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Anatomy of a national menace.

Crime is the single most significant factor standing in the way of South Africa's economic expansion and foreign investment. It has led to loss of confidence at home and abroad. Like a malignant disease, it seems to spread faster the more victims it claims. How can this scourge be halted? We asked Tom Nevin to investigate the scale, depth and causes of crime in South Africa and to come up with some answers to the problems. This is his report.

One man who is convinced the tide of crime sweeping across South Africa is slowly being rolled back is Police Commissioner, Mr George Fivaz. Not surprisingly for the world's most crime-devastated country, Mr Fivaz stands alone. Big business remains highly sceptical and John citizen would prefer to reserve judgement, and not without reason. The irony is that the appalling statistics on crime are making less and less impact on a nation which hosts the crime capital of the globe, Johannesburg, and which seems to becoming inured to the problem.

Last year nearly 2m serious crimes were reported but only half of these were solved. In Gauteng, at least 13 people are murdered each day, every six minutes a car is stolen, nearly 2,600 trucks were hijacked between 1 July 1995 and the end of June 1996, and over 3,000 women are raped each month. With figures like this, public confidence in the Government's ability to deal with crime has plunged by 40% in the last 18 months. A survey carried out by the Human Resources Research Council (HSRC) found that only 28% of respondents felt the Government had crime under control and 44% felt safe in South Africa.

Compare these to figures from a couple of years ago, and you begin to get a better picture of the situation. As the HSRC reports: "These contrast to figures obtained just after the April 1994 General Elections when 73% (of respondents) considered themselves safe and 67% believed the Government had the crime situation under control." What is perhaps more worrying is the HSRC concluded that the fear of crime could become a bigger enemy to civil society than crime itself: "Only 10% of the respondents indicated they had in fact been victims of crime". The Council says the extent of concern could cause people to take self-protective measures or mete out instant justice to criminals themselves.

Another ramification of crime is already being witnessed. South Africa is facing a double-sided migration crisis with a mounting stream of educated people leaving the country and a mass of less-skilled and poorly educated people pouring in. The prime reason given for the (mainly white) emigration is the crime rate. The overwhelmingly black influx comprises many people from neighbouring countries who enter South Africa illegally looking for work. The Central Statistical Service (CSS) in Pretoria reports that since January this year, the number of emigrants is in excess of 5,600 which more than doubles the number of legal immigrants. Over 40% of the total number of economically active emigrants were in professional, semi-professional or technical occupations. Compared with the same period last year, this represents an emigration increase of around 25% and a legal immigration decrease of 4%.

The combination of net emigration, persistent violence and crime, declining levels of confidence in the Government's management of the economy and prolonged high mortgage rates of about 19.24%, is having a marked effect on residential property values. Absa Bank, South Africa's largest financial institution, recently reported the first nominal decline in residential property prices since 1986. The price of an average medium-sized house dropped by 1% in the third quarter over the same period a year ago. After inflation, this represents a real decline of 5.3% for the year so far.

Property values plunge

The Bureau of Market Research at the University of South Africa (Unisa) has found that the value of new buildings financed by the private sector plunged by 21% in real terms in the period between 1992 and 1995 due to low levels of investor confidence and economic growth. Mr Andre Ligthelm, Unisa's Research Director, says the drop in privately funded building construction was particularly severe in non-residential buildings such as office space, shopping and industrial premises. From the stable prices seen four years ago, the value of non-residential buildings in 1992 declined from R2.1bn to R1.2bn last year which is equivalent to 55% of the 1992 level.

However, Mr Ligthelm notes that the increased crime rate has created a considerable swing towards town house and clustered residential developments as middle and upper income groups continue to search for maximum security property. High-walled and high security residential complexes accounted for nearly 26% of the total number of residential buildings completed last year, against just 15% in 1992.

Meanwhile war is brewing between Johannesburg gangsters and Nigerian drug dealers in what has become known as "Little Lagos", an area between Hillbrow, thought to be the most densely populated urban place in the world, and Berea. The Nigerians, many of whom were admitted to South Africa after claiming asylum from their politically turbulent country, virtually control Johannesburg's lucrative drug trade which is estimated to be worth over R100m a month. Local hoodlums seize their slice of the action by kidnapping dealers and holding them to ransom at about R10,000 a grab.

"The local criminals count on the fact that drug dealers are easy pickings," says Senior Superintendent, Mr Dave Botha, of the Hillbrow police. "They know their victims would rather not get involved with the police." What really worries Mr Botha is that the confrontation looming between gangster and dealer could result in a shoot-out on the streets: "If it comes to that, innocent people will die in the crossfire."

