There is not one South African who cannot attest to the unacceptable level of crime in the country. Almost everyone I know has been a victim of crime.
What is particularly distressing is that too many of these folk have been victims of violent crime.
South Africa has the highest murder rate of any country in the world. Even higher than Columbia. For this and other reasons, South Africa is considered the most violent country in the world among those who are not at war. See the Institute for Security Studies for crime statistics.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) pointed out this week that the government has not drafted “a national security policy.” See their March 22/23 conference report here.
It would seem elemental to even the most casual of observers that the government develops a comprehensive and integrated mechanism to address the structural sources of crime. Such a mechanism would necessarily be tied to the economic development of the country, but also to the justice system.
The latter aspect is of particular importance because South Africa needs a more efficient policing service. At a very basic level this would mean the training and deployment of police officers who serve to uphold the crime legislation passed in Cape Town.
A few years ago someone broke into my car and stole the stereo. I ran after the man even though I was hardly committed to catch him. It was just not worth a physical altercation. But what I wanted was more details for reporting the crime to the police.
I soon found out that reporting a crime, even a petty one like this, is not usual. Those close to me said, "don’t even waste your time going to the police." And they are serious about this advice.
When I returned to South Africa from India in late Janaury I found out that my 73 year old father had been robbed at knife-point. Among my first questions to him was "what did the police say?" He replied, "I did not got to the police, they cannot help me."
I cannot forget how hopeless I felt that day. And I can only imagine that folks who suffer even worse assaults than my father must be beside themselves in hopelessness. And I am not even touching what it must feel like for those who are the survivors of loved-ones lost to violent crime.
It is unacceptable that the vast majority of crimes are not reported in South Africa. It is also totally unacceptable that the vast majority of crimes that are reported remain unsolved.
In order to address the crime epidemic there will have to be a drastic shift in priorities inside the Presidency.
President Thabo Mbeki usually expresses sentiments about fighting and beating crime but that is not enough. The SAHRC suggests that an overarching body created, inside the Office of the President, to “coordinate the terms to deal with crime.”
I think this to be a worthwhile suggestion that President Mbeki should take it seriously.
What should also be taken seriously is the make-up of the police service.
There is a need to describe the kind of policing that will adequately meet the needs of post-apartheid South Africa. As it stands now, the police are crudely trained and remain unsophisticated even in ‘developing world’ contexts.
This situation must be urgently addressed.
The kind of policeperson we put on the streets is the first line of defense against all kinds of crime. This means that proper training and support is of paramount importance. But it can’t happen if government is not fully behind this kind of professionalization.
And when I say behind I am talking about budgetary allocations and policy mindsets that are comprehensively committed to dealing with crime in an integrated manner.