Unemployment and violent crime

9th February 2007 By: Seeraj Mohamed

There is great concern about violent crime in South Africa. All our lives are touched by it. Many people want government to be tougher on crime. They want more police and tougher sentences. The response by too many people seems to be shaped by bad Hollywood action movies. They want to see the cops beat up and shoot criminals. However, this is not the solution to violent crime in South Africa. We have to recognise that crime and unemployment are two sides of the same coin. Growing unemployment leads to more poverty, desperation and crime. These factors, along with an unresolved, ugly history of racial oppression, violence and brutality, lead to violent crime.

Many South Africans choose to turn a blind eye to the social ills that cause the high levels of crime in South Africa. We want to believe that there has been reconciliation in South Africa and gloss over the very high levels of racism that remain in our society. Many policymakers and businesspeople want to believe that the economy is doing well and forget about the disturbing level of unemployment. The media love reporting on the growing black middle class but forget to report on the uncomfortably high levels of inequality in South Africa. They like to show the few individuals that have flashy cars and jewellery, but not the millions who live in poverty and hunger. The fact is that the living conditions for a great many South Africans have become worse and inequality is at an all-time high. Inequality is higher in poorer communities and provinces. This inequality and poverty is still largely along racial lines and serves to reinforce lingering racist attitudes.

Racism breeds violence. There is violent crime by criminals who grow up brutalised by the effects of racism and poverty. There is also violence in turning a blind eye to suffering and the denial of high levels of unemployment and poverty. Too many people still believe that unemployment is a result of lazi- ness. They ignore or fail to under-stand that unemployment is a structural problem in South Africa. Fur- ther, they assume that, because the economy has managed to get higher levels of growth recently, unemploy- ment must be declining. These views are mistaken and dangerous in a country with such high levels of unemployment and violent crime. Unemployment can be reduced through implementing different macroeconomic policies, directed investment and government programmes. Unfortunately, we are not making a dent in the levels of unemployment with current policies, even as the economy experiences consumption-led growth. Employment in the economy increases by tens of thousands while the labour force increases by hundreds of thousands. The number of unemployed people who have given up searching for jobs grows. The number of people who have never worked continues to climb. Younger people form a larger proportion of the unemployed. In other words, there are a great many young people in South Africa who have never worked and have given up hope of finding work (even informal-sector work). According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), many developing countries have experienced declining job growth relative to GDP growth over the last decade. They also recognise that employment conditions have worsened as people have fewer employment opportunities. The response of the ILO has been to launch a global campaign for decent jobs. The South African government should support this campaign. Instead of building more prisons and promoting police brutality, we should strive for solutions that undermine racism and promote self-respect, safety and democracy. We have to tackle crime by providing decent work for all.