The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) note with horror the crime statistics released by the Minister of Police, Mr Bhekokwakhe Cele accounting for the period between April 2019 and March 2020.
These crime statistics paid a clear picture that our society is losing the war against criminality, just as we are losing the war against poverty, unemployment and inequality. It is also evident that our justice system has become dysfunctional as it does not act as a deterrent. In fact we have all the important pillars of a normal society dysfunctional – public schools, public healthcare, and criminal justice system.
Criminals, including rapists, know that the chances of them being arrested, much less convicted, are very slim. The last chance we checked from the police reports in parliament, the chances of being arrested for crime was 48% and the conviction rate was down to 15% and scandalously around 11% for rape and other sexual assault crimes.
The latest statistics show that murder has increased by 1.4% to 21 325 in 2019-20. This amounts to nearly 60 murders on an average day. Only in a war riven-country are there such horrific counts.
Guy Lamb, the Director of Safety and Violence Initiative at the University of Cape Town, estimates that the murder rate in our country is 36 per 100 000 people compared to the international average of seven.
Reported rape cases have continued to increase, last year by 2% to 42 289. This is despite an intensive campaign led by women’s organisations. The more society campaigns, the more the rapists make it their business to inflict pain on our women. Of major concern to SAFTU is that in the overwhelming cases, women are raped in their own homes by family, friends and neighbours.
South Africa must see this as the challenge the society as a whole must fight and win together. A central pillar of winning the battle against criminality is a functioning justice system that has social legitimacy, professional credibility and sensitivity. Our police who are the frontliners must have adequate numbers with adequate resources and equipment, and they must be well trained to investigate, to radically improve the arrest rate from the current disastrous 48% and the conviction rate from the current 15%.
Just as in the United States and so many societies, South Africa suffers far too many cases of police brutality and unnecessary violence, especially against working-class and poor people in townships. The police have a tendency for illegal surveillance activity, invade homes, and arrest people engaged in normal life or in legal protest. There are too many instances of outright corruption (especially adversing affecting black people), and of mismanagement. Some say these pervade the South African Police Service dating to the colonial and apartheid eras, and they must be addressed openly. The failure to prosecute the police who gleefully murdered dozens of striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, eight years ago this month, is just the most extreme case.
In contrast, we see far too few arrests and successful prosecutions of white-collar criminals, and PwC surveys suggest that economic crime rates in South Africa – specifically Sandton and Stellenbosch – have been the world’s highest over the past decade, yet there are only high-profile prosecutions of VBS. Where are arrests of leading figures from Steinhoff, Tongaat Hulett, accountancy firms, banks and law offices?
SAFTU also recognise that there is a symbiosis link between crime and patriarchal society which is centred on masculinity where not just women, gays, lesbians, etc., but men themselves become victims.
Finally, it is also obvious that soaring levels of poverty and unemployment are major contributors to crime committed in desperation. According to payroll records (from the BankservAfrica Take-home Pay Index), 20% of formal sector workers did not receive their pay check in June, so the desperation will grow worse in coming days and weeks, as the working-class lacks a functioning Unemployment Insurance Fund and the R350 emergency payment from the Treasury is being given out with extreme stinginess. Eskom is engaged in mass disconnections of many townships it serves, a form of collective punishment affecting even those who have up-to-date account payments – at a time of COVID-19 and harsh winter weather when our immune systems are already weaker. So to the extent that poverty and joblessness breeds criminality, and fury at state malgovernance and corruption continue to rise, we can expect further increases in crime.
SAFTU repeat our call for not only improved policing but also for financing to address the root causes of crime. We need massive public works projects in communities across the country, to directly address socio-economic deprivation, the debilitating infrastructure shortfalls – such as only 44% of households having a working water tap at their homes – and our ever-worsening ecological crises. Income support and provision of food parcels and free basic services are all vital. Without adequate attention and funding made available to these strategies, we will all continue to suffer, and those who cannot afford private security services and the arms race in technology will continue to take the brunt of the crisis.