About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.


In the course of an interview on SABC in January 2007, President Thabo Mbeki informed his interviewer that that fears of crime were exaggerated. "It's not as if someone will walk here to the TV studio in Auckland Park [Johannesburg] and get shot," he said. "That doesn't happen and it won't happen. Nobody can prove that the majority of the country's 40 million to 50-million citizens think that crime is spinning out of control."

One of South Africa's best-known journalists, Max de Preez, told Mbeki his daughter was shot just 100m from the studios during a carjacking. Community leaders near the studios said crime figures show 20 people were murdered in the area last year.' (Guardian, 29 January 2007)

What Mbeki's remarks brought into sharp focus was the difference in his government's perceptions and the public's perceptions regarding the extent and impact of crime in SA.  A similar disconnect that occurred months earlier when Minister of safety & Security Charles Nqakula had, in response to a question from a DA MP decried as "whingers" people who harped about the level of crime and suggested that they leave the country. That remark stirred a carried sufficient outcry to merit an apology of sorts.

More than any other issue crime cuts a swathe across the racial divide. Most whites live in houses that are either protected by private security companies or if more affluent, in gated communities. Private security companies are the biggest employers in the country with more employees than the national police force. Most crime is carried out by blacks and mostly the victims of crime are black. When whites are the victims of crime they tend to make their voices heard; black voices go unheard either because crime is just one more hardship in life that has to be endured or because their community forums are not sufficiently organized or because the crime is not reported.

The 300 page African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) on South Africa prepared for the African Union was submitted to Mbeki in November 2006. The report was hard hitting. It warned that crime, poverty, unemployment and the political domination of the ANC threatened South Africa's democracy. It signalled out violent crime however as the most urgent threat facing the country: the high level of violent crime it said discouraged investment and caused skilled people to leave the country; the high level of crime against women & children, including rape & violence at schools; unemployment alienated young people & fuelled crime ("Fight crime, Africa tells SA," Sunday Times December 3 2006.

The government's nervousness and defensiveness about the level of violent crime is compounded by it being associated with concerns about South Africa's ability to host a successful World Cup in 2010 – that concerns about South Africa being unsafe  will discourage people from coming. Mbeki ties the two in another way: his either explicit or implicit accusations that there are a clique of whites – expatriates or whites who leave SA because of concerns about crime – paint a picture of SA as being a very dangerous place. This he links with white racism & the continued hope of some whites that SA will fail, i.e. that the ANC will fail & their expressed beliefs pre 1994 that under black rule South Africa would "go the way of the rest of Africa" will be borne out.

Whites who complain about crime are seen by the Mbeki government as national saboteurs of a sort – they want to bring SA down, sully it in the eyes of the international community, and discourage tourists from coming. In short, they are out to undermine the new SA. If perhaps only for this reason – not wanting to be seen as doing something that runs down the country or is disapproved of by the ANC, blacks tend to be silent.  But surveys of public opinion consistently show that blacks re as concerned about crime as whites, not unexpectedly as blacks are for the most part the victims of crime. A survey by Surveys Research of 2,00 resident of major cities across the country indicated that countrywide 71 percent felt they were in danger: Port Elizabeth headed with 86 percent, Cape Town 81 percent, Pretoria 81 percent, Durban 77 percent, Johannesburg & environs 69 percent, East London 65 percent. People living in shacks were  among those feeling safest ( 63 percent). The survey found that Indians and Asians felt least safe (90 percent), whites (87 percent) and Coloureds and Africans at 71 percent. "80 % of Capetonians live in fear of crime,'" Cape Argus September 12 2006)

Mbeki returned to the issue of whites and crime in his Online Letter (ANC Today, Vol. 7, No.10), when during a long discourse, he said, "the fact of the matter is that we still have a significant proportion of people among the white minority, but by no means everybody who is white, that continues to live in fear of the black, and especially African majority. For this section of our population, that does not "find it too difficult to revert to the accustomed world of fear of the future", every reported incident of crime communicates the frightening and expected message that - the kaffirs are coming!"

With apartheid on the ropes and the SA government engaged in negotiations to salvage some power in the new governance structures, the police were demoralized, the townships on the Vaal consumed with violence, KZN aflame in civil war, every action so matter how trivial or heinous became "struggle" crime. Making the country ungovernable had become tantamount with widespread disregard for its laws. Criminals had a heyday with the absence of law enforcement (white policemen didn't see any reason for putting their lives on the line, given the evolving political situation, and South Africa gained a reputation in the latter part of the 1990s as being the 'crime capital of the world'. between 1990 and 1994 the overall crime rate was estimated to have risen by more than 18 per cent and the rate of violent crime by 35 per cent. Levels of recorded crime stabilised between 1995 and 1996, but increased from then onwards, with the most dramatic annual increase in 1999 (Schönteich & Louw 2001). One third of all crime is violent, and the criminal categories that are of most concern are murder, armed robbery, rape and child rape and abuse (Du Plessis & Louw 2005). In the US, considered to be a violent society, the level of violent crime is 15 per cent and in the UK, 6 per cent.

Until century's turn, car hijacking was pervasive often accompanied by callous violence. In the early part of this century the situation improved somewhat but by mid decade had become a paramount problem again. (The overall crime rate measured by head of population increased by 11 percent from 1994/5 to 2002/3 but then dropped by 13 percent by 2004/5. However, the situation deteriorated in 2005/6. Extensive media coverage of the murder of several high-profile personalities fuelled concerns that crime was on the increase. This has been disputed by authorities, but what appears to set South Africa apart from other crime-ridden societies in the world is the consistently high level of violent crime, which fuels public fears (Nedbank ISS Crime Index 2001).

In 1999, 2.4 million crimes were recorded by the police and only 200 000 crimes ended in convictions.  On average, less than 9 per cent of recorded crimes result in the conviction of the perpetrators; for serious crimes, the number of convictions as a proportion of recorded crimes is even lower: in 1999 the figure was 2 per cent for car hijacking, 3 per cent for aggravated robbery, and 8 per cent for rape. Fewer than one in ten offenders are convicted in South Africa.  For a criminal justice system to be effective, it must apprehend, convict and punish most of the core group of repeat offenders, who generally comprise between 10 and 20 per cent of criminals committing 80 per cent of serious crimes (Schönteich and Louw 2001)

To be included in SAPS records, two things must happen.  Firstly, the incident must be reported to the police, and secondly, the police must record the incident. It is estimated that many crimes never overcome these two hurdles and that official statistics significantly undercount the number of crimes actually committed.  Victim surveys can uncover between 60 and 70 % more crime than official police statistics (Schönteich & Louw 2001).

While much of the debate about crime has focused on whether it is increasing or decreasing or whether crime statistics are reliable (some years back the SAPS stopped issuing crime stats on a quarterly basis on grounds that they were liable to misinterpretation and give rise to unfounded fears), what is indisputable is that South Africa has the highest rates of murder and rape in the world. At a figure that hovers around 19,000 to 20,000 murders a year, a free SA is a far more dangerous place for blacks than it was during the height of apartheid era. More people are killed per year than were killed by the apartheid regime.