On a more encouraging note, the CSS reports an increase of 35.2% in the number of travellers to South Africa. Out of a total 112,497 visitors, nearly 70% came to the newly-democratic country for a holiday. However, in the same breath the CSS warns that South Africa's tourism boom is beginning to flag because visitors are frightened off by the notorious crime rate. Figures focusing on more recent information show the amount of over-night hotel bookings sold to foreign tourists in August this year declined by 6.3% compared to the same month last year.

The South African Police Services (SAPS) is taking extraordinary measures to combat the mounting criminality and according to Mr Fivaz, it is starting to pay off. For the first time in years, crime statistics are reaching a plateau and it should not be long before they actually begin to decrease, insists the Commissioner.

A Ministry of Crime?

Big business raised a few eyebrows when it made a call to establish a 'Ministry of Crime' to deal purely with crime and criminals. This proposition was made by the South African Chamber of Business (SACOB) whose political analyst, Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, asserts such a Ministry should put an end to a situation in which crime, "has overwhelmed the capacity of law enforcement to contain it. We have to start somewhere. One has to ask whether the time has not come for a single Ministry of Crimes."

Commenting further, Professor Schlemmer cited a number of cases as evidence that the Government is being forced to acknowledge that control might be slipping from its hands: The two car-hijacking murders of a senior German businessman and a football hero's father; the rise of vigilantism and its grisly reprisals against hoodlums; the armed robbery at Mr Justice Chakelson's home; and the retreat of Justice Minister, Mr Dullah Omar, from his own home to a "safe house".

Not wishing to rely on others, South Africa's business community has developed its own initiative, Business Against Crime (BAC), which is supported by both the police and the Government. It recently co-authorised the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS), a weighty document that was hailed by BAC Chairperson, Ms Wendy Lucas-Bull, as a "strong, positive and determined effort to do something about South Africa's epidemic of crime". Summing up strong feelings, she added, "It's time for action. It's simply not good enough to say its someone else's problem. It is everyone's problem. The sooner this is realised, the sooner the security problems facing South Africa can be confronted."

In the four months since the strategy document was produced, BAC have got straight on with the job and vital aspects of the NCPS have been translated into action plans. Mr Victor Mhangwana, BAC Project Manager, has reported that if the problems highlighted in the publication are going to be confronted properly, much of the criminal justice system will have to be re-engineered.

The extent of concern within the corporate sector over the damaging effect of crime on the economy, is mirrored in many business chairmen's statements. "The euphoria which initially pervaded the business community after 1994 has made way for considerable disillusionment," says Pepco Chairman, Mr Christo Wiese. In his latest annual report, Woolworth's Chairman, Mr Colin Hall, has virtually declared war: "We actively promote the idea of merging all the armed manpower available, including the many thousands employed by the private sector, into a single cohesive force for the security of all citizens, a sort of peace corps. If adequately armed, it would restore peace and stability for all South Africans and their property."

The reasons put forward for the country's scourge of crime are many and varied and depend on which side of the political fence you stand.

Mr Enver Daniels, Special Adviser to the Minister of Justice, says it is not by chance that crime has become a highly emotional issue in South Africa. Current debates, in his opinion, tend to ignore the fact that for decades the majority of the population, who are black, were subjected to a reign of terror by both state forces and criminal elements.

"Being disadvantaged and disenfranchised, blacks were unable to take meaningful steps to address the crime problem," says Mr Daniels. "Apartheid had economic, social and political components, all of which impacted negatively on the lives of black people. The effects of apartheid on society suggest a link between apartheid and crime."

The destruction of stable communities and families through forced removals had a particularly disruptive effect. It appears to have led to increased gangsterism, rape, robbery, assault, theft and murder which has escalated under conditions of poverty and deprivation. "This should have promoted a National Plan of Action years ago but instead it elicited absolutely no response from the apartheid authorities," he says.

Church leader, Mr Peter Storey, believes the problem is more multi-faceted than that. After all, he says, in Rio people are just as deprived as in Johannesburg but they don't use that as an excuse to kill. "I have always been able to understand our crime wave in terms of our impossibly high unemployment and the transition through which our society is passing," says Mr Storey. "What I can't stomach is the gratuitous brutality that accompanies what would otherwise be simple theft. The emphasis on rape and the horrors perpetrated on children are not about crime: They speak of another disease, one of the soul."

He contends that South Africa needs healing, not just policing. "We have to get to the submerged anger we have stored up over the years," he stresses. "There is hidden rage in too many of us, both white and black, and we need to recognise and deal with it. To blame the criminal element alone is to miss the point."

Another point of view comes from the former Editor of The Star daily newspaper, Mr Harvey Tyson, who says that basic to any success against crime is political will. "When the ANC sought to render South Africa ungovernable more than a decade ago, it never occurred to its leaders that this might be what could happen in 1997. Yet, unless society and the Government take effective action now, crime might rob the nation of hope with fatal results."

