People are desperate and turning to crime to make a living, say experts

The Soshanguve school's administration block was gutted by the fire.
The Soshanguve school's administration block was gutted by the fire.
Image: Supplied

Experts believe the recent looting at shops and vandalism of schools are a mix of sheer criminal activity and people acting out of pure desperation.

Since the lockdown, close to 200 schools have been vandalised, burgled or set alight across SA. At least 55 schools have been reported to have been hit in Gauteng, 72 in Mpumalanga, seven in the North West and two in KwaZulu-Natal.

Several liquor stores in Cape Town and surrounding areas have been looted during the Covid-19 lockdown.

On Tuesday, Western Cape community safety MEC Albert Fritz said food stores were looted in the Cape Town suburbs of Manenberg, Sherwood Park, Nyanga Junction and Gatesville.

Institute for Security Studies researcher Gareth Newham said that apart from criminals, it could be people acting out of desperation to put food on the table.

He said schools were soft targets because they don’t have sufficient security and they usually have valuable items.

“The lockdown has left thousands of people without an income and they resort to this type of crime,” Newham said.

He, however, cautioned that it was not always people who were desperate who were doing these acts; but pointed out that some of the looting was done by criminals taking advantage of the situation.

“Sometimes criminals would break into a shop and a desperate person passing by will take part in the looting,” he explained.

Newham said that should the lockdown be extended further than the end of the month, organised crime syndicates and networks could also target places like warehouses or stores selling alcohol and cigarettes — or other items deemed to not be essential.

He said the syndicates would do the break-ins, knowing that they will make huge profits because the items would be in demand.

Police minister Bheki Cele said it was alarming that police officers have been arrested for links to illegal alcohol trade during the lockdown in the Western Cape.
Police minister Bheki Cele said it was alarming that police officers have been arrested for links to illegal alcohol trade during the lockdown in the Western Cape.
Image: Naledi Shange

Dr Johan Burger, also from the ISS, agreed that the crimes were possibly done by a mix of criminals and those acting out of desperation.

“We haven’t had time to analyse what is happening but what we have seen so far is criminals who are exploiting the situation and people without means to earn any sort of income during this lockdown. People are becoming poorer and can’t buy their immediate needs.

“What we know is the increasing number in unemployment is also a contributing factor to the crime we see in the country,” Burger said.

He said some people break into food outlets to get food, and also with the hope to get cash that will allow them to take care of their other obligations, like rent.

On the issue of vandalism at schools, political analyst Ralph Mathekga said he hoped police would dig deeper and look at who stood to benefit when those schools are repaired or buildings replaced.

“Police need to search for motivation on the vandalism of schools, especially in instances where there was no evidence of theft,” he said.

Mathekga said the lockdown disturbed a lot of economies, including the political economy. He said the reality of crime is something the country needs to deal with, especially because the lockdown meant some economic pipeline would be shut.

“The thing is that crime is not separate from humanity. Criminals have well established networks and this lockdown disturbed those networks tremendously,” he said.

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