Commenting on the figures released in September 2006 for 2005/2006 Antoinette Louw of the South Africa's Institute of Security Studies(ISS) emphasised that while the "surge in especially violent robberies (which are not included in the latest statistics) provide one answer [to the heightened interest in the latest crime statistics]… current negative statements about crime and safety are about more than the media coverage of horrible incidents and admissions from reliable sources about what the statistics show. The response of police leadership has left the public with the sentiment that government - and the police in particular – don't care enough about the problem or its consequences."

Since 2001, crime statistics are released only once a year, in September, and relate to the previous March to March, which means the statistics are already five months old; by July of the following year they are 15 months out of date.  In June 2006, Charles Nqakula, the Minister of Safety and Security,  asserted in a written response to a question in Parliament  that statistics for a period shorter than a year would be inappropriate for indicating 'valid and reliable crime tendencies', and that SAPS policy is on a par with international norms.  Other reasons for the policy included that 'blow by blow' explanations of the incidence of crime would place heavy demands on SAPS personnel who need to be focusing on fighting crime, that detailed information would assist criminals in plotting their activities, and that annual statistics are sufficient to uphold the right of the public to receive information (David Bruce, Business Day, 28 July 2006).

The latest available official statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the last financial year (April 2005 – March 2006) show that generally highly organised crimes, such as car hijacking, car theft, and cash-in-transit robberies, are on the increase.  The number of car hijackings had been on the decrease since 2001/02, and reached their lowest point in 2004/5.  However, in the last financial year, this trend was reversed with a 3 per cent increase at 12 434 hijackings. Car theft, regarded as the most reliable property crime in  the official database, showed a similar medium-term trend, having decreased steadily between 1998/99 and 2004/5 to increase by 3 per cent in the last financial year, to reach a rate of 183 per 100 000 people. The number of cash-in-transit (CIT) heists increased by 74 per cent from 220 to 383. This may have been partly due to the fact that there was a change in the method of defining CIT robberies.  The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) figures indicate a 28 per cent increase in CIT heists (ISS 2006). Women and children bear the brunt of crimes in six categories in South Africa: murder, attempted murder, rape, common assault, indecent assault and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. With 326 620 cases out of 558 325, women and children account for 58.5 per cent of cases in the six categories.  64 children and 86 women are raped every day (Naidu & Geldenhuys, IOL, 10 March 2006).

Although official sources indicate that criminal offences have dropped by 14 per cent between 2002 and 2006, Sifiso Falala (Sunday Times, 4 March 2007) maintains that this 'belies the unacceptably high level of criminality that persists in South Africa. What is not reflected in the statistics is the callous and mind-boggling nature of certain types of crimes.'  He says that crime has become big business in South Africa, and compares it to an industry: 'like other business people, criminals assess the risk that is involved in their trade and act accordingly.' The risk factors are low because the likelihood of being arrested and convicted is much less than the chance of success. Information from 2000 indicates a conviction rate of 18 per cent for murder and 8 per cent for rape, which means an 82 per cent and 92 per cent chance respectively of getting away with these crimes. Police protection can be bought, hence organised crime such as cash-in-transit heists are becoming more daring and complex, and international crime syndicates are attracted to this lucrative emerging market.

The gratuitous nature of many crimes, especially those committed during robberies, housebreakings, car hijackings, as well as the brutal nature of violence against children, has resulted in a growing vigilantism. Human rights and safety are commonly perceived as conflicting goals (Du Plessis and Louw 2005).

Police officers have had to cope with an increased workload in departments faced with internal restructuring, staff shortages, lack of skills, low morale, and new sets of rules governed by the country's new Constitution. A symptom of this increased stress and trauma has manifested itself in violent and suicidal behaviour amongst police officers: 244 committed suicide between 2003 and 2005, while 298 died in the line of duty (Melanie Peters, Cape Argus, March 4 2007).

Public perception of safety is that crime levels have increased over the last three years. The government clearly does not feel duty-bound to attempt to dispel negative public perceptions. Du Plessis and Louw (2005) refer to the police's 'increasingly dismissive attitude towards the media and the public release of information about crime in general.'

In May 2006, Roy Jankielsohn of the Democratic Alliance opposition party challenged Minister of Safety and Security Charles to fully commit himself to reducing crime by standing down from appointments not related to his portfolio.  Nqakula responded by stating that those who 'whinge' about crime levels should leave the country 'so that the rest of us can get on with our work', and that black people don't complain about crime (Deon de Lange, Beeld, 10 June 2006; News 24, 18 May 2006), a remark that incensed many South Africans.

The SAPS Commissioner Jackie Selebi is a close friend of alleged gangland kingpin Glenn Agliotti who was arrested for the murder of mining fraudster Brett Kebble. Kebble who ran mining conglomerates JCI and Rangold & Exploration. He looted every company he was associated with – the extent of his crime only emerging after his murder. Among other uses he spread the money lavishly to the ANC (the DA was also a recipient, but very much of a lesser one), senior officials both the ANC and ANCYL. His funeral was attended by members of the ANC NEC, Essop Pahad, Minister of the Presidency, the entire hierarchy of the ANCYL (for cache of articles on Brett Kebble go to http://brett-kebble-news.newslib.com/ as retrieved on Mar 13, 2007 06:06:37 GMT.

Early in 2007, President Thabo Mbeki declared in a television that "Nobody can show that the overwhelming majority of South Africans feel that crime is not under control; nobody can because it is not true. ." Crime, he insisted, was not out of control in South Africa, and that the public, instead of blaming the police or government for failing to act against crime, should ask themselves what they were doing to prevent it.  Both statements were supported by the ANC.  In Business Day (Opinion, March 7, 2007) Koos Malan responded: "One could expatiate on what the public is…already doing to fight crime: private security, high walls…razor-wire fencing, burglar-proofing, alarm systems, fenced residential compounds, private security guards….and would then be clearly justified to ask the president, what else, short of assuming the actual police function, the public can do to combat crime.'  He concludes: 'when the state through its agencies …fails to keep violent crime at bay and senior government spokesmen even call upon individuals to assume more responsibilities in combating crime, the state [fails] on two fronts, [on] its basic responsibility to protect its citizenry against violence and to protect our lives and physical integrity.  But even more than that – since the effective discharge of this responsibility is the crucial reason for its existence and survival – it erodes the very conditions on which the existence of the state depends, thus causing its own retreat and demise.'

Among the findings of the Markinor bi annual Government Performance Survey  only one in four adults agreed with Mbeki's statement that he did not believe that crime was out of control. All population groups, especially blacks and coloureds," were more critical of crime than in 2005. Even among ANC supporters only 47 believed that the government was doing a good job handling crime. Political analysts said Mbeki was too far removed from reality on the issue. Some suggested "crime denialism" a reference to his HIV/AIDS denialism." A 1998 Markinor poll reported that 25 percent of respondents did not feel safe going out on their own after dark; 2004 that number had increased to 58 percent.

