‘The World Cup crisis that was(n’t)’

It’s one thing for South Africa to host a secure Soccer World Cup, but quite another to deal with the fundamental causes of crime in the country.

That was the consensus at the latest Mail & Guardian Critical Thinking Forum, held on July 9 in Johannesburg.

Panellists at the forum — which included Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, acclaimed author Johnny Steinberg and M&G investigative journalist Adriaan Basson — tackled the topic of: “Crime, security and the World Cup crisis that was(n’t)”.

While the extraordinary criminal justice system put in place for the World Cup impressed during the tournament, it was established that a different kind of security plan was needed to address South Africa’s high crime statistics.

Mbalula said visible policing, rapid response task teams and crime prevention — with an emphasis on crime intelligence — were some of the crime-fighting strategies employed by the police to ensure that South Africa hosted a safe event.


“It’s important that we continue with this model, which is an integrated approach of looking at the justice system, police catching criminals and speedy prosecutions,” he said.

Not the same for a country
However for Steinberg — who has penned several books about everyday life in the wake of South Africa’s transition to democracy — policing an event was not the same as policing a country.

“The policing of car-hijacking, house robbery, business robbery is unaffected by this. So the event is gone, the events-specific policing goes with it, and everything is back to normal,” he pointed out.

It was a sentiment echoed by fellow panellist Dr Chandre Gould, senior researcher in the Crime and Justice Programme at the Institute for Security Studies.

“We don’t know whether domestic violence has increased or decreased. We don’t know about any other kind of crime unrelated to the event itself. We can presume that crime unrelated to the World Cup probably went on much like it does when there is not a World Cup.”

She stressed that South Africa needed a holistic approach in dealing with crime, such as “rehabilitation programmes or some kind of programmes in prisons to assist prisoners to be able to operate on the outside”.

Rigorous planning
Gareth Newham, head of the Crime and Justice Programme at the Institute of Security Studies, said he would like to see the same kind of rigorous planning that was put into the Soccer World Cup go into a national strategic plan of reducing crime in South Africa.

“We have the resources, we have the people, the technology, and we proved it during the World Cup. Now we have to direct those resources to provide a clear plan of action for South Africa to see how we reduce crime in the next five years.”

Newham said it was disturbing that South Africa didn’t have a clear crime-prevention strategy and that crime statistics took a long time to be released.

“For instance, the crime statistics are released once a year, six months out of date usually. We will only be able to assess the actual crime patterns of this time in September next year, when the crime stats get released again.”

Negative press reports
Meanwhile, Mbalula slammed negative press reports about South Africa’s crime levels and other prospects of terror ahead of the Cup.

“Time and again South Africa woke up to a new story breaking about threats to its possibility of hosting a successful World Cup. If it was not Australia being plan B, it was threats about acts of terrorism, sharp increases in human trafficking and organised crime, outbreak of xenophobia and banishing the vuvuzela.”

He recalled Fifa’s statement of: “Show us a country where there is no crime — none”.

Gould agreed, recalling the flood of panicky news articles before the Cup, particularly on the subject of human trafficking.

“About two weeks before the World Cup was due to start, 702 was calling me saying: ‘We have got parents on the line here who are terrified about whether or not they can allow their children to play in the backyard during the World Cup’.”

However, she said the last month’s activity “was pretty much what we predicted we would see. There has been no increase in human trafficking, not according to the media or by the law enforcement authorities.”.

‘Laudable efforts’
The country’s strong security showing was thanks to a number of factors — “but definitely not to the diligence and efficiency of the local organising committee”, pointed out M&G investigative journalist Adriaan Basson, who conducted extensive research and investigations into security contracts awarded for the tournament.

“Were it not for the laudable efforts of the South African Police Service and thousands of its members, the possibility of a security crisis might have been much more real than we would have liked to think,” said Basson.

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