/ 25 August 2008

Conference focuses on ways to cut crime

Alcohol-free public spaces and the idea of businesses not selling alcohol on payday were suggested at a conference on Monday as ways of reducing crime.

”Make the 24 hours around payday an alcohol-free day,” said Barbara Holtmann, a research director at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Holtmann was speaking at the Action for a Safe South Africa conference in Midrand.

Holtmann said that this, combined with retailers providing substantial discounts on things like basic foods or school shoes around payday, could help rechannel the approximately R41-billion a year that was spent on alcohol and alcohol marketing.

After a combination of applause and nervous shuffling had subsided, she said about R16 of every R100 was spent on alcohol. She believed this figure could be higher, with portions of social grants also going to alcohol.

A figure of 47% of murder victims tested positive for alcohol at the time of death, as did 66% of trauma victims, while 50% of rape victims were found to be either drunk or high at the time of their incident, particularly young girls.

”That R41-billion is a voluntary spend — we don’t need to spend it.”

Questioning the perception that gun ownership could lead to personal safety, she said about 65 firearms were lost or stolen from their owners each day — often in careless ways, like leaving them on a toilet cistern in a public space or having them stolen in public because they were visible.

Police believed that each of these firearms was then used to commit at least eight crimes.

She questioned the increased use of security companies in neighbourhoods and said these had the effect of moving opportunistic crime to other areas or changing the nature of crime. Criminals thus changed their tactics and robbed properties while fully prepared for a gun battle.

Instead, Holtmann envisaged more involved communities, better public transport and an environment where children could play safely and where the women did not feel that night time was a curfew.

Fear of crime
South African Human Rights Commission chairperson Jody Kollapen said people were isolating themselves because of crime, and even humanitarian instincts like stopping to help someone in distress were moderated by a fear of crime.

”That’s not the kind of people we want to be,” Kollapen said.

The convention, facilitated by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, hoped to explore ways of making the country safer and getting everyone to contribute to this in their daily lives.

Kollapen said even though the government spending on crime had increased by 1 500% from 1990 to R68-billion at present, ”we are no safer”.

South Africa’s legacy of dysfunctionality had to be recognised in finding a solution, but at the same time the country also had a history of overcoming formidable obstacles.

”We now stand as a nation where our self-determination stands in the balance,” he said.

The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation said poverty was one of the main contributors to crime.

Releasing a study on the causes of crime — which was commissioned by the Safety and Security Department — centre representative David Bruce said it also highlighted a lack of parenting skills as a contributing factor.

Many South Africans also believed crime and violence were normal characteristics of society and this contributed to the rise of serious offences.

Business against Crime chairperson Siphiwe Nzimande said business was working towards helping make crime ”very costly” for perpetrators. At first it believed police investigators were inefficient when given information it thought would be helpful, like CCTV footage, but found that the quality it provided was too poor to be of any use.

”Sometimes it was just of someone’s shoe,” he said, adding that improving this resource was one of helping the police.

He said that contrary to belief, most cars stolen in South Africa were not exported to neighbouring countries, but were re-registered in South Africa or sold as spare parts.

He hoped a new polymer microdot car-identification system, which insurers were showing interest in, would reduce car theft and the market for stolen parts.

The convention, with million-man march against crime initiator Desmond Dube as MC, will be open to the public again at Vodaworld on Thursday. — Sapa