("Citizens don't share Mbeki's perceptions about crime," Sunday Independent January 21 2007)  In his state of the nation address opening parliament in February 2007, Mbeki acknowledged crime as a major priority. The African Peer Review had urged the government to make fighting violent crime its top priority, a finding that had sat well with then government.

According to Louw (2006), "what would help is a sincere and informed acknowledgement of the current problem, followed by a clear outline of specific responses to specific crime problems and how these will be dealt with in various parts of the country.  Instead we have(from the Minister) a brief two-page statement about a 'strategy' that covers generalised responses which sound more like the day-to-day activities of the police…than a considered initiative to deal with a crime wave. Silence from the national commissioner on these issues is bound to raise doubts about the police's intentions and abilities."

With the Football World Cup to be hosted in South Africa, negative perceptions about crime in South Africa may discourage international visitors from coming to the country.  Fifa has made the South African government undertake seventeen promises, including 'a detailed, written security plan to ensure the safety and security of Fifa delegations, media and accredited officials in the country' (Sunday Times, 30 July 2006).

After remarks that the public's concerns about crime being on the increase was based on misguided perceptions and not reality there was more of a public uproar with some media suggesting that Mbeki was in denial regarding crime just as he had been in denial regarding HIV/AIDS.  Reacting to the criticisms Mbeki In his state of the nation address to parliament in 2007 admitted that the citizens of the country live in fear of violent crime and promised an increase in police forces from about 152,000 to more than 180,000 over the next three years.

SA tops global femicide statistics
By Bonny Verwey

South Africa has the world's highest rate of female homicide (femicide) by an intimate partner, with a woman being killed every six hours by her partner.

This statistic was published in a Medical Research Council report in 2004. It was updated and presented on Tuesday at the 8th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion at the International Convention Centre in Durban.

Dr Naeemah Abrahams, a scientist for the council, said the World Report on Violence and Health estimated that, globally, females accounted for a third of all homicides, with a rate of four deaths per population of 100 000.

Abrahams said data collected between 2002 and 2003 found that an estimated 3, 793 femicides of females aged 14 The overall femicide rate was about 25 deaths per 100 000. In 50,3 percent of cases the perpetrator was found to be an intimate partner.

About nine femicides per 100 000 involved females aged 14 and older. Population statistics were based on a 1996 census.

The femicide rate in SA was much higher, with about 28 such cases per 100 000, compared to about three per 100 000 in the US.

Statistics showed that the Western Cape had the highest number of femicide cases per 100 000, with about 37 deaths, and KZN the lowest, with 21 deaths.

Women between the ages of 14 and 29 accounted for about 39 percent of femicides, and African women accounted for about 78 percent of these. Almost 61 percent of femicides took place at the women's homes.

Of those women killed in 1999, 33 percent were killed with a firearm, and about 50 percent were at the hands of an intimate partner. About 11 percent of the perpetrators died after the murder, most commonly by suicide.

Ø. This article was originally published on page 4 of The Mercury on April 05, 2006

See also:

Ø. Anthony Minnaar, "Family Murders highlight our fraying social fabric, "Sunday Times, January 14 2007

Ø. Hillary Joffe, " Balanced action needed from the top as horror stories mount., " Business Day July 25 2006

Ø. Henriette Geldenhuys, " Inside SA's cash heist gangs, " Sunday Times, October 1 2006

Ø. Moshoeshoe Monare, "No easy road to a crime free SA," Sunday Independent November 26 2006

Ø. Jackie Mapiloko & Makhudu Sefara, " How can we win the war on crime,"   City Press, 1 October 2006

Ø. "This is a crisis, not a problem" Sunday Times, 1 October 2006 ( front page editorial)

Ø. Sifiso Falala, " Crime is a business and SA is an attractive proposition for criminals," Sunday Times November 5 2006

Ø. "Mbeki's war on crime," Sunday Times January 14 2007

Ø. "SAPS's new initiative to fight crime kicks into gear," Star, 27 September 2006

Crime Information Analysis Centre - South African Police Service

Crime in the RSA for the period April to March 1994/1995 to 2003/2004 Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC)

RSA Total

April to March

Crime Category

































Attempted murder











Assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm











Common assault











Robbery with aggravating circumstances











Common robbery











Indecent assault

































Neglect and ill-treatment of children











Culpable homicide











Public violence











Carjacking (Sub Category of Robbery Aggravating)











Truck hijacking (Sub Category of Robbery Aggravating)











Bank robbery (Sub Category of Robbery Aggravating)











Robbery of cash in transit (Sub Category of Robbery Aggravating)











House robbery (Sub Category of Robbery Aggravating)











Business robbery (Sub Category of Robbery Aggravating)






















Malicious damage to property











Crimen Injuria











Burglary at residential premises











Burglary at business premises











Theft of motor vehicle and motorcycle











Theft out of or from motor vehicle











Stock theft











Illegal possession of firearms and ammunition











Drug related crime











Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs











All theft not mentioned elsewhere











Commercial Crime






















18 October 2006: South Africa: The 2005/06 Official Crime Statistics in Context

The release of the official crime statistics by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the last financial year (April 2005–March 2006) on 27 September 2006 was bound to be controversial. The past six months have seen public fears growing about the development of a new crime wave. Widespread media coverage particularly of violent robberies (some of which resulted in rape and murder) in Western Cape and Gauteng, together with the infamous Jeppestown (Johannesburg) shootout between police and about 24 gangsters in June in which 12 people died (including four police officers killed execution-style), have fuelled concerns about an upsurge in crime

These concerns have been confirmed by the Minister of Safety and Security who stated soon after the Jeppestown incident (Sunday Times 2/7/06), and again at the press conference at which the statistics were released, that some crimes have indeed increased in the past six months. Together with the uncharacteristically candid revelations from leading members of the short-term insurance industry about a 30-40% surge in claims for car hijackings between March and June 2006 compared to the same period last year, there is now little doubt that in some parts of the country, crimes like robbery have increased markedly this year.

Bearing in mind that the latest release of official data only covered the 12-month period up to March 2006, what did the statistics show? The trends relating to crimes that are generally highly organized – car hijacking, car theft and cash-in-transit robberies – are of concern:

Ø. The number of car hijackings had been coming down since 2001/02, reaching the lowest point in eight years at 12,434 hijackings in 2004/05. In the last financial year however this trend was reversed, with a 3% increase in recorded hijackings.

Ø. Car theft – the most reliable property crime in the official database – showed a similar change over the medium-term. Having decreased steadily between 1998/99 and 2004/05, car theft increased by 3% in the last financial year, reaching a rate of 183 per 100,000 people (85,964 incidents).

