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S. Africa Crime Wave Triggers Anger

April 16, 1999

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ No one is safe amid South Africa’s crime wave _ not a school principal, not an ambassador, not even a top U.N. official.

``It’s becoming a nightmare, truly a nightmare,″ Ambassador Gedeon Magete of Burundi said Friday, a day after his car was stolen at gunpoint from his residence in Pretoria and a week after someone pointed a pistol at him and grabbed his briefcase.

In just four days, a top photojournalist and a school principal joined the long list of those who have been murdered in recent months in South Africa, and a senior U.N. official from the United States was raped.

South African police, who have been attacked in their own stations, can’t cope with the crime wave, which threatens to derail South Africa’s hopes of attracting foreign investors who could help boost the country’s economy and create more jobs.

Crime in South Africa is especially high because its brutal, former apartheid system created a callous attitude toward the value of human life, and because economic apartheid remains, with many nonwhites lacking the education and skills needed to earn a living.

The ruling African National Congress also inherited a police force more trained to repress the black majority than to fight crime.

Although murders dropped by 2 percent in 1998, South Africa still has the world’s third-highest murder rate _ at 56.9 per 100,000 people _ after Colombia and Swaziland, according to Interpol. A woman is three times more likely to be raped in South Africa than in the United States.

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, favored to become president after June 2 elections, has vowed to make crime-fighting a priority. But that is doing little good for victims now.

The murder of elementary school principal Gwendoline Jele in the mostly black township of Soweto provoked a storm of outrage and was front-page news Friday.

Jele, 56, was shot to death Thursday after confronting intruders in her school. They grabbed her car keys, stripped the dying woman of her jewelry and fled in her car.

Counselors were being sent to the school to help traumatized staff and pupils. Jele’s son Donald urged those who consider crime a solution to poverty to reject it.

``Instead of building us as a nation, it destroys us,″ he said.

Jele, a tough but compassionate principal who doled out soup to needy children, was killed the same day as top photojournalist John Rubython was buried. Rubython was stabbed to death Monday in his Cape Town home, allegedly by a 14-year-old intruder who was arrested days later.

A space in the Sowetan newspaper where a cartoon normally appears was blacked out on Friday.

``There is no funny cartoon today, as the cartoonist was attending the memorial service of a fellow journalist, someone who braved death in the (anti-apartheid) struggle, and survived only to become one of the 20,000 South Africans senselessly murdered each year in the new South Africa,″ cartoonist Jonathan Zapiro wrote bitterly.

Outraged callers to radio talk shows have urged the restoration of capital punishment, abolished after the ANC came to power. But Mbeki’s office on Friday ruled that out, saying he ``respects and abides by the letter and spirit of the constitution affirming the right to life.″

Magete, whose Mercedes Benz was stolen from him Thursday by two gunmen, said he was conferring with Burundian and South African officials about improving his security.

``I’m quite shaken, because this is the second time in a week that I’ve been robbed by people with guns,″ he said in a phone interview.

A few blocks from Magete’s home, a visiting U.N. official was raped on Thursday during the burglary of a U.N. residence. Five men have been arrested in the burglary and police Friday were awaiting the results of DNA tests to determine which one raped the American woman.

Four of the five are illegal aliens from neighboring Mozambique and the fifth is a South African, said police Inspector Heleen van Heerden. They were being held without bail.

The woman was raped twice by the same man, van Heerden said, dismissing initial press reports that she was gang-raped. The victim had been so distraught when first speaking to police that she was unable to say how many men had raped her.

The U.N. official was on a business trip and was staying in a U.N. house in a wealthy Pretoria neighborhood when she was attacked.

Bonaventure Sodonon, the deputy representative of the U.N. Development Program in South Africa, said all U.N. workers in South Africa were shocked at the attack.

``We need some assurances that members of the international community can go about their work peacefully,″ Sodonon was quoted as saying in The Star, a Johannesburg newspaper.

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