The South African Federation of Trade Unions is appalled by the latest crime statistics. 20,336 murders were recorded between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018 – 57 people killed every day, an increase of 6.9% over the previous year. South Africa remains one of the ten most murderous countries in the world.
The number of women murdered increased even faster, by 11%, the number of boys by 20%, and girls by 10%.
39 785 rapes were reported, 109 every day, which is highly likely to be an underestimate given the notoriously low level of report and prosecution of this vile crime. In 2009, according to the police’s own statistics, the conviction rate for for rape was 11.5%. Other estimates in 2014 put it is as low as 10%.
As well as murder and rape there has been an increase in all the other most serious crimes. Cash-in-transit heists rose by a massive 57% to 238 incidents over the past year.
Police Minister Bheki Cele had to admit that this was “bad news” and “depressing” and said that the police, somewhere, somehow had “dropped the ball”.
As usual there was a class dimension to the statistics. The 30 police stations reporting the highest number of murders are all in township or inner-city communities. Eight of the top 10 are police stations in or around Cape Town, made worse by the high levels of gang activity and taxi violence.
The poorest South Africans, who already suffer most from unemployment, poverty and low service delivery are also the biggest victims off violent crime. It makes life a daily nightmare for millions of the those who are already struggling to survive economically.
In many poor townships, particularly around Cape Town, criminal gangs and drug dealers are terrorising neighbourhoods and killing any who get in their way. The police are hardly ever seen. This often leads to counter-violence when communities often understandable, but still wrongly, take the law into their own hands and deal directly with those believed to be the criminals.
The situation has got even worse as a result of corruption in both the public service and private business, including within the police service itself, which has robbed the country of over R100 billion which could have been spend on improving the lives of the people, including crime prevention measures.
This corruption has had a direct impact on the police. The SAPS’s Crime Intelligence Division, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Agency were all captured by corrupt individuals, undermining their capacity to investigate and prosecute serious crimes.
This gave organized criminals a greater sense of impunity, seen most clearly in the rise in cash-in-transit robberies, in which senior police officers themselves are alleged to be involved, and also in taxi violence and politically motivated murders.
This has been further worsened by the loss of staff. Police Minister Cele said that in 2010 there were 200 000 police officers. There are currently about 190 000, and the population had since grown from about 54 million in 2010, to about 57.3 million but that figure didn’t include the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
He said that according to the United Nations’ best policing practice, there should be one police officer for every 220 citizens, whereas in South Africa there is a police officer for every 383 people. SAPS National Commissioner Sitole said according to the business case they have developed for the police, there is a “deficit” of 62 000 officers.
The SAPS is under-resourced‚ under-staffed‚ under-trained and under-equipped, yet there was an almost 48% increase in budget allocations over the last three years for VIP protection. The government spends R9.1-million a year to protect one VIP compared with only R1 500 per ordinary citizen.
The head of the Hawks, Godfrey Lebeya, says it has lost both staff and capacity; it has 250 vacancies, and no internal auditing or accountancy experts.
The government claims to be rectifying all these problems, but even a better resourced SAPS will not solve the underlying causes of violent crime. Crime arises in a society in which the economic system is geared to making as much money as possible as quickly as possible driven by the principle of “get rich quick” and “me first”.
The rot starts at the top, as we have seen with all the revelations of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and tax evasion in both government and business. The example set by the rich elite trickles down into the rest of society, creating a climate where anything goes provided you don’t get caught.
If we are to reverse the disastrous situation in the longer term, the key has to be though community mass action. That is why SAFTU is so inspired to see the campaign against gangsterism organised by the communities of Bishop Lavis, Bonteheuwel and Kensington in Cape Town.
It is a vital struggle for workers as well. Workers live in communities and are no less the victims of criminals and the social problems confronting the poor and working class. So they have to join the fight for a safer community for them and their families.
The resident of these communities believe that part of the problem of violent crime is the police, who in some instances collude with criminals, are not visible on the streets and lack adequate resources in these communities.
The communities complain that there are never any police around when gangsters run rampant through the streets shooting indiscriminately. But if the community has a peaceful protest then you see more police than protesters, firing indiscriminately at the protesters with rubber bullets and teargas.
The campaign against rampant crime has to be a core component of the campaign launched by the Working-Class Summit in July for a fundamental change in the way which society is structured, through a democratic transfer of wealth and power from the tiny elite of mainly white monopoly capitalist billionaires and the creation of a socialist society in which society’s wealth is shared and democratically managed by the working-class and communities, for the benefit of all the people.