Ø. The trend for cash-in-transit (CIT) robberies has been the source of most concern, with the statistics showing a substantial increase of 74% between 2004/05 and 2005/06 (from 220 to 383 incidents). That this may be partially attributable to a change in the way the police define CIT robberies. Consider that the South African Banking Risk Information Centre's (SABRIC) figures for CIT heists the same period show an increase of 28% (admittedly still a significant percentage for one year). The CIT robbery trend has been erratic since police started recording these crimes separately in 1996/97, and it's not the first time that such high levels have been recorded. More than 300 incidents were recorded in 1996/97 (359) and again in 2002/03 (374).

Ø. 64 children are raped every day, 86 women

Ø. 326, 620 women & children were the victims of crime

Ø. Of the 54, 296 rapes committed in 2005/6 75 percent were  against women, 47 percent against children Every four minutes a woman is assaulted

Ø. An analysis of 9, 623 police dockets found that 82 percent of all murder victims knew their killers. ("Women and children bear the brunt," Sunday Times October 1 2006)

Other than these three crimes, the good news is that many of the positive trends noted over the past few years are continuing:

Ø. Overall, recorded crime for the total of 21 serious crimes was down by 9% from the previous year. After 2002/03 (when total crime levels peaked in the country), a steady decrease was recorded, amounting to an 18% drop by 2005/06.

Ø. Burglary (of homes and businesses) decreased by 6% (to 559 per 100,000) and 3% (to 116 per 100,000) respectively from the previous year, also representing a continuation of a downward trend.

Ø. Aggravated robbery dropped by 6% (to 255 per 100,000) and common robbery by 18% (to 159 per 100,000). As in the case of total crime, both types of robbery had peaked in 2002/03, and have declined steadily since then.

Ø. The murder rate decreased by 2% between 2004/05 and 2005/06. This is good news considering that murder is the most accurate crime on record, and the only reliable statistical indicator of violence in a society. However, the murder trend is one to watch in future. The rate has decreased steadily since 1995/96 by an average of 5% per year. The 2% drop in the most recent financial year suggests a slow-down in the rate of decrease. Although a similar percentage decrease was recorded once before (in 2002/03) it is possible that the murder rate may be starting to level off at a very high rate of 40 per 100,000 people.

Ø. According to Sebastian van As, head of the trauma unit at the Red Cross Children's Hospital, there were 1,200 children and 22,000 raped in South Africa in 2005. ( Cape Times, November 21 2006)

Considering that the good news outweighed the bad, why the heightened interest in the 2005/06 statistics? The surge in especially violent robberies over the past six months noted above (which are not included in the latest statistics) provide one answer. But current negative sentiments about crime and safety are about more than the media coverage of horrible incidents and admissions from reliable sources about what the statistics show.

The response of police leadership has left the public with the sense that government – and the police in particular – don't care enough about the problem or its consequences. The Minister of Safety and Security's remarks in parliament in June that those who just "whinge" about crime (as opposed to doing something about it) should leave the country, were met with outrage from a cross-section of South Africans – wealthy and poor, black and white.

In the wake of the Jeppestown incident and the other violent robberies that followed, the police leadership's communication with the public was sporadic at best. Occasional statements and media appearances were made by the Minister, but given the 'whinging saga', he was probably not best placed to calm fears and boost public confidence. Throughout the recent 'crime wave', little has been heard from the national commissioner of police. As leader of the SAPS – and with the ability to control strategy, operations and resources – Jackie Selebi holds the position which, rightly or wrongly, symbolises government's response to crime.

What would help is a sincere and informed acknowledgement of the current problem, followed by a clear outline of specific responses to specific crime problems and how these will be dealt with in various parts of the country. Instead we have (from the Minister) a brief two-page statement about a 'strategy' that covers generalised responses which sound more like the day-to-day activities of the police (and others) than a considered initiative to deal with a crime wave. Silence from the national commissioner on these issues is bound to raise doubts about the police's intentions and abilities, if for no other reason than the absence of clear information to the contrary.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that when the official statistics were released by the Minister and the commissioner, they were received with a mixture of scepticism and alarm. The scepticism can be attributed to the fact that the SAPS policy on the release of data meant that the figures didn't cover the events over the last six months that South Africans were most concerned about. Even though the release policy has been in place for some years now, the timing of events encouraged general public doubts about the accuracy of police crime figures. The sense of alarm came in response to the police leadership's insistence that the news was overwhelmingly good.

While there may well be merit in both the SAPS release policy and the claim that the trends hold good news, the handling of public communications by the police about crime information and policing strategy is clearly out of sync with public sentiment on the issues.

This is the context within which the latest crime trends must be considered. And this is why – when the overall objective analysis is that much of the news is indeed good – anyone who has been in the country over the past six months will remain doubtful.

Antoinette Louw, Crime and Justice Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria) Office

Nation Master

Assaults: 535,461

Car thefts: 99,963

Illicit drugs
transhipment centre for heroin, hashish, marijuana, and cocaine; cocaine consumption on the rise; world's largest market for illicit methaqualone, usually imported illegally from India through various east African countries; illicit cultivation of marijuana; attractive venue for money launderers given the increasing level of organized criminal and narcotics activity in the region

Murders: 21,995

Murders (per capita): 0.496008 per 1,000 people

Murders with firearms: 31,918

Murders with firearms (per capita): 0.719782 per 1,000 people

Rapes: 53,008

Rapes (per capita): 1.19538 per 1,000 people

Total crimes: 3,422,740

SOURCES: Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 - 2000 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention); CIA World Factbook, December 2003


Crime and Crime Prevention in South Africa: 10 Years After

Anton du Plessis and Antoinette Louw

Crime and Justice Program

Institute for Security Studies (South Africa)

South Africa's transition since 1994 has required an extensive overhaul of its institutions and laws. The last 10 years have been characterized by a flurry of new policies and legislation in the criminal justice sector. After 1994, one of the government's priorities was the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS). The NCPS recognized the social and developmental causes of crime, as well as the need to involve a range of government departments and civil society partnerships. The strategy has, however, lost momentum as a result of public and political pressure to deliver decisive, short-term solutions. Since 1999, the government's focus has been on tough law enforcement interventions and on passing new laws aimed at improving criminal justice functioning.

This article argues that South Africa's criminal justice system has performed well considering the challenges it has faced since 1994. The task now is to deal with increasingly negative public perceptions of safety and renew efforts to prevent crime by tackling the social and developmental factors that are beyond the scope of the police and courts.


Few will dispute the claim that South Africa's transition to democracy has been a remarkable success. In 1994, the country moved from autocratic and oppressive oligarchy to human-rights-based constitutional democracy. This dramatic shift in the nature and functioning of the state required an extensive overhaul of its institutions and laws. The challenge for the new government was one of transformation and nation building during a time when crime levels and public feelings of insecurity were reaching unacceptable levels. Added to this mammoth task was the burden of having to fast track this process while at the same time operating within a new legal framework based on human rights and a respect for civil liberties.

