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Crime fears grow as SA readies for Soccer World Cup

Crime is rising in South Africa less than nine months before the country hosts the Soccer World Cup, casting doubt on official promises that the tens of thousands of fans heading there next summer will be welcome and safe.

Despite a 3% drop in the murder rate, police statistics revealed an increase in sex offences, including rape, as well as a dramatic rise in burglaries.

In Rustenburg, tipped to be the England squad’s base, cases of sex crimes, assault, robbery with aggravating circumstances and kidnapping all increased on the previous year.

Reported sex crimes also increased in the police precincts of Cape Town central, Durban central, Johannesburg central, Nelspruit, Polokwane, and Pretoria central, which are all certain to receive soccer supporters from around the world.

South Africa’s crime rate is among the highest in the world and remains one of the chief anxieties overshadowing the biggest sporting event to be held on the African continent.

Dianne Kohler Barnard, shadow police minister and an opposition Democratic Alliance MP, said: ”With the 2010 World Cup fast approaching, the usual rhetoric and empty promises must once and for all be brought to an end. We need more police, and better training; we need to deal with the backlog of 20 000 forensic laboratory samples; we need the reconstitution of specialised units, and an end to cadre deployment within our police service.”

Britain’s Foreign Office says there were cases in 2007 and 2008 of foreigners being followed from Johannesburg airport then robbed, often at gunpoint.

Local officials brushed off the figures and insisted visitors would be secure. Rich Mkhondo, a spokesperson for the 2010 local organising committee, said the belief was that the government and security forces would reduce the level of crime. ”We concentrate on event security … we are going to deploy 41 000 new security officers, who are being trained as we speak. This is in addition to 700 police officers in the vicinity of the stadiums. We maintain and remain confident that the World Cup will be safe.”

Last week Nathi Mthethwa, the police minister, signalled that the government was ready to enforce zero tolerance policing. The new national police commissioner, Bheki Cele, has called for officers to have the right to ”shoot to kill”.

The crime statistics for the 2008-09 financial year, the last to be published before the World Cup, showed that 2,1-million serious crimes were recorded. Violent crime in general was down 2,8%, but the overall crime level rose by 0,2%.

While the murder rate fell by 3%, this still represented 18 148 killings a year, one of the worst rates in the world. Street robbery was also down, by 7%, and common assault by 4%. Sexual offences rose by 10%, which the government partly attributes to the inclusion of attacks on men for the first time.

Many fans are likely to hire vehicles when they get to South Africa. Car hijackings, according to the data, show an 8% increase compared with the previous year, with nearly 15 000 incidents recorded nationally.

Mthethwa told Parliament that small businesses and informal traders had seen a rise in violent robbery. Overall, business thefts have soared by 41% over the past year. Bank robberies dropped by 29%, and attacks at ATM’s by 10%, but residential burglaries climbed by 27%. ”It is one of the crimes that are most intrusive,” Mthethwa said. ”We simply cannot tolerate a situation where people do not feel safe in their homes.”

Mthethwa said the police had begun an audit of how they deployed their resources. Critics say a lack of personnel and resources has compromised the police service and justice system, allowing many criminals to evade prosecution, with courts often dismissing cases because of poor police investigations. – guardian.co.uk

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