007 that Pastor Philip Zanikele Mokson, the founder of a Baptist church in Masiphumelele, near Cape Town, was shot and killed while he was teaching a Bible class at the church. Family members including his wife, children, and grandchildren witnessed the event on 22 January.
In the final years of apartheid, South Africa experienced a considerable degree of political violence, and criminal activity increased at the same time, said Dibeela, a member of the central committee of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. Nearly 13 years after the country's first universal suffrage elections, political violence has mostly abated, but criminal violence is increasing, he noted.
Dibeela said church leaders have requested a meeting with President Thabo Mbeki to help devise a comprehensive strategy to address the issue. Churches are already promoting the campaign of the "Gun Free South Africa" groups and several denominations have policies that forbid the bringing of guns onto church premises.
Some church leaders say crime is getting worse because poverty levels are not dropping, and ordinary people are not experiencing any benefits from a strong performance in some sectors of the economy.
Dibeela said the churches had recently met with leaders of the "Business against crime" initiative, which promotes measures "to make South Africa a safer place in which to live, work and do business".
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]