The last 10 years in South Africa have been characterized by a flurry of new policies, plans, strategies, laws, and noble ideas. This paper argues that the South African criminal justice system has performed well considering the challenges it has faced since 1994. However, while acknowledging this success, it also points out that there remain many challenges and that more could be done to address certain problems that still exist.

Crime trends in democratic South Africa

An accurate analysis of crime in South Africa since the advent of democracy should begin with a review of the trends before and after

1994. Figures for the pre-1994 period show that crime rates for most of the country have been increasing since the mid-1980s (Schönteich and

Louw 2001). However, because these statistics excluded crime incidents in the apartheid-era "bantustans," they are widely regarded as inaccurate. The figures recorded by the police after 1994 indicate that recorded crime in South Africa has increased by 30% over the past decade (SAPS 2003).1 Recorded violent crime has increased more than any other crime type (by 41% compared to 28% for property crime).

The official police statistics paint a gloomy picture. But several considerations must be taken into account when analysing crime in South


• The reporting phenomenon. A recent national victim survey suggests that less than half of all crime is reported to the police (Burton, du Plessis, Leggett, Louw, Mistry, and van Vuuren 2004). Moreover, reporting rates were the lowest for those crime types that, according Crime and Crime Prevention in South Africa 429 to the police data, showed the greatest increases (such as robbery and assault). In addition, according to official statistics, offences that are traditionally well reported, such as murder and vehicle theft, had decreased since 1994,. To some degree, then, the increase in recorded crime is likely to be a result of increased reporting to the police. With the greater legitimacy of the justice system in general and an emphasis on community policing and service delivery, an increase in reporting since 1994 was to be expected.

• Alternative sources on crime trends. National victim survey findings show that, contrary to police data, crime rates have not increased over the past five years. Surveys indicate a 2% drop in overall crime rates between 1998 and 2003.

• There is good news. Murder statistics are widely regarded as most reliable, and the official data show a consistent decrease in the murder rate since 1994.

• Substantial regional variation. Crime rates and crime trends over time differ substantially between provinces and cities. For example,

the murder rate in the Western Cape in 2002–2003 was seven times that of Limpopo, the province with the lowest murder rate.

• Violence is the key challenge. It is of concern that over one third of all officially recorded crime is violent.2 The categories that present the greatest challenge are murder, armed robbery, rape, and child rape and abuse.

• The public feel increasingly unsafe. Despite what the statistics say and the substantial efforts of government and civil society, members of the public feel much less safe now than they did five years ago

(Burton et al. 2004).

• Similar factors drive crime in South Africa as elsewhere. The factors that have been associated with crime in South Africa are similar to those described internationally (see Crime Prevention Digest 1997).

How has South Africa responded to crime?

This section of the paper will highlight some of South Africa's key criminal justice policy, legislative, and organizational achievements since 1994. For purposes of clarity, the challenges and shortcomings of the criminal justice system will be discussed separately. While reference will be made to other sectors, the main focus of this discussion is on matters related to crime prevention.

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New policy and legislation

One of the first challenges facing the new government in 1994 was the arduous task of aligning the country's law (both common and statutory)

with the values and principles enunciated in the new Constitution.

While the Constitutional Court was hard at work declaring unconstitutional law invalid, policy makers were busy drafting policies and laws that were urgently required for the development of the new democratic order.3 Near the top of the list of priorities was the development of a comprehensive and effective crime prevention strategy for the country. Legislation dealing with specific types of crime was developed to complement the government's broader crime prevention initiative.

Crime reduction policy in South Africa involves a basic philosophic tension between two perspectives: the crime prevention approach and the law enforcement approach. The crime prevention approach is based on the notion that crime is caused by social, economic, and environmental conditions, and that only by rectifying these problems can crime be addressed, while the law enforcement approach is premised on the idea that the best way to reduce crime is by arresting and convicting criminals.

• Crime prevention – 1996 National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS).

This is South Africa's overarching policy on crime prevention. It was intended to be the guiding framework for a wide range of interdepartmental programs aimed at increasing safety. The four "pillars" of the NCPS covered improving criminal justice functioning, environmental design, community values and education, and transnational crime.

At its peak, the NCPS was seen as one of six pillars of the country's National Growth and Development Strategy, a far-sighted move that recognized the vital role safety plays in development. However, the change of administration in 1999 ushered in a new approach to how government would deal with crime. Political pressure was mounting on government to deal with the rampant crime problem, and the longer-term approach of the NCPS was not appeasing the fears of the public or of politicians. In the end, shortrange thinking prevailed, the Growth and Development Strategy Crime and Crime Prevention in South Africa 431 was shelved in favour of the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR). With the possible exception of victim support, most of the social programs envisaged by the NCPS never came to fruition (Leggett 2004).

• Law enforcement – 2000 National Crime Combating Strategy (NCCS).

The NCPS was largely drafted by a panel of civilians and was widely distributed for comment. The NCCS, on the other hand, was produced in-house by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and has never been issued as a public document. The NCPS was, in theory, an interdepartmental policy, while the NCCS is explicitly a security cluster matter.4 These differences are indicative not only of the shift towards an overtly law enforcement approach to crime reduction but also of the pressure to respond quickly – which partly explains the lack of consultation and the NCCS's focus on the police.

The NCCS has two elements. The first focuses on a selection of geographic areas with the highest recorded crime levels. Police resources are directed to these areas, largely in the form of high density, search-and-seizure type operations. The aim is also to improve service delivery in these areas and, once crime has been "stabilized," to initiate medium-term social crime prevention programs.

The second element of the NCCS focuses on organized crime and involves the investigation of syndicates by task teams of experienced detectives.

The strategy has brought a welcomed focus to the parts of the country where most crime occurs. The focus on service delivery is also critical to improving public confidence – and a recent opinion survey in central Johannesburg showed that the high-density visible police operations characteristic of the NCCS made people feel safer (Leggett 2003). Another independent study, conducted at 45 police stations during the second half of 2000, also showed that 76% of respondents who had contact with the police were satisfied with the service they had received (Pelser, Schnetler, and Louw 2002).

In addition to the two overarching crime reduction policies discussed above, many important new laws addressing specific crime problems have been developed, all of which have the potential to contribute to the prevention of crime and victimization. These cover the following areas of concern:

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• Organized crime. The Prevention of Organized Crime Act addresses this growing phenomenon in South Africa. Its enactment coincided with the establishment in the National Prosecuting Authority of specialized units to address organized crime and corruption and to retrieve the proceeds of criminal activity.

• Terrorism. New anti-terrorism legislation has been passed by both houses of Parliament and should be signed into law by the president soon.

• Sexual offences and domestic violence. With over 52,000 reported rapes every year, South Africa has the highest rape rate of those countries that record these statistics. The South African Law Commission has drafted a progressive new bill (the Sexual Offences Bill) that is due to come into effect soon. It contains a substantially broader definition of rape and revolutionizes many of the anachronistic procedural and evidentiary aspects of existing sexual offences law. Together with the new Domestic Violence Act, the new law is noticeably more victim-focused and child-friendly.

