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,
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.