Crime levels in South Africa have reached the stage of a low intensity civil war, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) said following the release of national crime statistics by Police Minister Bheki Cele this week.
At the same time, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) warns “policing alone cannot solve violence in South Africa”.
According to the Cele the number of people murdered in the 2018/19 financial year was 21 022 – up by 686 from the previous year. Other statistics showed increases in contact crimes (2.6%), sexual offences (4.6%), assault (2.2%) and robbery (2%).
The IRR pointed out the number of murders was back at levels last seen in the early 2000s.
“On a per capita basis, this rivals numbers in places such as war-torn Syria. It is no exaggeration to say on the basis of the number of people killed each year South Africa is facing a crisis akin to a low intensity civil war,” an IRR statement said.
“Sexual offences, which declined over the past decade, are increasing. According to police statistics, for every person murdered in South Africa, two are raped, with over 40 000 rapes reported annually. The real number is possibly substantially higher, as many rapes go unreported.
“These figures mean, since the end of apartheid, about 500 000 South Africans have been murdered and about a million people raped. It is clear South Africa is losing the war on crime and old ways of doing things are not working.”
The Johannesburg-headquartered think-thank suggests eight interventions to “turn the tide against crime”.
They are: increasing staffing and resources for family violence, child protection and sexual offences units, including expert prosecutors; improving the process of applying for and enforcing protection orders; expediting the process of applying for and being granted firearm licences for self-defence; establishing an inquiry and public hearings into criminality in the police service; making all police and prosecutorial appointments on merit; increasing the powers of community police forums; granting communities power to elect station commanders; and employing private sector expertise in policing.
In its reaction to the crime statistics, the ISS said “the persistent rise of violence in South Africa demonstrates strengthening the rule of law is crucial but not sufficient for improving public safety”.
South Africa urgently needs to support violence prevention programmes. Police reform and a stronger prosecuting authority are needed in the shorter term. While effective criminal justice is necessary, it is not sufficient to improve public safety.
Increased government spending on policing and harsher sentences for offenders have not reduced violence. This is because police cannot keep children safe after school when they are vulnerable or men from beating their wives and partners. Most murders occur on weekends and the most frequent cause is arguments between people who know each other. Domestic violence ties with gangsterism as the second-leading cause of murder, the ISS said.
To address the drivers of violence in South Africa requires an increased investment in programmes proven to work. These include positive parenting, after-school care and anti-bullying programmes at schools.
“Most violent behaviour is learnt in the home and in communities,” said Gareth Newham, justice and violence prevention programme head at the ISS. “Violence prevention programmes are key to reducing crimes that cannot be policed.”