Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Will a tide of media attention help turn the tide against crime?

Something somewhere has changed. South Africans have had enough of crime.

And for a change they're not whinging and emigrating. They seem to want to be part of a positive change.

This was marked by an unprecedented front page editorial in this week's Sunday Times:

This is a crisis, not just a problem

THIS coming weekend the high minds of the ANC’s leadership will gather for their regular National Executive Committee meeting. On their agenda will be important policy matters, organisational issues and lots of discussion about the presidential ambitions of the country’s favourite karaoke performer.

Very low on the agenda, if at all, will be South Africa’s out-of-control crime situation.

The reason for this is that the ruling party and the government it controls merely see crime as a problem, not the crisis that it is.

Like the proverbial ostrich, they refuse to accept that this country is under siege from criminals. They seem to believe that it is a problem affecting pampered whingers in Sandton, Durban North and Claremont, forgetting that the residents of places like Tembisa, Manenberg and Clermont are as much at the receiving end.

The past year has seen the undoing of the work of the past few years when we seemed to be winning the war against criminality.

Crime statistics revealed this week showed that nearly 19000 people were murdered in the past year, nearly 55000 were raped and there were almost 120000 robberies.

It is these horrendous statistics, and the horrific violence that accompanies South African crime, that drove Judge Gerhardus Hattingh to deliver what some considered an injudicious political statement in court this week.

Sentencing the killers of four-year-old Makgabo Matlala, Hattingh told how he wished he could condemn the killers to death.

“In my experience, all right-thinking members of the community, regardless of race, are in favour of the death penalty. Government must take responsibility for ending the rampant crime wave engulfing our country ... and it’s now time something drastic is done about crime. Just like South Africa was freed from the yoke of apartheid, South Africa must be freed from the yoke of crime,” he said.

Hattingh had earlier heard the confession of the killers, who had tied the four-year-old’s hands with shoelaces, suffocated her with her own panties, blindfolded her with trousers and strangled her before taking turns in raping her 58-year-old nanny.

While we strongly disagree with the learned judge’s views on the death penalty, we concur that, as with Aids, the government’s response to crime amounts to a gross dereliction of duty.

Can we as South Africans really proclaim that we are a free people when we live in fear of the thousands of monsters who roam our streets?

As renowned author André Brink points out on the pages of this newspaper, South Africa is a normal society that should not be tolerating such an abnormal situation.

Fortunately the citizens of this republic are not tolerating this state of affairs. South Africans have not thrown their hands in the air and said, as is the case in some societies, that this is the way it is. South Africans are fighting back and want their government to fight alongside them.

But the authorities seem to believe that it is they who are under siege from a mutinous citizenry and have come to regard the public — not the criminals — as the enemy.

Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi has become increasingly arrogant and unaccountable, believing that it is fine to yell statistics at us once a year.

This newspaper would like to suggest that, in-between the mandatory back-stabbing sessions at this weekend’s gathering, the ANC’s high-ups reserve some time for an
in-depth discussion on this crisis.

If they do not do so, it will confirm our worst fears: that they do not care.

Today's Business Day carried a balanced and thoughtful piece from the always good Hilary Joffe:

Crime statistics show we need a range of solutions, and urgently

Hilary Joffe

IF CRIME were coming down, would anyone believe it? The response to last week’s crime statistics suggests not.

The statistics compiled by the South African Police Service (SAPS) show decreases in crime rates across a broad front in the year to April. Almost all of the 22 serious crimes the police report on declined, both in absolute terms and relative to the population. Car theft did increase, after coming down in previous years, and within the key “aggravated robbery” category there were worrying jumps in crimes such as cash-in-transit heists and car hijacking. For the rest, those crimes that increased were supposed to, in the sense they reflect better policing or better reportage rates — driving under the influence and drug-related crimes, as well as commercial crime.

But from reading much of the media and opposition party comment on the crime stats, you could be forgiven for believing that crime rates in fact went up. People don’t seem to feel that much safer.

