n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - A criminological approach to crime in South Africa

Volume 16, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Any theorist striving to explore, understand, and explain a criminal phenomenon must take the value system, which is normally associated if not based upon the individual's traditional belief system, into account. In the African, and more specifically the South African context, tradition, culture and beliefs definitely exercise a great influence on the thoughts and actions of people. Criminologists in South African have become more aware of the need for criminological theory based upon the African experience. Certain problems are encountered when dealing with the issue of "an" African theory such as the issue of ethics and ethnicity. The plurality of cultures and racial and ethnic variety constitute African, and specifically South African, society. Further categories thwart any attempt to develop a theory for understanding and explaining crime in South African society. These include literate / illiterate, urbanised / non-urbanised, and the somewhat controversial categories of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern. The plurality of cultures in South Africa may cause researchers to resort to either absolutism or relativism in their assessment of other cultures, a situation that should be avoided.

The criminologist must find a scientific midway whereby an objective and empathetic evaluation of another persons "otherness" is possible using assessment tools that make provision for this "otherness" or uniqueness. Such a midway can be found by placing the offender within a framework which clearly provides and creates a setting for the characteristics of complexity, interconnectedness and mutual relationship.
Scientists should understand and apply an African approach to our criminal justice system and the persons that are caught up in this system, and thus refrain from the mistake of absolutism. The philosophy of "ubuntu" as a frame of reference when studying a segment of South African society, would thus avoid absolutism and relativism. These concepts must be understood and considered during the punishment, handling, treatment and rehabilitation of the black offender.

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