Crime stats a 'wake-up call for govt'

South Africa’s high murder rate rose further in the past year while rape figures dropped, according to police statistics released in one of the world’s most crime-ridden countries on Tuesday.

Assistant Commissioner Chris de Kock told journalists in Pretoria that 40,5 people out of every 100 000 were murdered in the fiscal year that ended in March, a 2,4% increase from 39,6 per 100 000 in the previous 12 months.

Rape cases decreased by 5,2%, attempted murder by 3%, and indecent assault by 5,5%, he said.

But aggravated robbery, which included such categories as cash-in-transit and bank heists, rose by 4,6%, while common robbery decreased by 5,8%.

South Africa, which is to host the Socccer World Cup in 2010, has one of the world’s heaviest crime burdens. With around 50 murders, 148 rapes and nearly 700 serious assaults committed each day, violent crime is a particular concern.

South African authorities had set out to achieve an annual 7% to 10% drop in crime.

Crime, along with HIV/Aids, were found to be the country’s main scourges in a peer-review report presented to an African Union summit in Accra this week.

While citizens question the authorities’ commitment to keeping them safe, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula invited crime “whingers” last year to leave the country.

But in a softened approach, President Thabo Mbeki told Parliament in February that crime was a concern, having left communities “cowering in fear”.

Perceptions

Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday that while the figures were in line with expectations, the increase in violent crimes—most of which had consistently decreased over the last 13 years—was particularly disturbing.

He said that aggravated robbery, which showed a positive downward trend from a high in 2003, seems also to have taken a turn for the worse.

Robberies at business premises increased by 52,5% and robberies at residential premises increased by 25,4%.

Burger said the increase in house robberies was one of the “most serious as far as people’s perceptions are concerned”.

“This is one of the worrying factors—criminals now change their focus and stand to gain more when people are there. They have access to their safes, bank cards, PIN numbers, all sorts of things.
This [type of crime] goes hand in hand with serious assault as they force people to share information.”

“One of the problems we have in this country and in many other parts of the world is looking at simplistic answers [to the crime rate].

“Crime is a very complicated business. It’s caused by greed in some cases and by socio-economic conditions in other cases. And then there’s this very simplistic idea: if you solve the problems in the criminal justice system crime will go away. That’s not going to happen.

“This should be a wake-up call for the government. They will have to have a complete rethink on how they approach crime in this country. They spend a lot on the criminal justice system, but they have to identify the problems associated the socio-economic factors. They need an integrated approach.”

‘Crime rates are unacceptable’

“Given that 32% of all crimes are not reported to the police, we know that the crime rates are unacceptable,” the main opposition Democratic Alliance said in a statement on Tuesday.

It added that more than 100 000 people were murdered in South Africa in the five previous financial years, nearly 270 000 raped, and 1,3-million seriously assaulted.

More than a million robberies were committed and nearly 450 000 cars stolen.

Mbeki has repeatedly rejected assertions that the crime wave would undermine South Africa’s ability to host the Soccer World Cup.

He has pledged to boost police levels to 180 000 by 2010 as well as improve pay and working conditions.

Last month, the head of global football body Fifa, Sepp Blatter, said there were many “rubbish reports” about criminality in South Africa.

“Go to any big country in the world today and you will find the same problems,” he said.

Abuse of drugs and alcohol

Studies show that the murder rate peaked in November, December and January. The hours between 6pm and 7pm of any day were when there was most likely to be an increase in murder, robbery and assault with grievous bodily harm.

De Kock said there was a strong association between the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and statistics for the main contact crimes.

Bank robberies increased by 118% in the last financial year, cash-in-transit heists increased by 21,9% and truck hijackings by 7,6%.

Car hijackings increased by 6%.

Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs increased by 14,3% and drug-related crimes increased by 8,2% with the illegal possession of firearms increasing by 5,6%.

Burglary, a crime that does not involve violence, decreased by 5,9% and non-residential burglaries were up by 6,3%.

De Kock said this increase could probably be attributed to the security guard strike when premises were left unguarded.

Stock theft was down 0,8% and the theft of tools from gardens saw a 5,1% decrease.

Commercial crimes increased by 12,6% and shoplifting was up by 0,5%.

Empty promises

The crime statistics prove crime is out of control despite government assurances to the contrary, the Inkatha Freedom Party said.

“We are alarmed at the increase in murder, the 118% increase in bank robberies, 52,5% increase in robberies at business premises, the 21,9% increase in cash-in-transit heists, and the sharp increase in robberies at residential premises,” IFP spokesperson Velaphi Ndlovu said in a statement.

He said the increases should be condemned in the strongest possible way.

“It once again proves without doubt that crime is out of control in South Africa and that the levels of crime remain alarmingly high, despite empty government promises,” he said.

The IFP believed it again highlighted the need for increased visible policing at banks, business premises, shopping malls and within residential areas.

“It seems that whenever police are able to stop criminals targeting one specific crime, criminals just move on to something else.”

Therefore, with the increase of robberies at residential premises, it was vital for police to start working closer with neighbourhood policing groups to turn the tide against property crimes and make communities safer, Ndlovu said.