Lack of foresight in planning abled opportunistic criminals

The fire-ravaged Soshanguve High School and other schools that had been attacked nationwide are the evidence that thugs do not suspend their operations just because it's lockdown time. /THULANI MBELE
The fire-ravaged Soshanguve High School and other schools that had been attacked nationwide are the evidence that thugs do not suspend their operations just because it's lockdown time. /THULANI MBELE

Criminals are not made of the same stuff that ordinary citizens are; they are daring and have a way of silencing their internal fears and consciences to carry out ghastly deeds.

A pandemic was never going to be the panacea to SA's crime situation.

Why would people who don't fear the prospect of going to prison or of imminent death by a gun shot from police, security personnel or gun-owning citizens who may turn on them in the defence of property and self, suddenly fear a deadly virus?

As the executive contemplated instituting lockdowns that would disrupt social, political and economic life, they should have made room for the possibility of a surge in criminal activity as part of proper scenario planning.

The appearance of coronavirus did not have the effect of pressing the pause button on other societal problems. Instead, Covid-19 has just made the country's challenges to be more apparent.

Inequality - social, spatial, income and wealth - is unsustainable and is in fact at the root of many social ills and challenges including growing poverty, uneven access to public goods such as health, food insecurity in many households, gender disparities that disadvantage women as well as violence and rampant crime.

Planning is a very important competence in governance. And a big part of the exercise of planning is having foresight, it involves forward thinking and forecasting in order to prepare for a variety of scenarios and eventualities.

Responding to the Covid-19 crisis required the government to be quick footed. But that is not an excuse for a failure to prepare for a scenario where criminals opportunistically target certain infrastructure as well as public and private property during lockdown.

Decrying the wave of crime during lockdown, in his weekly letter President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote: "That public property is being vandalised while the entire country is experiencing hardship because of the lockdown, is a demonstration of utter disrespect and disregard for the majority of South Africans who are law-abiding.

"It is despicable that criminals are using this period of the lockdown as a cover to break the law at a time when our law-enforcement authorities are occupied with supporting the national effort to contain the pandemic."

Our president truly has faith that all citizens are patriotic and can put aside their selfish inclinations and criminal intent for the good of the country at a critical moment. And we would have hoped that the president was right. Unfortunately, inclinations towards evil cannot be suspended by the mere declaration of a lockdown.

It is foolhardy to rely on the good will of syndicates and thieves to take a break in solidarity with the rest of society, when they in fact have demonstrated disdain and deep disrespect for communities, businesses and the government during normal times.

Criminals see opportunity in the fact that law enforcement is focused on enforcing Covid-19 regulations.

The widespread targeting of schools for torching and burglaries across the country as reported in the media, and theft of cables and vandalism of Eskom infrastructure is not a new occurrence.

The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns that have been put in place in response to it are telling us that we need to address the conditions that give rise to the violence and crime in our society.

This may be more important than fixing the country's intelligence collection, crime prevention and law enforcement because those interventions merely deal with the symptoms and not the cause.

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