JOHANNESBURG - About 1,000 members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church took to the streets of Johannesburg on Sunday in a march organized to denounce the increase in crime in South Africa. The church says the march is a call for peace and divine intervention in the face of a rise in the number of murders, muggings, robberies, shootings, drug abuse as well as the killing of police officers nationwide.
Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) members of all age groups marched for four hours in the crime-infested Johannesburg suburbs of Hilbrow, Berea and Yeoville.
Chanting slogans and beating drums, they made noise against crime.
And they denounced the crime wave over loudspeakers tied to the back of a van.
A man shot to death for refusing to surrender his cellular phone, a police officer killed by criminals while off duty, a raped infant -- these are just some of many gruesome crimes that have recently dominated the news in South Africa. The South African murder rate has increased to more than 30 per 100,000 -- five times higher than the 2013 global average of six murders per 100,000 people.
Activists say whole sections of Johannesburg and Cape Town have been taken over by criminals, prostitution rings and drug lords.
Velile Moyo, youth director of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Johannesburg, says the cities need divine intervention to achieve peace and moral restoration.
“We have discovered that there is so much crime that is going on in these large cities, said Moyo. "There is also so much of drug trafficking and many people now have lost their morals because of the drugs that they are partaking in almost everyday.”
Ronald Mlalazi, chairman of the SDA churches in Johannesburg, says Sunday marks the start of a three-week-long "mega-crusade" to address some of the root causes of crime in the country.
“We are going to have things like the soup kitchen where people come to be fed. We are running family life consultations," said Mlalazi. "And also we are going to have the health expos, then they get special advice in terms of their health.”
Besides the the Seventh Day Adventists, other groups have taken to the streets to protest the crime wave. In August, residents of Hout Bay in Cape Town marched to the local police station following a series of violent crimes in the area. Also last month, a group of women calling themselves the Bold and the Beautiful marched in Hilbrow, Johannesburg to protest against crime.
The government has vowed to fight crime head on, launching “Operation Fiela” in March of this year following xenophobic attacks targeting foreign migrants. In that operation, police backed by the army raided crime hot spots in the major cities, arresting thousands.
Community members like Johannesburg resident Nelly Khuzwayo have welcomed these initiatives, including the efforts made by the SDA church.
"We are facing a lot of crimes here," said Khuzwayo. "You can’t even walk. I have seen a lot of people being mugged, during the day, night, so I think these kind of campaign they help."
Other residents say they are hopeful that such initiatives will go a long way in making the streets safer.