Lorraine Kearney and Janine Erasmus
Crime hogs the headlines in South Africa, and the country's reputation as a crime capital stretches far and wide. But according to the South African Police Service (SAPS), crime is on a downward trend. And South Africa's Institute for Security Studies (ISS) backs this up.
On 9 September 2010 the SAPS released the national crime statistics for the year 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010. There were decreases in the three significant contact crime categories of murder, attampted murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances. For the first time since the establishment of the South African Police Service in 1995/1996, murder dropped to below 17 000 incidents.
In all but one of the SAPS's seven contact crime categories, crime decreased over the previous year. Contact crime is defined as violent crime against the person. An increase of 1% was recorded in the incidence of common assault.
Of the categories that decreased, murder showed the greatest decline - dropping 8.6% - and assault with GBH the smallest - dropping 0.5%. Aggravated robbery dropped by 7.5%, while attempted murder dropped by 6.1% and common robbery by 4.1%. In total, contact crime dropped by 4.3% compared to 6.4% over the previous period.
Dr Johan Burger, a senior researcher in the crime and justice programme at the ISS, says the 2010 crime statistics were proof that something positive was happening, and that research should be conducted to identify other factors that had contributed to the improvement in the crime statistics.
The results of the ISS's National Victims of Crime Survey 2003 seem to support the SAPS figures. It found that 23% of South Africans were victims of crime between September 2002 and August 2003, down almost 2% from 24.5% in 1998.
It did, however, find that people's feelings of safety decreased. The number feeling unsafe at night had more than doubled from 25% in 1998 to 53% in 2003.
"It is an international experience that about 50% of all crimes are not reported," Burger says. In its survey, the ISS found that 97% of car thefts were reported, for example. Cars are normally insured and to make a claim, an owner must have a police reference number. On the other hand, only 29% of ordinary robbery was reported.
It is estimated that 30% to 60% of rape is not reported, Burger says, adding that women simply do not want to go through the trauma of reporting it and facing a court case if the rapist is caught.
Joan van Niekerk, the director of Childline, also has no quibble with the reporting system of counting crimes committed, which looks at the dockets opened, but people are often turned away by the police, she says.
"People who know about organisations like us, and are sufficiently empowered, call us. According to research by the Medical Research Council, just one in nine rapes are reported, while Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention research found that one in nine children report crime.
These findings may not reflect the current situation, as the ISS has not conducted another Victims of Crime survey since 2003.
The SAPS report stated that all research conducted by the Crime Information Analysis Centre - now known as the Crime Research and Statistics component of Crime Intelligence - over the past decade has confirmed that about 70%-80% of murders, 60% of attempted murders, 75% of rapes and 90% of all assaults (whether GBH, common or indecent assault) involve victims and perpetrators who know one another (whether as family members, friends, acquaintances or colleagues).
Alcohol and, to a lesser extent, drug abuse frequently plays a role in these crimes.
The latest research indicates that roughly 65% of murders are associated with social behaviour and 16% are a consequence of other crimes (mainly robbery), while 12% and 7% respectively are committed in self-defence by law enforcers or victims of crime; or as a result of group behaviour such as vigilantism, gang wars and taxi-related violence.
Carjacking dropped by 6.8% compared to the previous period's figure of +4.4%, and robbery at homes was up 1.9% compared to the increase of 13.5% in the previous period. These crimes occurred most often in the more affluent suburbs of Gauteng such as Sandton, Honeydew, Douglasdale, Brooklyn and Garsfontein.
The report says that most street robbers operate at street level in central business districts and megatownships, as individuals or in small groups. Most house robbers operate in small (two – three person) groups, often with a single firearm, selecting their targets on the basis of appearances (an impression that a target may offer rich pickings). They rob mainly between 22h00 and 04h00, because they want their victims present in order to open safes and/or hand over cash, mobile telephones or jewellery.
Business robbers can basically be divided into two categories. Most of them rob small and even unregistered businesses (e.g. spaza shops and shebeens), but also sometimes targeting medium-sized businesses. They steal mainly cash and mobile telephones.
