'Millions of our citizens live in fear'

Crime and violence remain obstacles in the way of rectifying the socio-economic climate essential for allowing a better life for all, a convention on safety has found.

“Crime and violence have already caused untold hardship, disruption and loss of life in our country,” said Action for a Safe South Africa project leader Roelf Meyer.

He was reading from a charter developed during the four-day convention in Midrand.

“It jeopardises the foundations of our democracy and undermines the principles that formed the basis of our transition to democracy as embodied in our Constitution.

“Millions of our citizens live in continuous fear as a result of the climate of crime and violence,” he said.

Meyer said the 300 organisations represented at the convention recognise that the social and economic transformation of the country is not nearly complete, and that South Africans are still suffering economic depravation.

“Fixing the criminal justice system is obviously an important goal for any society, yet we realise that it alone will not make us a safe society, and that unless we significantly reduce the demand on the criminal justice system, it will never be able to deliver justice for all.

“We recognise the need for a practical and an achievable vision of a safe South Africa—a vision that encapsulates an ideal safe society.

“We know that realising this ideal will be a lengthy process and commit to working innovatively, cleverly and with resilience to realise the capacity, funding and structures to achieve this,” Meyer said.

Among the dignitaries throwing their weight behind the initiative are former president Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa.

Role of alcohol
Earlier in the week at the conference, alcohol-free public spaces and the idea of businesses not selling alcohol on payday were suggested.

“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 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.—Sapa

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