/ 3 December 2008

Researcher says govt crime strategy has failed

Government’s national crime prevention strategy (NCPS) has failed in part because of its lack of understanding of the relationship between crime and its underlying causes, an Institute for Security Studies (ISS) report revealed on Wednesday.

Speaking at a seminar on the state’s response to the crime problem, senior researcher Johan Burger said that he was ”adamant” that the strategy had failed.

He said this was because socioeconomic problems such as unemployment, poverty, lack of education and the absence of adequate social services — which were considered the biggest threat to national security — had not formed part of the overarching strategy.

”If a national threat, why not a national strategy?” said Burger.

”It shows that government is not performing in terms of its Constitutional mandate.”

He said the ”depressing” lack of conviction, commitment and support to implement the NCPS had also been its downfall.

The said while there had been a positive downward trend in crime it had been at a slower rate than recorded in 2002 and 2003 to 2005 and 2006. This raised legitimate concerns about why it had decreased especially since the police force had expanded in numbers.

He said however that this was not a strange phenomena unique to South Africa.

”It’s not all the police’s fault, the sooner we grasp this truth the better … It just proves that increasing the police’s numbers is not going to solve the crime problem.”

He said the police claimed that most murders and social contact crimes — which have shown a decrease but are still well above the international norm — were committed by people who were known to the victims.

According to the police, a relatively high number of these crimes happened in residences, normally beyond the reach of conventional policing.

”This implies the police can do little, if anything, to prevent these particular types of crime,” Burger said in the report.

No substitute for commandos
The phasing out of the commandos had also left a security vacuum.

Senior researcher Henri Boshoff said it was most worrying that the commandos were closed down even in places where there was almost no substitute in place.

”Rural areas were left particularly vulnerable in a view of the importance of the commandos for their security and the rural protection plan, built around the commandos, is for all practical purposes defunct.”

He said in terms of government’s promise to increase personnel it had been able to expand police numbers by about 30 000 over the last five years.

”As far as other aspects of the replacement promise are concerned, however, government directly or indirectly … failed to keep its promises,” said Boshoff.

He said it was not a matter of re-deploying commandos at this stage but sector policing — if implemented properly — could fill the security vacuum.

Border control was also another example of a ”complete failure”.

This finding was borne out of the January 2008 report from the auditor-general on border control.

”This failure has contributed to tensions in border areas and to increased feelings of insecurity in these areas. It also has created real or potential security risks and the likelihood of crime and violence,” he said, referring to the high number of crimes occuring on farms.

The areas that formed part of the study were Clocolan and neighbouring Marquard (Free State), Dundee (KwaZulu-Natal), and Cullinan and Krugersdorp (Gauteng).

Civil rights initiative AfriForum, which had approached the ISS to undertake the independent study, said it would be taking legal steps against the government.

”The ISS report now provides a scientific basis on which the government can be held accountable in court for its neglect to combat crime effectively,” said CEO Kallie Kriel.

He said he had handed the ISS report to a legal team with the instruction that they should look into ways it could be used to take the government to court.

”Once the government is called to account in public, the sense of urgency, which to date has been absent from the authorities feeble efforts to combat crime, will be added,” said Kriel.

The release of the ISS study and AfriForum’s announcement to take legal steps comes a day after Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa concluded a two-day crime conference. – Sapa