The South African Police Service (SAPS), in collaboration with Statistics South Africa, have released the latest crime statistics for the period of 1 April 2016 to 31 December 2016. The SAPS report titled “Crime situation in RSA” looks at 17 “community-reported serious crimes” in the categories of contact crimes, contact related crimes, property related crimes and other serious crimes. The statistics show that while many crimes have decreased over the period, armed robbery has increased overall by 6.1%.

Contact crimes (murder, sexual offences, attempted murder, common assault, assault with intent to inflict serious bodily harm, common robbery and robbery with aggravating circumstances) decreased by 1.9%. Contact related crimes (arson and malicious damage to property) decreased overall by 2.6%. Property related crimes (burglary at residential premises, burglary at non-residential premises, theft of motor vehicles and motorcycles, theft out of or from motor cycles and stock theft) decreased overall by 0.2%. The other serious crimes category includes all theft not mentioned elsewhere, commercial crime and shoplifting, all of which decreased by 2.4%. Sexual offences crimes (rape, sexual assault, attempted sexual assault and contact sexual offences) decreased overall by 6.3%. The subcategories of armed robbery, referred to as “trio crimes” (house robbery, robbery at residential premises and robbery at non-residential premises), have increased by 8.2%.

Perdeby spoke to Prof. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a UP Criminology lecturer and President of the Criminological and Victimological Society of Southern Africa, on the latest crime statistics released by the SAPS. According to Prof. Bezuidenhout, the biggest limitation in comparing the recent statistics is that they do not include the complete period, “…because the financial year [from April to March] has not been completed as it is not the same time frame. Therefore, it would be premature to say that crime levels have decreased.” He explained that there was a huge “dark figure” in the form of unreported crimes. Rape is considered an underreported crime, with figures for 2015/2016 showing that 42 596 rape cases were reported, while according to Prof. Bezuidenhout, projection studies have estimated this number to be as high as 1.5million. According to Prof. Bezuidenhout, “a good comparison is that with Poland, which had 502 murders for 2015/2016, 1.21 out of 100 000 versus South Africa, where [the] chances of being murdered [are] 34 out of 100 000. This means that there are 51.2 murders per day in South Africa. [Poland] had 5 550 cases of assault, whereas [South Africa] had 299.9 assault cases reported to the police per day.”
Prof. Bezuidenhout said, “Crime statistics fluctuate, consider the 2010 World Cup where suddenly we had a decrease in crime […] because we had special courts operating until late in the evening, crimes were dealt with immediately […] although this was not planned sustainably.” Prof. Bezuidenhout explained that there are also not enough police officials in South Africa. There are 196 000 (including non-operational members (administrative personnel) police officials in South Africa for over 54 million citizens. Out of this group, 46 000 police officials are not operational (such as graduates and administrative personnel). Out of the 150 000 remaining police officials, some are not on active duty or have taken time off. The remainder of the police force must be divided in half due to day and night shifts in order to police South Africa 24/7.
Regarding the trio crimes, Prof. Bezuidenhout said that the recidivism (which is the tendency for convicted criminals to reoffend) rate is roughly 94% for violent offenders in South Africa: “If you look at the trio crimes in most cases there is an element of violence in these crimes. Therefore, even after these people have been arrested and complete their imprisonment, the chances are 94% that they will fall back into crime.” Prof. Bezuidenhout explained that crime in South Africa is perceived as an easy way out because of the situations of poverty and unemployment. Prof. Bezuidenhout said, “Compare someone looking for a job who could earn R100 to R200 per day by laying bricks and that of just one vehicle hijacking, which results in R40 000 to R50 000,” adding that “on average 105 crimes are committed by an individual before they are apprehended for the first time.” This does not necessarily involve serious crime, and  usually begins with petty crimes. He pointed out that crime revolves around monetary gain, which indirectly implies a good life, which can only be sustained by committing these crimes: “There is a very strong financial materialistic drive behind these crimes because it’s good, quick money without much skill needed to commit these crimes.”
In terms of car theft and hijacking, Prof. Bezuidenhout said that there was a high demand for cars, involving even European countries which drive on the same side of the road as in South Africa. According to Prof. Bezuidenhout, corrupt officials and crime syndicates are all factors involved in this crime. “There is a huge demand for vehicles, some of these, such as the bakkies, are – as we have recently learned – being exported to copper mines in Zaire [Democratic Republic of Congo] and Zambia, places with open mines, because of the demand there. This is where the supply follows, particularly where there is the criminal element,” said Prof. Bezuidenhout.
Prof. Bezuidenhout explained that it is impossible for government alone to prevent crime, and that violence has become a tool to achieve means and a tool to communicate with people: “We either slap people around or break their stuff […] in order to get what we want…”. Prof. Bezuidenhout believes that policing aspects, such as e-tolls, TV licensing and tax, should not be such a large focus in addressing crime, and that policing an area more intensively also leads to crime displacement, resulting in more crime occurring in another area.
Regarding police management, the last three commissioners of SAPS, Jackie Selebi, Bheki Cele and Riah Phiyega, were all suspended because of probable involvement in dubious activities. Prof. Bezuidenhout said that there are also many complaints being lodged against police officers, and that it is worrying that people who are responsible for protecting citizens are also committing crimes.

Graphic: Samuel Sherwood. 

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