Have you ever wondered why we just cannot win the fight against crime in South Africa?
A study published in March 2016 in Nature might help us to understand our problem. Between 2011 and 2014, Simon Gächter of the University of Nottingham and Jonathan Schulz of Yale University set out to study dishonest behaviour in different countries. They looked at nations with a high prevalence of rule violation, such as Georgia, Tanzania, Guatemala and Kenya, and also countries with a low prevalence of rule violation, like Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.
Other studies already show we are social creatures and mimic the behaviour of others. For instance, if we see people behaving badly and being rewarded for it, chances are we will do the same. An example of such a study would be the work of social learning theorist Albert Bandura, who studied observational learning in children in relation to aggression. However, not too much work has been done to investigate how this type of influence operates at a societal level.
The Gächter and Schulz experiment is unique in that regard. Each participant got a die to roll twice and could only report the first roll. As a reward, participants received a sum of money proportional to the number they rolled, but they got nothing for rolling a six.
Nobody else saw the die, so participants could lie about the outcome if they wanted to.
Statistically, the average claim would've been 2.5 if everyone were honest about their results, whereas all claims would've been 5 if everyone were dishonest.
The actual results were hardly surprising.
Participants from corrupt nations inflated the number they reported. In other words, citizens from corrupt nations cheated.
The experiment proved that there is a high correlation between unethical behaviour in a society and corruption in their government. When one adds this research to other work done in social learning, a causal relationship can also be proposed. It then appears that a corrupt government acts as a bad role model and might influence a rise in crime across an entire nation.
However, not all the blame should be laid in front of our government's doorstep.
According to Wikipedia, there are other major causes of crime in South Africa. For instance, the normalisation of violence, where violent behaviour is seen as a necessary and justified means of resolving conflict or to bring about change. Consider violent protests as an example.
We also have a subculture of violence and criminality, ranging from criminals who rape or rob to street gangs. Credibility within this subculture is related to the readiness to resort to extreme violence, like the initiation of a new gang member by instructing him to murder someone.
There is also the vulnerability of young people due to inadequate child rearing and poor socialisation, high levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation. All of these factors push people towards crime.
However, this new study shows it becomes harder to reduce crime if we are governed by corrupt leaders. Therefore, the first step we might have to take is to elect a clean government.
Unfortunately, we will have to wait until 2019 to see which party fits this description better.
For now, all we can hope for is that our current government will clean up their act and turn things around. If they don't, this study suggests that crime will only increase, making life harder for people across the country.