Carjackers mostly differ from the groups above. They are usually part of hijacking syndicates or serve as suppliers to highly organised syndicates at a higher level of organised crime.
According to SAPS statistics, there was extreme violence resulting in severe injuries or deaths in only a small number of carjacking and house robbery cases over the reporting period.
It speculated that "the vast majority of house robberies, carjackings, business robberies, truck hijackings, cash-in-transit (CIT) heists and bank robberies are committed with firearms. Shots are frequently fired at victims and may hit them. The victims in many cases return fire in self-defense and may also hit the robbers, or even innocent bystanders. A number of attempted murders involving people wounded under the above circumstances can consequently be generated during a single case of such robbery."
In general, the contact crime level has dropped by 4.3%. An ISS report on the latest crime statistics says that "the reduction in murder is particularly good news given that this is the most accurate statistic for interpersonal violent crime".
In his speech at the launch of the latest crime statistics, Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa said, "We are also encouraged by the number of arrests that have taken place that are associated with this type of crime, which is 11 834 arrests."
Several contact-related, property-related and other serious crimes, such as malicious damage to property (down by 2.9%), and arson (down by 3.5%), theft of cars and motorcycles (down by 6.7%), dropped.
Commercial crime, however, rose by 8.1% and burglary at business premises and at home rose by 1.2% and 2.7% respectively.
Such crimes, says the SAPS report, can flow from either individual behaviour (someone in bad faith causing damage to another person’s property for whatever reason), or from collective behaviour (a group of people going on the rampage as a result of industrial action; out of frustration with e.g. trains running late or a lack of service delivery; or from being swept along by a frenzy of xenophobic emotion, for example).
The report also says that the marginal increase of 1.2% in burglary at non-residential premises (mainly businesses and specifically small to medium-sized businesses) during 2009/2010 actually represents a stabilisation, taking into account that this crime increased by 6.3%, 6.8% and 9.2% respectively during 2006/2007, 2007/2008 and 2008/2009.
"For the first time this year this type of crime is stabilising since it has been increasing at an alarming rate over the past five years," says Mthethwa, referring to the home burglary statistics.
In terms of business burglaries he says, "Again here, there has always been a sharp increase but this financial year, we are starting to experience stabilisation in this area as well."
Despite the increase in non-residential burglaries, says Mthethwa, in almost all major business sectors, there has been a significant decrease in robberies.
"This would include the banking sector, cash-in-transits, major retailers with a 51% decline, 11% decline at shopping malls, 25% at petrol stations, the tourism sector, and an 18% decline for post offices. This is encouraging because these industries had been negatively affected in the past few years," he says.
Drug-related crimes - using and selling - and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs increased by 13.3% and 10.6%, the latter showing a big improvement over the previous figure of 25.4%, and illegal possession of guns increased by 2.4%. As these were not usually reported by the public, these crimes come to attention primarily as a result of police actions such as roadblocks, searches and intelligence collection.
An increase in these crimes may actually indicate that the police are more active, whereas a decrease may indicate reduced police activity.
"In some of the communities, with which we continuously engage, we have been able to subsequently record significant successes," says Mthethwa. "The increase in drug detection, whilst it reflects a positive trend, also concerns us because it could also speak to an increase in the availability of drugs in the country."
The Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention found in its 2005 National Youth Victimisation Study that between September 2004 and September 2005, 41.5% of South African children and youth aged 12 to 22 were victims of crime or violence, or almost one in two.
Young people, it seems, are twice as likely as adults to be victims of crime and violence.
It found that 46% of young males had been victimised, against 37% of young females. One in five (16.3%) young people claimed to have been threatened or harmed at school. One in six (1.7 million youngsters) were assaulted in 2005.
About one in five young people, or 2-million children and youth, were victims of theft in the 12 months studied; about one in 10 were robbed. Tellingly, the study found that only one in 10 cases of assault of young people and children were reported to the police.