• Firearm-related offences. The incidence of firearm-related offences is on the increase in South Africa (Thompson 2004). The proliferation of firearms is one of the factors contributing to the country's high violent crime rate. The new Firearms Control Act was enacted to ensure better regulation of firearms by introducing new licensing and competency requirements and creating new crimes and harsher sentences for the negligent loss of a firearm.

• Corruption. A recent survey of crime victims (Burton et al. 2004) found petty corruption or bribery to be the second most prevalent crime in the country. Recognizing the extent of the problem, the new Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act created new and broader categories of corruption with much harsher sentences5 for corruptors and corruptees. It also introduced several novel tools to assist the government, including creating a corruption register or "blacklist," granting the national director of public prosecutions the authority to investigate suspicious cases of "unexplained wealth," and imposing a legal duty on managers to report any suspected corruption within their department or organization.6

• Children's rights. New laws provide additional protection for children, both as victims and offenders. The Sexual Offences Bill referred to above contains several provisions that ensure additional protection of child victims of sexual offences. The Child Justice Bill (currently before Parliament) protects the rights of child offenders by introducing diversion programs, sentencing options, and rehabilitation opportunities for young offenders.

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• Criminal procedure and evidence. One consequence of the increase in the crime rate and the consequent worsening of public feelings of safety has been the introduction of some particularly harsh sentencing and bail laws. The minimum sentences legislation prescribes life imprisonment for certain serious offences and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act have made it a lot more difficult for suspects to be granted bail for certain crime categories.

Although these laws have attracted some criticism, they represent attempts to achieve a balance between the government's longer-term crime prevention approach and the short-term "tough on crime" law enforcement approach.

Organizational development

The South African government realized that passing new and innovative laws without developing the organizational capacity to implement them would not produce the desired results. In the decade after 1994, expenditure on the three core criminal justice system departments increased by 165%, from R14.4 billion in 1994–1995 to R38.2 billion in 2004–2005.7 Overall, government expenditure increased by 149% over the same period (Schönteich 2004). The area of change that has the most relevance for crime prevention is the policing sector.

Reform of the apartheid-era South African Police (SAP) was one of the major challenges for the new government in 1994. This was necessitated by the inheritance of a disparate and fragmented group of 11 police agencies, each shaped by the political imperatives of the apartheid state. Given their role in suppressing popular dissent, the police had been stripped of legitimacy and had lost the trust of the majority of the populace.

The South African Police Service Act, promulgated in October 1995, enabled

1. the amalgamation of the existing police agencies into a unified national South African Police Service (SAPS)

2. the establishment of a civilian Secretariat for Safety and Security with formal oversight functions

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3. the creation of an Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) to ensure independent investigation of complaints of police abuses

4. a formal delineation of the functions of the Community Police Forums (CPFs), which were to be the means of enhancing police and community interaction and local level police accountability.

Community interaction was ensured through the establishment of CPFs at all SAPS stations.

A number of other reform initiatives are relevant to this discussion.

These include innovations in civilian oversight of the police, the creation of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the establishment of a single National Prosecuting Authority, and changes in the Department of Correctional Services. Unfortunately, space constraints make it impossible to discuss each of these in depth.

State–civil society partnerships

It is widely acknowledged that crime prevention is not simply the business of government – the role of civil society is equally important.

South Africa is fortunate to have a well developed, vibrant, and organized civil society participating in the safety and security sector. After 1994, the government formally recognized the important contribution that civil society makes to preventing crime, most notably in the NCPS and community policing policy. This has led to the formation of many useful partnerships at the national, provincial, and local levels. These partnerships have been especially important for sustaining work in the areas of reintegration of offenders, diversion, victim empowerment, community policing, school safety, and most importantly, responding to rape and domestic violence and providing child protection and welfare services. The latter two sectors are almost entirely run by non-governmental organizations. At the level of policy development, monitoring, and oversight, civil society has also played an important supportive role. This has taken the form of providing capacity to the criminal justice sector through conducting research and shaping transformation and change through collaborative engagements with government, as well as through advocacy and lobbying.

Organized civil society depends almost entirely on continued support and funding from the foreign donor community.8 However, a unique development since 1999 is the involvement of the South African business community in the criminal justice sector. The Business Trust was established as a result of an initiative between President Mbeki and the business sector. The trust raises funds from various businesses and has been working with strategic partners to strengthen the criminal justice system. A similar initiative called Business against Crime (BAC) was established in response to a call from former President Mandela for private businesses to partner with government in the fight against crime. BAC has contributed to several high profile projects in recent years, in areas such as

Crime and Crime Prevention in South Africa 435

1. the Integrated Justice System (IJS) project, which attempted to streamline the activities and performance indicators of the core departments in the criminal justice chain9

2. victim empowerment

3. piloting case management systems in commercial crime cases

4. supporting the SAPS Service Delivery Improvement Programmes

5. installing CCTV surveillance systems in several major cities

6. compiling training manuals for sexual offences and domestic violence prosecutors


Despite the many positive interventions made by government and civil society, several challenges remain for those working in the crime prevention and criminal justice sectors.

Making new policies and legislation work

With a few exceptions, the key challenge is no longer changing the way the criminal justice system operates or developing new approaches and laws but simply making the system work. For government, the challenge of transforming society while simultaneously responding to high crime levels and public pressure has taken its toll on the delivery of basic, line-function services. The rise in recorded crime since 1994 has dramatically increased the workload of the whole criminal justice system (Schönteich 2004).

• In 1994–1995, an average of 15.5 crimes were recorded per police officer. By 2002–2003, the workload of the average police officer had almost doubled to 25.6 recorded crimes.

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• The prosecution service has had to deal with a 112% increase in the number of cases referred to court between 1996 and 2003. The conviction rate has not kept pace, however, with only a slight increase of 5% during this period. In addition, severe case backlogs in the courts remain. It is thus unsurprising that the main complaint among victims and witnesses relates to the delays and frequent postponements of their cases (Schönteich 2003).

• The prison system has been most affected by the increased workload.

The number of prisoners increased dramatically between 1994 and 2003, while cell accommodation and prison staff increased only slightly. Overcrowding is largely the result of the 151% increase in the number of unsentenced prisoners between 1994 and 2003, compared to the 42% increase in sentenced prisoners.

This increased workload has had to be tackled by departments faced with internal restructuring, staff shortages, a lack of skills, low morale, and a whole new set of rules governed by the country's Constitution.

Efforts are in place to deal with the increased workload for criminal justice professionals throughout the criminal justice system. For the public and crime victims, however, this situation means that there is little guarantee of reliable and predictable service. It also means that new policies and legislation are difficult to implement, particularly when substantial in-service training, additional resources, and interdepartmental collaboration are required. Two examples of this are the implementation of community policing and the Domestic Violence

Act. An ongoing review of the latter has highlighted the difficulties that arise when legislation that increases the duties of court and police personnel is enacted without providing the additional support needed (Parenzee 2001).

