* This article appeared on my MoneyWeb blog on the 26 July 2006 [Link].

Let me begin by saying that I have never been a victim of violent crime in 25 years of living in South Africa.

A Golf I once owned did get broken into overnight. My childhood home in Johannesburg was invaded and goods were stolen, once. My brother was held up at knifepoint on a sidewalk. I know people that have been hijacked at gunpoint. That said, I do not claim to identify with people who have been subjected to devastating acts of violence, assault, abuse and discrimination, and admit up front my bias towards a country and a nation I love, celebrate and feel privileged to be a part of.

There are many who wouldn’t agree. Neil Watson, a South African citizen, feels so strongly about what he believes is an understated and out-of-control crime reality in South Africa that he’s started up a website to rally support from like-minded compatriots. Crime Expo South Africa is a blog that, according to the site, “aim(s) to provide victims of violent crime, as well as friends and families of the slaughtered, with an opportunity to collectively register their anger and provide the world with a preview of violent South Africa…” and “provide(s) an opportunity to the murdered to raise from their graves and haunt those who let them down!”

My immediate internal response to Neil’s site, its content and its apparent mission, was a negative one. He goes on claiming to have directly influenced top government officials with the announcement of the web presence: “Since we have notified the government and media about our intention in launching CRIME EXPO SA, the National and Safety Minister (01) apologized to the nation for his “take-your-stuff-and-move” remark in Parliament, (02) admitting that police officials lack the skills in dealing with the horror situation and (03) calling the top police structure for a meeting…”

As I understand it, Neil hopes to generate enough discord and uncertainty amongst potential and existing investors in South Africa as 2010 World Cup hosts to force government to do something about crime. I’m just not sure such an aggressive, pessimistic stand is the most constructive approach to building a nation of peace and tolerance.

In response to my discomfort I called on the Google god to reveal to me information regarding crime blogs in other countries. I picked up on a few US-based crime blogs, most addressing crime issues in their local states, but one in particular caught my attention. Huff’s Crime Blog is a well-written, crime-oriented blog that ironically enough has sniffed out the all the buzz around CRIME EXPO SA and wrote about it in a post titled “Crime Blog Wars in Africa“. Steve Huff (the author) had noticed how Neil Watson’s creation had been a catalyst for debate, conversation and a truckload of POSITIVE sites attempting to counteract his message. Sites like the Unbroken Barometer, started using Blogger‘s free blog hosting service, had this to say:

I’ll start by saying that I am a proud young South African. I’ve started this Blog because of a website which has recently started in South Africa. It is a ‘crime barometer’, but it appears to me that the barometer is broken. Fortunately, this one isn’t.

I have tried to be heard on the website in question, but my comments have been refused. There are probably many other people who have experienced the same discrimination from the website. Put your comments here. Bad or good. I live in a democracy.

Go visit the site. Read the email response Addy (the author) received from Neil Watson when trying to comment on his site. Strange. To cut a long story short, Addy received so many hits and such an abnormal load of traffic in the week he was blogging on the site that he eventually had to close it off and start up a new venture with volunteers from the Unbroken Barometer – at www.oursecurity.co.za. From the site:

OurSecurity is a website run by volunteers, giving South Africans a voice for their concerns. We present both sides of the coin. We acknowledge that crime is a problem whilst remaining positive. We welcome criticism – we’re not always going to do everything right. We welcome praise. We welcome lively debate. And we welcome you. Sign up to get started, or simply remain anonymous.

Another site started specifically as a statement against Neil Watson’s CRIME EXPO SA can be found at www.realsouthafrica.co.za. Pieter Boshoff, author of the site, published an open letter to Neil Watson. An excerpt:

By encouraging this you are removing the possibility of a livelihood from an honest hardworking South African and breeding more poverty, hate, resentment and crime.

However, the most interesting little piece of info I stumbled upon was a comment posted to the article in Huff’s Crime Blog about the Crime Blogs Wars in Africa. It was written by someone called Parkey and in response to an IOL report that Steve Huff quoted from, when saying that Neil had to ward off potential saboteurs from ‘hacking’ into the site and ‘planting viruses’ in an attempt to destroy his initiative by shutting down for some time.

Parkey had this to say:

Neil Watson’s website was not sabotaged or a virus planted. MWEB Business discontinued his service untill he paid.

I work for MWEB so I know

Neil Watson is a big fat lier [sic]…

So if Parkey tells the truth, then Neil is inflating the truth (I’m being generous). Why would Neil say that his site had been sabotaged if that weren’t the truth? Why all the melodrama and suspense around the clandestine launch of the blog? Why the “Enough is enough my fellow citizens!” language? Why the gory pictures? (which are also rumored to have been doctored – that knife does look a little odd to me…)

I have a theory. And if I’m completely wrong and can be proven so, I will publicly withdraw my opinion and apologise, but I invite Neil to have a conversation with me. I reckon Neil’s a damn smart guy. He knows that web 2.0 software (like his blogging platform – Drupal) is hot on the internet right now. It’s cheap, fast publishing. Neil also knows that 2010 is a topical issue. He is also pretty switched on to the media – knowing that sensationalism and controversy sell. Neil knew his extremist viewpoint would quickly be smeared all over the web, and has been proven right.

I get the impression Neil Watson cares a great deal more about internet traffic than SA’s crime statistics. And why would internet traffic be important to Neil? Well, he has a list of advertisers displayed in his sidebar. I’m sure they pay money for that. How much does the site cost Neil? Well, hosting is maybe R 100 a month. The Drupal engine is free for download and use at www.drupal.org. So are his four ‘sponsors’ splitting the R 100 between themselves? Or is it conceivable that Neil is earning some pocket change from the site?

Neil also has a nifty SMS hotline (R 3 per SMS of course) so that you can “Have your say”. Why doesn’t he just let users submit their opinions unedited? We know for a fact Adam from Unbroken Barometer didn’t get a chance to. Perhaps Adam should have sent an SMS for R 3 first. Where are all the R 3’s going Neil?

Maybe crime pays after all.

In conclusion, a quote from the newly conceived www.oursecurity.co.za:

Something else we are going to try on for size is advertising. Yes, we are planning to make loads of money. There’s one simple catch. We don’t ever see the money. If I can work out how to actually use the software, we’re going to offer advertising space to companies who donate money to charitable organisations. We’re not taking money “for administration costs” because we believe that a site like this will survive with the support of South Africans willing to make a difference.

I welcome your opinions.