It is unclear who the criminals are, with some South Africans believing that violent crime and robberies are the work of illegal foreigners from other African countries.
Burger says there has been no formal study into this allegation, with no information from the authorities. The issue has been raised, but the general feeling is one of "let's not go there", with racism and xenophobia being feared. In fact, the xenophobia issue tragically spilled over into violence during May 2008 when foreign nationals were targeted, attacked and in many cases killed. However, the majority of South Africans condemned the brutality.
Some 29% of South Africans personally knew someone who made a living from crime, according to the National Victims of Crime Survey 2003. Most people says crime was committed by people from their communities. Only 4% thought that foreigners were responsible.
But according to Burger, poverty is one of the main causes of crime. The SAPS report backs this up. There is rapid urbanisation, with migration into cities from rural areas and across the country's borders. Towns and cities don't have the infrastructure to deal with this influx, and squatter camps sprout up.
People live in dire conditions; there is 80% to 90% unemployment and residents' basic needs are not met. These people are not criminally minded, but are forced to steal to satisfy their basic needs. Their desperation also leads to substance abuse, and the subsequent rise in contact crimes in these areas.
The Youth Victimisation Study found that one in two young people personally knew someone in their community who committed crime, while one in four knew someone who made their living from crime. Almost one in two personally knew someone who was in prison or who had been in jail for crime.
About 17% of offenders in the Childline offender programme (a rehabilitation project) are paedophiles; other sexual assaults of children are the result of other impulses - many are by men who are simply sexually irresponsible, says Van Niekerk. She adds that there are also beliefs that sex with a virgin makes you a man, gets rid of HIV infection, makes you rich,
A number of organisations exist to fight crime. The metros and larger cities, like Johannesburg, eThekwini, Cape Town, Ekurhuleni and Mogale City, have their own metropolitan police forces. These forces are responsible for enforcing by-laws and traffic laws, and they can arrest criminals.
They work closely with the SAPS and run programmes, training and crime fighting campaigns together.
Under the Police Act, each SAPS police station must have a Community Policing Forum. But as these forums require public volunteers, not all stations have them.
Richard Dancer, the chief executive of the Parkview Community Policing Forum in northern Johannesburg, says the primary role of the CPF is "like an ombudsman; we observe the police and make sure they are doing the right thing".
CPFs raise funds for the station, help with training of officers and maintenance. They also boost public awareness and bolster public confidence in the SAPS. Many CPFs also run blockwatch programmes, using their cars and petrol to drive the police on patrols around their neighbourhoods. They also rally domestic workers, ward councillors, residents' associations and security companies.
Eblockwatch has about 51 000 members countrywide, and relies on public participation.
The founder, Andre Snyman, says registered members can contact Eblockwatch when they, friends or family are in trouble, using a pre-set cellphone alert. Mass cellphone messages are sent out to rally other members in the area, and the headoffice in Johannesburg mobilises the relevant authorities.
Members can also submit information about crime on the website, which helps to build incident maps. A Travel Buddy system is targeted at tourists, which also uses cellphone technology.
Business Against Crime (BAC) is a national organisation funded and run by industry bodies. It was established in 1996 to work directly with government structures, using business minds and skills to improve law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
Labane Maluleke, the marketing and donor officer, explained that BAC set up the Anti-Crime Leadership Forum in 2006. It comprises six government ministers - of Safety and Security, Defence, Justice, Correctional Services and Home Affairs, as well as the head of the National Prosecuting Authority - and eight leading businessmen.
The forum reports directly to the president and runs various programmes focusing on mobilising society, reducing violent organised crime, improving the criminal justice system and enhancing delivery effectiveness.
The following were the findings of the South African Police Service's national crime statistics for the year 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010. All figures are given for the ratio of incidents per 100 000 of the population, except for the six aggravated robbery sub-categories, for which these statistics were not provided. Instead, real figures are quoted for these six sub-categories.
Aggravated robbery is divided into six sub-categories:
Crime detected as a result of police action
Other serious crime