Improving public perceptions

Although the statistics indicate that crime generally is not increasing, and that the murder rate continues to decline, public perception is less positive. Over half of all South Africans believe crime in their area increased in the past three years and feelings of safety have declined substantially since 1998 (Burton et al. 2004). Although the intensity of these views differs among South Africans, the negative impact is potentially as damaging as that of crime itself. Undoubtedly, the achievements of the police and courts will make little difference to ordinary South Africans while feelings of safety continue to decline.

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Although dealing with increasingly negative perceptions ought to be a priority for government, there are few indications that this is the case.10 Granted, this is no easy task when considering the range of complex issues that shapes public perception (Burton et al. 2004). Nevertheless, it is worrying that the police – who ought to be the public face of government's crime reduction efforts – have adopted an increasingly dismissive attitude towards the media and the public release of information about crime in general.

A public relations strategy is needed that is more creative than simply restricting public information to that about police successes and selecting statistics that show a "stabilization" in crime levels. Survey results confirm that this is not working. Improving perception requires building public confidence in the police and courts. Naturally, this means better performance as discussed above. But simply providing better information about what to expect, how the justice process works, and where to get further assistance would be useful. Information helps people feel in control of events – something that victimization strips away. Crime fosters a sense of helplessness and exposure to the vagaries of a justice system they do not understand only makes victims and their families feel more vulnerable and unsafe. A better understanding of how the system works would also help dispel the notion that justice post-1994 means offenders have more protection than victims – a belief best illustrated by the widespread view that "criminals have more rights than victims" and that "perpetrators are released unconditionally" (Burton et al. 2004).11

Dealing with corruption is equally important for improving confidence in the criminal justice system. This has been identified as a key complaint with regards to the police in several public opinion surveys (Pelser et al. 2002). All the efforts described above will be fruitless if the public believes that the officials entrusted with their protection can be persuaded by the highest bidder.

Responding to crime without undermining human rights

Violence is not new to most South Africans. Since 1994, however, the political context that may once have helped in understanding vicious acts such as "necklacing" no longer exists. Now, the gratuitous nature of many violent crimes, particularly those committed in the course of robberies, car hijackings, and housebreakings, along with the brutal nature of violence against children, has produced a punitive society.

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Vigilantism has flourished and become formalized in the infamous form of People against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) and Mapogoa-Mathamaga (Sekhonyane and Louw 2001). The desperation of ordinary South Africans is also well illustrated by the fact that the vast majority surveyed in inner Johannesburg and Manenberg in the Cape metropolitan area was prepared to give up privacy interests in order to promote safety. For example, around 81% in both cases were willing to have their homes searched by police once a month if it would reduce crime (Leggett 2003).

It has become common for South Africans in and outside government to see human rights and safety as conflicting goals. The belief that human rights impede efficient law enforcement is well illustrated by events surrounding the passing of legislation that changes the level of force allowed when making an arrest. Although the legislation quite reasonably requires the presence of a real threat before lethal force can be used, the act has been denounced by the public, as well as by the

Minister of Safety and Security and the National Commissioner of police. The ongoing debates among the public and within the SAPS on the issue probably explain the president's failure to promulgate the act for five years after it was passed by Parliament (Leggett 2004).

The government has been under pressure to act decisively and quickly and to reverse the perception that the Constitution affords more protection to criminals than to law-abiding citizens. Efforts in this regard have been over-hasty – often with little regard for the broader human rights implications – and in some cases have reverted to apartheid-style law enforcement. This is evidenced in legislative developments, such as amendments to the bail laws, minimum sentencing legislation, and the new anti-terrorism law. The series of bombs attacks in the Western Cape between 1998 and 2001 that prompted the drafting of the anti-terrorism legislation has been described as "caus(ing) the former 'terrorists' in power to revisit the tactics used against them in the apartheid past,

including considering a return to detention without trial and banning of organisations" (Shaw 2002: x). Similarly, the pressure on the police to reduce crime levels visibly has "forced them into forms of policing that run counter to the values of democracy … today crime prevention for the police has largely meant reverting back to what they know best:

large-scale militaristic policing" (Leggett 2004: 67).

Against this backdrop, the decline in public feelings of safety is bad news. Government actions against crime need to inspire confidence but not at the expense of the hard-won freedoms that characterize our democracy. Given the punitive nature of public sentiment, it is debatpage-

Crime and Crime Prevention in South Africa 439

able whether South African citizens can be relied upon to defend human rights vigorously in the face of high levels of violence.

South Africans need to believe that safety need not come at the expense of human rights, especially if restorative approaches are to succeed. For example, the Child Justice Bill that will protect young offenders (some of whom have committed violent crimes) relies heavily on civil society to assist in the rehabilitation and safekeeping of children. The same applies to reintegration programs for offenders released from prison. A good place for government to start is by improving the treatment of, and services available for, crime victims.

Maintaining a balance between enforcement and prevention approaches

One way of mitigating the danger described above is to deal with crime in the most effective way. This requires a balance between efforts to prevent crime and those that deal with its aftermath (the main function of the criminal justice system). This was well recognized by the post-1994 administration's vision for safety, articulated in the

NCPS. The NCPS aimed to improve law enforcement and attend to the social and developmental causes of crime. It advocated a role not only for the police but also for other departments and for civil society.

This broad-based approach has, however, lost momentum over the past five years. Among other things, the strategy was suffocated by the bureaucratic requirements of interdepartmental coordination, which meant that when the pressure on government to act decisively increased, the NCPS had little to show (Rauch 2002). Instead, government attention turned to more visible, short-term law enforcement efforts, such as SAPS' NCCS, which focused on reducing crime levels through high-density search-and-seizure operations. It has been argued that the pressure on the police to reduce the crime statistics undermined the effort to prevent crime. Even though the NCPS allocated responsibility for projects to various departments, the SAPS has continued to drive most crime prevention initiatives. And considering that the police are neither trained nor inclined in this direction, we should not be surprised that these initiatives have not fared particularly well (Leggett 2004).

Ten years later, the biggest gap in South Africa's crime prevention effort is in the area of social development, and in particular, programs aimed at children and youth. The focus on law enforcement has drawn

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attention away from the fact that key institutions for the development of young people – the family and the school – are in disarray. Other basic government services that provide a safety net for children, such as child support and family visits by social workers, are sporadic or non-existent. A cursory analysis of the risk factors for offending in any society illustrates the importance of these areas for preventing crime and particularly violence (Roper 2002). Although safer schools projects are on the agenda, the role of the Departments of Education and of

Social Development in preventing crime has been sorely neglected thus far. As long as these departments struggle to meet their most basic objectives, more sophisticated crime prevention projects that involve these sectors will be almost impossible to implement successfully.

