SA’s failing ‘war on crime’

Statistics contained in the South African government’s latest report on crime, presented by Safety and Security minister Charles Ngqakula and national Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi recently, highlighted the stark reality of a crime wave the government is failing to stem.

The report showed that although the instances of violent crime had come down slightly, they were still in the high thousands, posing a serious threat to the government’s hopes of social cohesion and socio-economic development.

Compared to last year, the figures showed a 1.4 percent decline in murder cases, a 16 percent decline in attempted murder and a 0.3 percent decline in rapes cases, which all fell to 18 528 cases, 20 571 cases and 54 926 cases respectively.

Incidents of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm slumped 9 percent to 226 942 cases, common assault 15 percent to 227 553 and indecent assault 3 percent to 9 805, while common robbery was down 18 percent to 74 723 incidents and robbery with aggravating circumstances fell 5.6 percent to 119 726.

However worrying trends were noted in the number of cash in transit heists, which shot up by 74 percent and the number of attacks on police officers, which rose by 57 percent to 1 274 incidents.

Following the release of the figures, contention has swirled over the issue of whether or not the government is doing enough to prevent crime, with critics slamming the state for inadequate action.

“Government must take responsibility for ending the rampant crime wave engulfing our country’and it’s now time something drastic was done about crime. Just like South Africa was freed from the yoke of apartheid, South Africa must be freed from the yoke of crime,” Judge Gerhardus Hattingh said in a judgment two weeks ago.

The Judge’s sentiments have echoed widespread public and government concerns over the exorbitant instances of crime in South Africa , where at least one criminal activity is estimated to occur every 10 minutes.

Over the past few months, debate around the country has swirled around the possibility of bringing back the death sentence, with many, including Hattingh believing that this could stem the tide.

However some believe this would be going too far and have urged the government to consider “any other solution”.

“There is no doubt that the issue of crime has become a serious problem but I don’t believe the death sentence would be the way to stop it. It’s a bit too extreme and there has to be another way,” Tebogo Boshomane said.

Analysts believe although much still needs to be done, the decline in some criminal activities that was detailed in the government report is a positive sign that should be consolidated if the war on crime is to be won.

According to David Bruce, a research analyst at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the statistics are “fairly positive” and show that “at least something is being done right”.

For its part, the South African Police Services (SAPS) claims that it has tried to put in place crime prevention measures to clamp down on offences.

Some of the SAPS measures implemented between April 2005 and May this year include more than 43 666 road blocks mounted across the country, 551 838 stop and search operations, 778 469 vehicle patrols, 63 734 firearm checks, 1 187 diving activities and over 3 million vehicle searches.

But in spite of SAPS efforts more than 427 319 police cases are unsolved, including 183 988 cases of murder, attempted murder, rape and assault between April 2005 and May 2006.

A report carried in The Sunday Times last week said the major reason for the unsolved crimes was the inability by relevant government departments to carry out tasks such as DNA, blood and ballistics tests.

Corruption within the police has also been blamed for inefficiencies in solving crimes.

Another report by Harvard University’s Christopher Stone highlighted the plight of South African businesses, which he said were suffering huge losses due to crimes such as robberies and cash in transit heists.

Apart from the more direct effects on economic performance, Stone believes the country’s high crime rate has resulted in “white flight” which is part of the reason for the country’s skills shortage.

With pressure mounting on President Thabo Mbeki’s government to remedy the situation, analysts say they will continue to keep a close eye on the state’s activities towards addressing the crime wave.

But the only hope, one researcher said, “is for people to keep talking and raising the issue . . . sooner or later they (government) will listen”.

October 2006
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