The Ministry of Police has released a report by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) on the nature of violent crime in South Africa, but has told Parliament it doesn’t answer the question.
“The fundamental issue was looking at why crime was violent,” Secretary for Police Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane told Members of Parliament today. “We believe the report has failed to answer this question critically.”
The CSVR was commissioned in February 2007 to tell government why crime in South Africa is so violent. Two chapters were released in August 2008 and five today. All are available on the CSVR website (http://www.csvr.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1366&Itemid=242/)
The report, compiled by a team led by David Bruce, concluded the incidence of violent crime in South Africa “is not completely unique” but that the country “is one of a relatively small group of countries which currently suffer from exceptionally high rates of violent crime.” But because many countries do not keep accurate crime statistics the researchers said they “are not absolutely certain that there are not more countries with similar, or higher, levels of violent crime.”
The report ascribed the core of the problem to a “subculture of violence and criminality”. Other factors contributing to the high rates of violent crime include inequality, poverty, unemployment and marginalisation; poor child rearing and poor socialisation; antisocial values related to violent crime, such as ambivalence towards the law and the normalisation of violence; and, an over-dependence on an inefficient criminal justice system.
Bruce’s team noted that man violent criminals were young: 21% of suspects in murders that resulted from an argument and 31% of the accused in crime-related murders were 19 years old or younger. “This indicates that the problem of violent crimes, including serious violent crime, is associated in part with young offenders,” the report cautions.
Speaking during a presentation on the findings to the Portfolio Committee on Police in Parliament, Deputy Minister of Police Maggie Sotyu said government wanted the report to answer the question unambiguously and clearly. Instead, it seemed to “tell us the obvious” and focus overly on comparing the South African situation to other developing and developed countries.
Irish-Qhobosheane said the ministry and police secretariat welcomed the report, but noted both its strengths and limitations. “The report opens a debate on the nature of crime in the country which is useful. However, as a ministry we need to highlight that we had some serious concerns about some elements of the report.
“There was nothing incredibly new that hit us in the face or took us by surprise, for example, the recommended innovations and suggestions are not anything new. To even link culture or socio-economic conditions to commission of crime, is not a true reflection,” she said.
The police secretary added that the concept of a “culture of violence and criminality” needed to be “unpacked and better understood.” Irish-Qhobosheane added the report “does not really engage with the implications of the post 1994 policing environment (human rights based policing, community policing and so on) for the response to crime. Related to this more could be said about the police violence and its implications for violence.”
Irish-Qhobosheane continues the report raises concerns about the reliability of available data and “highlight the need for improvements in data collection on violence in South Africa.”
The question about why some countries with histories of violence are not as violent as South Africa also deserves further exploration, she says. “The question about why some poorer communities are strongly affected by violence whilst others are less affected also deserves further exploration. The concern with violent crime should also not lead to crimes of the rich (fraud, embezzlement [theft] and corruption) and their impact on society being neglected.
“The study highlights the relatively limited information about violence in rural areas. While the reports engage with questions about the causes of crime there is still more that could be done here. For instance there are big questions about the role of personality factors in contributing to young people’s involvement in violence and criminality whilst others do not.”
Recommendations put forward by the report, include:
- Development of a policing strategy to address armed violent crime in metropolitan and surrounding areas for addressing armed violence.
- Invest in research aimed at identifying and publicising good practice in local level policing in addressing armed violence.
- Strengthening evidence-based crime investigation and prosecution as well as strengthening measures to ensure police integrity.
“The report talks about a need to create public areas that are gun free zones and discouraging violence and bullying at schools. It also focuses on creating weapons free zones in drinking establishments and improving safety in prisons so that it becomes violence free,” Irish-Qhobosheane said.
“However the report fails to outline clear strategies on how government needs to address these conditions.” A coherent and sustained family support programme that focuses on single parent households, particularly those headed by teenage mothers may be required. “It talks about a dedicated and comprehensive early childhood development programme that provides support to the children coming from dysfunctional households. Again whilst these may sound doable [sic], the report does not outline on [the] how and when.”
Sotyu says the ministry’s concluding views are that the report recognises that “a lot” is already being done. “The recommendations must be seen as building blocks of a crime fighting approach and that some of the recommendations are already being addressed in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster.”