SA needs to turn the tide against wave of violent crime
In February last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that his government would pursue five fundamental goals over the next decade. One of these was bold, namely that violent crime would be halved, if not eliminated.
This, according to Ramaphosa, would be achieved through improved policing and addressing gender-based violence.
Three months later the SA Police Service released its crime statistics for 2018/19. They confirmed why it was imperative the government prioritised crime reduction. Most categories of violent crimes had risen dramatically over eight years.
Between 2011/12 and 2018/19 there had been a 35% increase in murder cases, a 29% surge in attempted murders, and robberies with aggravating circumstances had risen by 39%. Robberies in homes had increased by 34%.
SA has, for many years, experienced considerably higher levels of violent crime compared to many other countries. The 2019 United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime Global Study on Homicide shows SA has more than 20,000 murders a year. This is close to the number for all of Europe, and a quarter of all Asia.
Recently, Ramaphosa re-emphasised tackling violent crime.
But, if there is to be a substantial drop, then the determinants of violence perpetration, especially among young men, and the low levels of trust in the police need to be adequately addressed.
International studies indicate that introducing non-aggressive specialised units can reduce violent crime. But, they must act in ways that do not undermine public trust in the police.
Police minister Bheki Cele and senior police officials have regularly sung the praises of the anti-gang units. They tout their arrest records and the seizures of large quantities of illegal goods, especially firearms. But, information of successful convictions has not been forthcoming.
Improved crime detection, combined with better cooperation between the police, prosecutors and the courts, could potentially improve the conviction rates for violent crime, which are shockingly low. For instance, only 4.6% of home robberies and 2.3% of carjackings result in convictions.
But, as studies on police corruption and the report of a commission of inquiry show, numerous cases have been dismissed by the courts due to shoddy police work. And, crime dockets often go missing due to bribery and corruption.
And, the National Prosecuting Authority's cherry-picking of cases in which it stands reasonable prospects of securing a prosecution needs to stop.
Most interpersonal violent crime in SA is perpetrated by men against other men, yet there is no specific plan to deal with this. Also, the government does not have a good record of implementing existing crime prevention plans, as has been the case with its 1996 national crime prevention strategy. The same goes for its 2011 strategy.
Ramaphosa's speech emphasised that a "whole-of-society" approach was crucial to remedying SA's violent crime epidemic. For SA to stand a chance of turning the tide against its crime wave, as has been shown by various studies, meaningful partnerships with ordinary people, businesses and crime prevention specialists are essential.
Lamb is director of Safety and Violence Initiative at University of Cape Town. This article was first published by The Conversation
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