Crime statistics point to ’state of anarchy’
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OPINION: Those not living in fear of politicians and police, as so many vulnerable community members do, have a duty to hold public representatives, and parliament and its committees, to account, writes Mary de Haas.
There are no surprises in the quarterly July to September crime statistics released recently.
They show long-standing, abnormally high violent crime rates, including crimes committed during the orchestrated destabilisation after former president Jacob Zuma’s arrest. Underlying these statistics is a state of virtual anarchy, with very low conviction rates for violent crime.
This is not a new phenomenon. However, it should be a wake-up call for all of us : Without a far more active citizenry to hold our over-staffed, largely dysfunctional and often corrupt bureaucracies and elected officials to account there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Although these alarming trends have historical roots, they reflect the democratic government’s failure to take remedial steps post-1994, including by implementing its own legislation.
Instead of dealing with apartheid’s organised crime syndicates, which fuel other crime, South Africa’s ranking among countries plagued by this scourge has climbed. The Scorpions were formed to deal with it but, before they could be restructured, they were dismantled by the Zuma government.
Their replacement, Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (The Hawks) lack sufficient independence since its head is appointed by, and beholden to, the Minister of Police. Through successive legislative amendments, even parliamentary oversight has been weakened.
The rape statistics reflect another long-standing problem. Its roots lie in the onslaught on family life in which labour migrancy, influx control and forced relocation broke up families. Far too many children grew up without appropriate male role models, including in violent, gangster-dominated urban areas where rape was common, as it was during the violence accompanying the transition to democracy.
A Family Policy formulated in the late 1980s to address this damage was never implemented. Young children need the security of caring (and, for conscience development, moral) adults, universally provided by different types of families. If they grow up in an abusive group they will perpetuate it in relationships, and this cycle remains unbroken.
Faith-based groups and NPOs can help in supporting families, and by providing appropriate male role models where they are lacking. Teachers, too, could act as surrogates but they are often part of the problem, abusing and impregnating learners, usually with impunity. Social workers should be deployed in schools to assist learners and, if necessary, their families. Supportive groups are badly needed to assist victims of gender-based violence to ensure police and prosecutors do their jobs.
Taxi mafias predate 1994, but they have been given free rein since then by a government loath to regulate and monitor them properly, doubtless because of vested interests.
This industry is home to most of the well-armed hired hit men who kill with impunity. If this government were serious about crime, it would start with regulating and policing the taxi industry, including its murderous hit men and their guns. Murder rates are unlikely to drop until the criminal justice system deals with these mafias.
The failure of the SAPS to fulfil its constitutional mandate was conspicuous in the orchestrated July mayhem in which an estimated 350 people died. The KZN-based Minister of Police bears responsibility for not immediately arranging SANDF deployment to keep the roads clear and guard infrastructure.
SAPS management is accountable for the shocking state of Public Order Policing, including the failure to maintain water cannons crucial for crowd control.
Serious questions arise about where the expensive Casspirs purchased by eThekwini municipality, supposedly for crowd control, were. Management has much to explain, including about allegations that Phoenix police were moonlighting for security companies.
Is it aware that many police members apparently failed to act because they were Zuma supporters? What is it doing about it? To make matters worse, Zuma-supporting police are alleged to have intimidated colleagues wanting to do the work they had taken an oath to do.
This is a clear indication of the serious damage done by the politicisation of policing, which must be addressed urgently.
Particularly alarming, too, was the destruction and looting at Bhekithemba SAPS at Umlazi. It is virtually certain that guns and ammunition were stolen, and were used in two massacres in Umlazi in August in which eleven people died. The first head to roll must be that of the then station commissioner, whose responsibility it was to ensure the safe storage of all weapons at the station.
Apart from voting, members of the public can do little about the ministers and other functionaries inflicted on them by political leadership. However, those not living in fear of politicians and police, as so many vulnerable community members do, have a duty to hold public representatives, and parliament and its committees, to account.
We can do little about the serious problems in SAPS ministry and management, but we can identify and support good policing.
Community policing forums provide an ideal opportunity to do this and, in the process, and assist the police and their community’s crime fighting initiatives.
* Mary de Haas is an honorary research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Law, and a member of the Navi Pillay Research Group focusing on justice and human rights.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.