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Rechannelling resources to crime hot spots could put brakes on the scourge

Fred Khumalo Columnist
Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Image: Esa Alexander

A number of things have conspired to throw me into emotional turmoil this week, a reality that I think many South Africans can relate to.

To put it frankly, if the animated calls to the country’s radio talk shows are anything to go by, there’s much to be angry about.

The refusal by the Gupta brothers to come back and testify before the commission into state capture, though remarkable and irksome, is just one of them.

On the economic front, things are so bad the rand is trading at eish-dammit compared to the dollar. But all these pale into insignificance compared to the crime statistics released on Tuesday.

These figures, an annual ritual whose purpose sometimes eludes me, will never stop shocking.

They make “good radio”, or “good copy”, to use the language of journalism.

Ah, we killed so many of our fellow brothers and sisters this year, remarkable!

We raped even more women this year than last year, excellent! We should do better than this next year.

Yes, I am being deliberately morbid.

I do realise that the release of the crime statistics should serve as a wake-up call to the nation, for us to make amends as well as quick and urgent interventions.

Only when you have statistical information are you able to gauge the immensity of the problem, and therefore tailor a necessary and fitting solution to the problem.

That way you avoid bringing the proverbial knife into a gunfight.

But we’ve been aware of the gravity of the crime situation for a long time now, yet I am afraid to say that we don’t seem to be winning the war.

Police minister Bheki Cele told the nation on Tuesday that 57 people got murdered every day during the 2017/2018 financial year, which he said marked an increase by 1320 from the previous year.

It makes me sick and scared. And I know that’s the next person’s response too, because what this means is that you know someone who was murdered last year, or at least someone who knows someone.

Which is to say, everyone is affected.

Experts have pointed out that though the police service is somewhat understaffed, this is not a crisis.

I am told that with an average ratio of one policeman to 300 citizens, we are not doing badly by international standards.

Experts argue it is how we deploy our policemen and women that is the problem. Some members of society enjoy more protection than others. Personally, I have been struck by how members of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department, for example, are glorified traffic officers.

You find them hiding behind bushes, waiting for traffic offenders when a few blocks down the road a crime is unfolding.

The excuse from the government that there is not enough money to bolster policing becomes ridiculous if you consider how much government spends on VIP protection services.

A recent study by the South African Institute of Race Relations shows that in nine years under Thabo Mbeki, VIP protection services cost R4.3bn. Over the next decade under Jacob Zuma, the cost increased to R18.2bn.

Clearly, there is money for security-related endeavours; all that needs to be done is for it to be rechannelled.

If our politicians can show they have the citizens’ interests at heart, by helping rationalise VIP protection costs – then these annual crime statistics could take on a whole new meaning.

Otherwise, they will continue to be the same meaningless ritual that only helps get average South Africans angry and scared.

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