Un­equal polic­ing as crime rises

Feel un­safe in theirr homes and in pub­lic and, as the re­cently re­leased the crime sta­tis­tics in­di­cate, there’s good rea­son,

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION -

THIS week, peo­ple in South Africa marked an­other year of liv­ing in fear and at in­creased risk of falling vic­tim to vi­o­lent crime. The re­lease of the an­nual crime sta­tis­tics al­lowed us once again to bow our heads in res­ig­na­tion. They af­firm what we know: we feel un­safe in our homes and in pub­lic and not with­out rea­son.

The re­lease of crime sta­tis­tics is al­ways a big me­dia story, but press cov­er­age has failed to show how the sta­tis­tics trans­late to real-life sit­u­a­tions where peo­ple are liv­ing in fear in vi­o­lent en­vi­ron­ments.

One head­line claimed “Crime at a 10-year low” (Cape Times, October 25, 2017), but had to qual­ify that – “but of­fences in­volv­ing vi­o­lence in Western Cape rise”.

Some of the sta­tis­tics that il­lus­trate the con­stant pres­ence of vi­o­lence in com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly poor, black and work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties, are the num­ber of mur­ders, car­jack­ings, rob­beries at res­i­den­tial premises, rob­beries at non-res­i­den­tial premises and street rob­beries.

Across the prov­ince over the past 10 years, the num­ber of mur­ders has in­creased by 16.7%.

Car-jack­ings, rob­beries at res­i­den­tial premises and rob­beries at non-res­i­den­tial premises in­creased by 183% in the same pe­riod.

Street rob­bery, cal­cu­lated by sub­tract­ing the num­ber of “sub­cat­e­gories of ag­gra­vated rob­beries” from the num­ber of “rob­bery with ag­gra­vat­ing cir­cum­stances” in­creased by 43%.

Th­ese cat­e­gories of crime in­clude three of the four crimes most feared by South Africans, ac­cord­ing to Stats SA’s Na­tional Vic­tims of Crime Sur­vey 2016/17.

The fact that they have shown such marked in­creases over the past decade has been vis­cer­ally felt by res­i­dents across the Western Cape.

In the lat­est Vic­tims of Crime Sur­vey, 47.1% of res­i­dents in the prov­ince in­di­cated they had per­ceived an in­crease in vi­o­lent crime over the past three years.

It is is hard to not feel de­spon­dent and to see that var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment are fail­ing our com­mu­ni­ties.

The in­crease in car­jack­ings, rob­beries at res­i­den­tial premises and rob­beries at non-res­i­den­tial premises is a huge in­dict­ment of the SAPS.

Th­ese crimes, most of­ten com­mit­ted by syn­di­cates – armed groups mov­ing be­tween com­mu­ni­ties with il­le­gal guns, hi­jacked cars and stolen goods – could be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced by ef­fec­tive, in­tel­li­gence-led polic­ing.

Sim­i­larly, the num­ber of street rob­beries could be re­duced if there were the po­lit­i­cal will to ad­dress the apartheid spa­tial plan­ning that still char­ac­terises our towns and cities.

There would be less op­por­tu­nity to rob pedes­tri­ans or pub­lic trans­port com­muters if the dis­tances trav­elled be­tween homes, work, schools and shops, or to and from undig­ni­fied shared san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties, were re­duced.

The op­por­tu­nity for street rob­beries would also be re­duced if res­i­dents were not re­quired to un­der­take jour­neys in the dark or in the dark shad­ows cast by aparthei­dera high-mast lights.

For poor, black, work­ing-class peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar, vi­o­lence is ever-present. It is also not just the phys­i­cal vi­o­lence of be­ing robbed on your way to school or be­ing assaulted while at­tempt­ing to use a dis­tant toi­let in the dark.

It is also the vi­o­lence of a sys­tem that, 23 years af­ter apartheid, per­pet­u­ates in­equal­ity and in­jus­tice by pri­ori­tis­ing the needs and safety of the wealthy – who also hap­pen to be largely white. It shouldn’t take the re­lease of hor­rific crime stats for our po­lice min­is­ter to com­mit to build­ing a sec­ond po­lice sta­tion in Nyanga, which has the most mur­ders in the coun­try.

We also shouldn’t have to take SAPS to court to force them to pro­vide po­lice re­sources to poor, black com­mu­ni­ties. The strug­gle for safety is on­go­ing and we need to con­stantly hold all lev­els of gov­ern­ment ac­count­able.

Be­cause, if the most re­cent crime stats have showed us any­thing, it’s that vi­o­lent crime is the norm in poor, black com­mu­ni­ties and ap­par­ently this is a shock to au­thor­i­ties and to those who don’t live this re­al­ity, but only in so far as press con­fer­ences and so­cial me­dia.

Give us ac­tion. Give us equal­ity. Give us jus­tice.

Wey­ers is the act­ing head of the Safety and Jus­tice Pro­gramme at the So­cial Jus­tice Coali­tion.


Po­lice ve­hi­cles at a crime scene in Cape Town. This is be­com­ing a more com­mon sight, says the writer.

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