Rise of vigilantism

Adding to the pressures on law enforcement agencies is a rising ground-swell of vigilantes. While kangaroo courts and the meting out of rough justice in South Africa's mainly black townships is hardly regarded as a new phenomenon, recently it surfaced in a new and terrifying form of retribution. A Cape Flats suburban group in Cape Town, calling itself People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD), cornered the leader of the notorious Hard Livings Gang, Mr Rachaad Staggie, riddled him with bullets and set him on fire.

But why did this horrific incident occur? It seems that community anger had boiled over in the face of what they saw as a lack of police protection. As Mr Ebrahim Rasool, the Western Cape Minister for Health and Social Services, explains, "They took matters into their own hands because they perceived the courts and police to be ineffective, wrongly deployed, corrupt collaborators in the pay of the gang-lords."

PAGAD members are almost exclusively Muslim and Mr Rasool fears a growing influence from the radical Islamic movement represented by an organisation called Qibla, "direction" in Arabic. Initially, the organisation was devoted to welfare projects but has recently taken an active interest in combating crime, says Mr Rasool. Protest marches by PAGAD and further threats to take justice into its own hands have brought it into conflict with the Government. A series of meetings with high-ranking justice department officials, including Mr Omar, resulted in a fragile truce that is being kept in place by a heightened uniformed police presence in the area.

Can prisons cope?

But as the crusade against crime is implemented and hopefully begins to yield results, it may well bring with it another serious problem. Can the prison service or for that matter the courts, deal with the thousands of perpetrators that will fall into the justice system's net?

The fact is South Africa's courts are in a man-power crisis as prosecutors, magistrates, translators and stenographers desert the justice department for richer pickings in the private sector. The courts were recently thrown into chaos when state attorneys downed their tools for more pay and better working conditions - and the Treasury did not get off lightly. The prison service, nevertheless, is facing collapse and it is anyone's guess what will happen to criminals who have been apprehended and successfully prosecuted.

The country's prisons are running 25% over capacity; some are crammed with twice as many convicts as they were designed for. The justice department has begun to arrange early parole in order to make room for new arrivals. The possibility that dangerous criminals could be released after serving only a fraction of their sentences, just to make room for their freshly convicted counterparts, will surely increase.

South Africa has 227 prisons with only an additional three being built each year in anticipation of the flood of felons. Currently some 118,000 criminals are in jail and this figure is expected to jump to 125,000 by the end of the year. Pressures on the state purse are immense: It costs nearly R70 per day to keep someone locked-up which adds up to a staggering total of R8.75m every day or R31bn each year.

Currently, the justice department is studying recommendations for a new parole system which it hopes will erase the existing shortfalls that facilitate early release. It would, however, reduce the numbers on parole and aggravate an already desperate over-crowding problem. The main thrust of the new legislation compels prisoners to serve at least half of their sentence before being eligible for parole while prisoners who committed murder and other serious crimes will be jailed for at least two-thirds to three-quarters of their sentences. Prisoners with life sentences will serve at least 20 years.

Calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty for violent crimes, particularly armed hijacking, have come from all sections of South African society but nevertheless steadfastly refused by President Nelson Mandela. A nationwide survey by a national newspaper group revealed that 97% of the respondents were in favour of bringing back capital punishment. In the short-term at least, this is unlikely because the new constitution specifically bans the State from taking life as a means of punishment. "And that will never be changed," avers Mr Mandela.

Mr Omar, meanwhile, says the Cabinet and the Treasury should make the fight against crime their next priority for 1997. He concedes that not enough money is being set aside for the criminal justice system. "South Africa needs to bring its legislation into line with the best in the international community because it is dealing with very powerful forces in organised crime," he confirms. "While it is correct to focus on bringing vehicle hijackers to book, there is a need to get to the bottom of organised crime and the syndicates behind the hijacking."

The answer to the problem lies not just in catching criminals but reducing the incidence of crime. Quite simply, less crime, fewer criminals. But if only it were that simple. A bizarre twist of fate highlighted yet another problem facing the justice system. When victims of vehicle hijacking gathered at a Johannesburg police station to attend an identity parade of suspected perpetrators, one of the victims recognised an on-duty policeman as one of the perpetrators who had robbed him of his car three months earlier. The policeman was arrested and is awaiting trial.

Corruption within the police force and the level of police collaboration with criminals has risen to new heights. In one month alone, over 400 police officers were arrested or suspended on suspicion of graft in Gauteng. Nearly 1,800 SAPS members were convicted of crimes committed in the course of duty and some 5,500 complaints of assault were lodged against policemen last year. The problem might well be a lot bigger than that but it is not easy to get investigating officers to act against colleagues. Commissioner Fivaz, nevertheless, has vowed a "merciless crack-down" on corrupt policemen and the spate of arrests in Gauteng indicates that he is as good as his word.

