Crime stats show poor communities in crisis

31st October 2003 By: katharine mckenzie

The release of the South African Police Service (SAPS) annual report on the crime statistics for the 2002/3 financial year, underlines the extent to which it is poor South Africans who bear the brunt of the country’s crime problem. The statistics show that the majority of murders (51%) take place in 11 of our 43 police areas, and the majority of these are in the big cities. The report goes on to show that 20% of all murders occurred in the precinct of a mere 2,1% of South Africa’s police stations. For the most these are stations in South Africa’s big urban townships like Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Kwa Mashu, Katlehong, Umlazi, Tembisa, Gugulethu, Alexandra, Umtata, Mitchell’s Plain, Moroka, Esikhawini, Ivory Park and Mamelodi. Johannesburg Central and Hillbrow also feature on the list. Most of these stations also record the highest number of attempted murder and severe assault cases. While crime affects all South Africans, it is the poorest citizens who are most vulnerable, with crime joining poverty and unemployment to ensure insecurity on all fronts. The SAPS annual report draws attention to the constraints that the police service has in bringing down crime levels sufficiently given that the causes of crime are frequently located within social and economic circumstances outside of the control of the SAPS. This is borne out by docket research which shows that in a sample of murder cases more than 80% of the victims knew the offender, 28% of the offenders were in an intimate relationship with or were related to their victim, 22% were friends of the victim and 19% were acquaintances. Misunderstandings and arguments were the main reasons cited for the crimes committed, and medical research has linked many of the crimes to substance abuse, with 50% of murder arrestees, 45% of rape arrestees and 35% of assault arrestees testing positive for the use of one or more drugs in the 48 hours prior to arrest. The grim picture all of this paints is one in which South Africans who are already vulnerable on several fronts, are also more likely to be the target of violent crime. It also paints a picture of communities in crisis, where the bonds between family members, friends and neighbours are not strong enough to withstand the possibility of violence being inflicted by a family member or a friend. The acknowledgement by the police themselves that policing alone will not bring down crime points to the need for a more holistic approach. And often the most obvious is overlooked. Thus, while municipalities have been quick to establish their own police in an attempt to tackle the problem, the basics have not been put in place. In Khayelitsha, for example, dubbed the most dangerous place in South Africa by the Cape Town media, street lighting is wholly inadequate. This in an area where the majority of people are dependent on walking and public transport to get from place to place, and many find themselves walking home after dark or leaving home before sunrise to get to work on time.