by Frank Kuin
In his several years as a volunteer high-school teacher, PhD student and
postdoctoral fellow in South Africa, Gary Kynoch has become intimately
familiar with the immense problem of violent crime plaguing that country.
Now, he hopes his extensive research project will become part of its solution.
Kynoch, a new full-time professor in the Department of History, is examining
the impact of violent crime on the lives of residents of the townships
around Johannesburg. Ultimately, his findings about the historical development
of attitudes of both citizens and police might play a role in efforts
to break what he called a very firmly entrenched culture of violence.
Through 500 interviews with township residents, mostly with law-abiding
people, but also with those involved in gang crime, Kynoch hopes to gain
a better understanding of the hostility between police, residents, gangs
and vigilante self-policing groups. These insights may then be used in
workshops with police officers.
Hopefully, to look at the history of a culture of violence in the
townships will help police understand the dynamics of the relationship
between communities and police, said Kynoch, a postdoctoral fellow
at Johannesburgs University of Witwatersrand. We will show
them that antagonism was not always necessarily the relationship that
While he has never been a victim of violent crime himself, Kynoch, who
lived in Johannesburg for three out of the past four years, knows South
Africas culture of violence well. Along with Colombia and Russia,
he pointed out, South Africa has one of the highest rates of violent crime
in the world.
You cant live in Johannesburg and not be aware of your violent
surroundings, Kynoch said of gang warfare, armed robbery and other
prevalent forms of violent crime. Everybody has been intimately
affected. Either they themselves have been victimized, or they have friends
who have been victimized. Its just the reality of the South African
Kynochs research project, which should continue for the next three
years, seeks to clarify the historical reasons for the situation. Having
examined police archives and newspapers, Kynoch is asking why criminal
violence in townships around Johannesburg developed to higher levels than
in any other colonial African city.
His tentative explanation is that restoring order in the black townships
was not a priority for the white city governments of Johannesburgs
early days as a mining boomtown. White organized crime was brought
under control during the era when mining labourers from all over
the continent were flooding in, as well as Europeans. But violence
in black townships wasnt addressed, as it did not impinge on white
This neglect gave rise to a culture of solving problems by violence, he
explained. Self-policing movements appeared which, as they gained influence,
became engaged in criminal activity themselves. These vigilante movements
would then clash with police, and a spiral of violence developed.
As the violence escalated, Kynoch said, people learned that the
only way to get justice in the townships was to take it into your own
hands. Indeed, South Africans have very little faith in the police
officers. Theyre not seen as responsive to community needs
at all, Kynoch said. And the police themselves are bitter
and paranoid because so many of their officers are killed every year.
Aided by research assistants in South Africa, Kynoch wants to examine
why relationships deteriorated, in order to help reverse the process.
A different culture of policing has to emerge, where police act
with their communities instead of against them, he said. Its
going to be a long-term process, and I hope I can contribute to it.
Concordia conference follows
A conference on the rights
of minorities of African descent in the Americas is underway at Concordia.
It follows on the UN World Conference Against Racism held late this summer
in Durban, S.A.
The Concordia event, scheduled for Sept. 27-30 in the downtown D.B. Clarke
Theatre, was convened by the United Nations Working Group on Minorities,
and is organized jointly by the Association for Canadian Studies, the
Concordia branch of the Concordia-UQAM Chair in Ethnic Studies, and their
For more information on this conference, please call Servine Labelle or
Mathias Olivia, at 987-7784.