It’s not too hard to explain why, despite the statistics. Even if overall rates are declining, each year a whole lot more people have become new victims of crime. There’s likely to be a long lag before perceptions catch up with any improvement. Low conviction rates add to the sense of insecurity. But the scepticism is fuelled too by the police’s own communications. Their response last week to the calls to release crime stats more often was legitimate — few countries do release national crime statistics more than once a year, and one quarter’s figures may reflect short-term blips. Even so, one wonders why they don’t just publish quarterly stats and have done with it. The police might gain more credibility for their stats if they rushed them into print, whether good or bad. We need numbers on prosecution and conviction rates, too.

Not that the police could be faulted for the detail and comprehensiveness of last week’s information. Nor could they be accused of playing down the failures. They drew attention to the increases in cash-in-transit robberies and car hijacking, which reversed the declining trend of previous years. SAPS’ statisticians highlighted too that the 2% decline in the murder rate was much slower than in the previous two years and fell well short of the targeted 7%-10% annual decrease in contact crimes.

Oddly, though, they didn’t do a convincing job of highlighting some of their successes — an 11% decrease in aggravated robbery in Gauteng, for example. Perhaps good news is always hard to sell. The problem with knee-jerk negative responses is they tend to prevent us listening to what the crime stats are really telling us. For the stats raise crucial questions, not only about policing and law enforcement but also about South African society.

Take murder, usually seen as the most reliable indicator of crime because it’s the most accurately reported. The murder rate has declined sharply over the past 11 years, falling from 66 per 100000 people in 1994-95 to 39,5 in 2005-06.

In absolute terms that’s still 18528 murders, the mark of an extremely violent society. But while the level of random violence perpetrated against strangers is exceptionally high, the number of murders committed by victims’ friends and relatives is much higher. A recent SAPS analysis of crime dockets shows 81% of murder victims knew their murderers. The figure rises to 90% in assault cases and is about three-quarters in rape cases.

The police argued last week that these “social contact crimes” could not be curbed by conventional policing methods, because they reflect social and economic conditions, as well as high levels of alcohol and drug abuse. Cynics note the police are more likely to blame murder on social ills in years when the rate isn’t decreasing fast enough, while taking credit when it falls. One could speculate, too, that the decline in the murder rate in the past decade might have had more to do with improved socio-economic conditions and a more peaceful society than with better law enforcement. But the social nature of violent, contact crime is a crucial issue, and is one that was raised this year in the Presidency’s macro-social report. The police can’t be let off the hook and they clearly can do a lot more to improve their conventional policing. But there is an important debate here about where that fits in relative to other, broader strategies to combat social breakdown. It’s important to establish why success has been achieved in the latest year with bringing down rates of social contact crime.

At the other end of the spectrum are those areas of crime, such as cash- in-transit, car hijacking and bank robbery, that are dominated by organised crime syndicates. Many of those crimes had been coming down nicely, reflecting the success of a focused, integrated approach between the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and business. Clearly, though, something has gone awry, more so since April. If the crime stats show anything, it is that there are many different problems on the crime landscape, and they require a range of different — and urgent — solutions.

‖Joffe is chief leader writer.

Today's crime headlines - just those from IoL:

Ministers' Cape homes robbed
Shop owner traps robbers inside store
Man fatally wounded in clothing store robbery
Man accused of raping four-year-old niece
Burglar cleans house but leaves clear trail
Argument leads to taxi owner's death
Officer killed during assault investigation
Cop seriously wounded in early-morning attack
Armed robbers target Joburg bank
Sirens stop heist robbers in their tracks
Man held for perlemoen poaching
Woman 'duped' by witch doctor's money plan
Cops nab heist suspects after shoot-out
Teen chases down mom's torturer
Attack victim blogs his painful recovery
Makgabo murderers' second trial postponed
Ramokgopa 'authorised irregular' payouts
North West police nab bank robbery suspects
Police probe officer's shooting spree
Man strangled, wife assaulted in raid on home
Unionists' case postponed to November
Huge cash haul as robbers hurt guard in heist
Gang of 20 makes off with education computers
Man on porn charges cuts R300 000 deal
Roadworks firm latest victim of N2 hell run
Day the hijackers should have stayed in bed
KZN police launch crime blitz in the suburbs
'I had no idea my son was a bouncer'
Ex-Comrades boss on trial after muso's death
Killer priest takes his secret to jail
Scorpions prosecutor gets nasty sting
Alleged paedophile 'filmed attacks on girls'
Murder suspect is unstable, says psychiatrist

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