Many of the action plans being put into operation by SAPS and other law enforcement agencies are designed to be highly visible. Helicopters carrying swarms of police and military, swoop down from the sky without warning and an area is rapidly cordoned off and searched. Road-blocks, armed patrols, raids into criminal-frequented areas as well as covert operations, are making a mark on the crime epidemic. Statistics are proof of that. The challenge for Commissioner Fivaz is to keep up the pressure and ensure there is somewhere to keep criminals when they are caught. Quite a tall order.

RELATED ARTICLE: Business fights crime

As one of the arch crime-busters in South Africa, Ms Wendy Lucas-Bull looks innocuous. The person who got up to got up to shake my hand when I called on her at the Rand Merchant Bank, where she is Executive Director, is, and there is no other word for it, petite: a little under medium height, slim, chiselled features, large, sharp eyes. It must have been a purple day for her: a smart, but not stiff purplish suit, a red polka-dot scarf and a purple shade of lipstick.

She immediately slipped into that easy, genial, hail fellow stance that many South Africans seem to have perfected. She apologised for the weather, which was unseasonably cold, sang out for a cup of coffee and settled back, or so it seemed, to enjoy the interview.

A person totally in command of the situation: That was the first impression I received. Ms Lucas-Bull is one of the very few women, white or black, to have broken through the male dominated corporate structure and made it to the top. 'Was the going rough?' I asked.

"It's never been easy," she said with a quick smile. "But I learnt a long time ago to lose and still go on."

Did she feel at home in the new South Africa?

"Absolutely! Everything is now possible. Glass ceilings paralyse people - is the problem me or something else? You need to do what the performance criteria is all about. Look to change yourself".

While I was chewing the cud on this one, she bustled about, made a couple of calls, roared with laughter at a joke her secretary made, scribbled a few notes and answered about ten calls.

A couple of months ago, she had been appointed chairperson of Business Against Crime. She thus stepped into the shoes of Mr Piet Liebenberg who had left the body to concentrate on his new appointment as Chief Executive of SA Revenue Services, a new department set up to revamp the tax system and recover an estimated R9bn in unpaid taxes.

What was Business Against Crime's brief?

"To stop crime," said Ms Lucas-Bull. "To stop it happening, i.e. prevention, to dig into the causes of crime and to make sure it doesn't pay, i.e. re-working the criminal justice system".

Why was preventing crime so important?

"Because crime is threatening everything we are working towards".

What could the business community offer in terms of fighting crime?

"We have management expertise and we have resources," said Ms Lucas-Bulb. Business Against Crime have donated a large fleet of powerful BMW cars to the local police and are engaging the local communities in the battle.

"All the evidence we have," said Ms Lucas-Bull, "shows only a small correlation between unemployment and crime. One of the main causes of crime is tolerance for criminal activity by the community.

"Given our history, this is easy to understand. But times have changed. The community is becoming less and less tolerant of criminals. We must make sure that law enforcement and the justice system back up the citizens in their fight against crime."

Her secretary came in to remind her that she had to attend a function for one of her children. How many children did she have? "Three," she said and her face lit up.

Would Business Against Crime work?

"Of course. If you think you can, you can; and if you think you can't, you'll never be wrong".

She left me chewing the cud on that one too. Criminals, better watch out - the lady's on your case.

Anver Versi.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tracking stolen cars

The South African telecommunications utility, Telkom, and the giant private sector company, Rembrandt, have teamed up in a R50m venture to help the South African Police force (SAP) stem the rising epidemic of vehicle theft that has begun to plague the country. Police estimates reveal that on a country-wide basis, a motor vehicle is either stolen or hijacked every 54 seconds.

The jointly operated Tracker Network system was officially 'switched on' at a ceremony in Johannesburg attended by Government and police officials on 1 October. It has two components: A small transponder hidden inside the vehicle and a police tracking computer which is fitted into police cars, aircraft and other strategic locations such as border posts and ports. So how does it work?

When a vehicle with a Tracker transponder is stolen the owner notifies the control centre which has a computerised database and is linked to a radio and satellite network; the transponder will be triggered via satellite and a tracking signal received by the police; they interpret the signal on tracking computers which enable them to locate, follow and recover the stolen vehicle. As the Commissioner of the National Crime Investigation Service, Mr Wouter Grove, announced, "The empowerment of the SAP and South Africa's vehicle owners has begun."
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Title Annotation:includes related article on the Business Against Crime organization; rising crime rates in South Africa
Author:Nevin, Tom
Publication:African Business
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Words:3926
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