The crux of the crime statistics
The downplaying of Operation Fiela is possibly because this mega operation did not result in reductions in priority offences as expected, writes Guy Lamb
ON FRIDAY, the minister of police released the 2015/16 SAPS crime data in Parliament, which covered the period April 1 last year to March 31 this year.
One of the headline messages was that the total number of reported murders and attempted murders had increased by 4.9 percent and 3.4 percent respectively, compared to 2014/15.
As publicised by the Institute for Security Studies, the national murder rate (per 100 000) also increased by just over 3 percent. Both the total numbers of reported robberies at residential properties and robberies with aggravating circumstances rose by close to 3 percent.
Worryingly, the total number of car hijackings increased by 14.3 percent.
So does this mean that South Africa has become a more dangerous place? The short answer is: it depends on where you live and the areas through which you travel on a regular basis.
National and provincial level crime data can be misleading, as there is a highly disproportional distribution of violent crime in South Africa. Such crime does manifest within most policing precincts, but over the past two decades, it has been intensely concen- trated in about 15 percent of all policing precincts.
The high crime areas tend to be densely populated, infrastructurally marginalised and characterised by elevated levels of poverty, such as large urban townships and informal settlements.
For example, the risk of being a victim of violent crime in Camps Bay is considerably lower than in Nyanga.
The increase in violent crime came as no surprise as the SAPS had their hands full during the 2015/16 reporting period.
That is, apart from their normal policing responsibilities, the SAPS had to respond to intense protest action, from the FeesMustFall uprisings on university campuses, to the numerous incidents of collective violence in the build-up to local government elections.
In fact, the total number of unrest cases rose from 2 289 in 2014/15 to 3 542 incidents in 2015/16, and has almost doubled since 2012/13. To make matters worse, the police had also been rocked by a series of leadership crises in which two SAPS provincial commissioners and the national police commissioner (Riah Phiyega) was suspended.
Both the minister and the SAPS spokesmen present in Parliament, however, suggested the increases in violent crime were mostly related to dynamics within society, and were therefore largely out of bounds to the work of the police.
However, the SAPS went to great lengths to sketch out their new fight-back strategy, which has been termed “Backto-Basics”. According to the SAPS, this strategy will seek to reinvigorate efforts to systematically contain and reduce crime through improved discipline, dedication and visibility.
More men and women in blue will be seen on the streets; better “partnerships” with community structures will be built; and enhanced intelligence-led operations will be the order of the day. Nonetheless, this strategy is silent on how the societal drivers of crime will be addressed.
Curiously, Operation Fiela-Reclaim, which has been one of the SAPS’s flagship interventions since April last year, barely received a mention.
This national intelligence-led operation was launched in response to largescale outbreaks of xenophobic violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last year. However, it had more grandiose plans.
According to the cabinet-level Inter-Ministerial Committee on Migration, the intention of this operation was to target the places “known to be frequented by criminals to rid our country of illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities”.
The operational blueprint for Operation Fiela-Reclaim published last year was ominously titled the “Multi-Disciplinary Integrated National Action Plan to Reassert the Authority of the State”. This document suggested there was a deep sense of disquiet within the government’s security cluster, namely the perception that the authority of the state had been extensively eroded in highcrime communities.
According to this plan, the security forces would “dominate and stabilise” focal areas by pursuing high visibility policing actions; arresting “wanted” persons; fast-tracking criminal investigations; and adopting a zero-tolerance approach to lesser forms of criminality, such as traffic offences, operating illegal businesses, selling counterfeit goods, illegal mining, drinking in public and being in South Africa illegally.
Within high-crime areas large numbers of roadblocks were erected, with the security forces also honing in on the traditional micro-spaces of disorder and law breaking, such as hostels, abandoned inner-city buildings, taverns, shebeens and taxi ranks.
For example, in April last year, security force personnel stormed the Madala hostel in Alexandra and the Wolhuter Road hostel in Jeppestown.
Similarly, in October last year, the notorious Glebelands hostel in uMlazi (KwaZulu-Natal) was flooded with security force personnel.
In Manenberg, during an intense gang turf-war (May 2015), about 300 security force members were deployed into the area and then raided suspected drug dens and gangster hideouts.
The downplaying of Operation Fiela is possibly because this mega operation did not result in reductions in priority crimes as expected. Furthermore, its methods and accomplishments have been criticised by civil society in the past in that they were highly militaristic, and a significant number of the arrests secured as a result of the operation were undocumented migrants.
Nonetheless, this does not mean Operational Fiela is a thing of the past. The SAPS’s “Back-to-Basics” strategy clearly implies major police operations will continue to be a key tactic.