These types of social crime prevention projects may well be less attractive to politicians and practitioners because they are difficult to implement and take years to show results. This is probably the main reason why social crime prevention has stalled in recent years. There is, however,

a short-term alternative to changing the way people behave – using local government by-laws to regulate the social conditions that encourage criminality.12 This is to suggest not a "zero tolerance" approach but rather one that targets those with "something to lose" rather than those with "nothing to lose." This could, for example, involve targeting owners of illegal taverns rather than the poor who drink in the bars, or the owners of bad buildings in the inner city rather than just the sex workers who live in these tenements. In this way, "the potential of by-law enforcement [for preventing crime] lies in the realm of market disruption far more than that of moral regeneration."

Improving accountability and oversight

The foundation that was laid after 1994 to provide for oversight and accountability, particularly of the police, needs to be consolidated. The

Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) is now well established to investigate deaths in police custody or as a result of police action. But under-resourcing of this important body means that other problems that are far more prevalent, like corruption, misconduct, torture, and the failure to deliver the required services, are rarely investigated.

Although deaths associated with police action are more serious, the latter problems deprive many more people of their right to safety and protection and undermine public confidence in the police and the justice system. Some structural changes could help to rectify the situation.

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Until recently, the ICD's budget was part of the police budget – makpageing the directorate vulnerable to decisions of the very organization it monitors and investigates. While this problem has been rectified, the ICD still has no authority to enforce its recommendations on policing.

These issues might not pose a problem if the SAPS were receptive to the principle of external monitoring and oversight. However, if the fate of the civilian Secretariats for Safety and Security – which are internal rather than external oversight bodies –I s anything to go by, this is not the case. Tasked with monitoring policing and policy, advising the minister, and contributing to policy development, the national secretariat was a body with substantial status when it was established after 1994. However, with the change of administration in 1999 and the appointment of the first civilian commissioner of police, the position of national secretary was downgraded to that of deputy director general, after having been on a par with that of the national police commissioner.

This was the first indication that the importance of civilian oversight was waning.

A recent review of the secretariats confirms that they have received little attention from the Department for Safety and Security and have struggled to carry out their mandated functions (Mistry and Klipin 2004). The key problem is the lack of national leadership to support and guide the secretariats. In addition, they suffer from a lack of national coordination and vision, and their relationship with the SAPS lacks structure. Significantly, the national secretariat no longer monitors the police, appearing to exist purely for the purpose of advising the Minister of Safety and Security.

The relegation of the national secretariat, in particular, to the status of an advisory body is indicative of the lack of political support for the concept of civilian oversight of policing. The issues that were relevant in 1994 when the secretariats were created – notably the lack of trust among the new politicians for their former oppressors (Leggett 2004) – no longer concern the ruling party, especially since the first civilian and ANC insider was appointed to the position of national commissioner.

13 This is a worrying development, considering the importance of civilian oversight of policing in a democracy. Changing this mindset may be difficult because the trend does not appear to be limited to the policing environment. As the power of the executive arm of government has become entrenched, so a range of oversight bodies established after 1994 seems to have become less relevant to the business of government. This renders the role of civil society and the media more important than at any other time in South Africa's short democracy.

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Working collaboratively

Coordination between departments is something that governments across the world strive for. The benefits are well recognized in South Africa, where collaboration has been a stated goal since 1994 in the crime prevention and criminal justice sector, and government broadly is organized in clusters that include several related departments.

Although there have been some notable successes at the operational level, like the investigation and prosecution of commercial crime, the Directorate of Special Operations, and border control, the challenge remains immense.

At the strategic level, interdepartmental coordination is hampered by the fact that the desired outcomes of the police, courts, and prisons are not only different but often conflicting. This is best illustrated by the massive overcrowding in prisons. Rather than simply requiring officials to work with their colleagues via a range of tedious coordination committees, the political leadership need to agree on what the overall goals of the criminal justice system should be and how these can be achieved to the benefit of each department. By ensuring that officials' performance measurement criteria include indicators of cooperation, these goals can be translated into practical terms.

Crime prevention requires that interdepartmental cooperation extend beyond the criminal justice system to include, when necessary, departments responsible for local government, education, and social services, for example. Based on experience working with local government, it has been argued that expecting officials to work collaboratively when they struggle to fulfil their most basic line-function responsibilities is a recipe for disappointment (Pelser and Louw 2002). To avoid this and rectify the situation now prevailing, in which "interdepartmental coordination" has become everyone's goal and no one's responsibility, collaboration could be restricted to a few priority projects. These projects should have the necessary political backing, skills development, and resourcing to ensure success.14 This does not mean that, where possible, individual officials with the inclination and ability to initiate teamwork should not be encouraged to do so.


In the past 10 years, South Africans have succeeded, against tremendous odds, in laying the foundation for a safe and open democracy.

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This is evidenced by the country's legal framework, the development of policy and practice in step with international good practice, and the reliance on local innovation to deal with local problems. These advances now need to be consolidated. Although the government's scorecard is largely positive in the criminal justice sector, addressing crime prevention and negative public perceptions remain key challenges.

This is essential to guard against the further erosion of human rights and the consequences for democracy of a loss of faith in the government's ability to protect its citizens.


1 For other official crime statistics, see SAPS (2004).

2 This proportion is higher than for some developed countries. For example, according to FBI and Home Office data, in 1999, 15% of recorded crime in the U.S. was violent, as was 6% of recorded crime in the U.K.

3 Between April 1994 and December 2002, the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development reviewed 85 pieces of draft legislation, which were subsequently enacted by Parliament, more than any other Portfolio Committee. See Union of South Africa 2004.

4 The government's security cluster consists of the Departments of Safety and Security, Justice and Constitutional Development, Correctional Services, and Intelligence and Defence.

5 That act makes provision for the imposition of a life sentence in certain serious cases of corruption.

6 The British House of Commons is currently considering drafting similar anti-corruption laws, modelled on the South African Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act.

7 This increase was due, in part, to the reassignment of responsibilities from the military to the police.

8 Foreign donors fund most civil society organizations in South Africa.

9 The IJS was subsequently absorbed into the follow-up BAC project known as the Criminal Justice Strengthening Programme (CJSP)

10 The one clear exception is the excellent media campaign run by the National Prosecuting Authority's Directorate of Special Operations or the

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'Scorpions' unit. In a survey in 2001, among 3,830 members of the public in urban areas throughout the country, 84% of respondents said the Scorpions were effective. This compares with 51% who described the functioning of the prosecution service as 'okay' and only 28% who thought government had done a good job fighting crime since 1994. See Schönteich (2003: 30).

11 The latter was a common view among South Africans when asked why they were dissatisfied with the way courts were dealing with perpetrators.

See Burton et al. 2004.

12 The notion of short-term social crime prevention was developed by Ted Leggett (2004b).

13 Jackie Selebi was appointed as SAPS national commissioner in 1999.

14 Key focus areas in this regard could include sexual offences courts and multidisciplinary rape care centres, specialized commercial crime courts, immigration law enforcement, and the prosecution of youth offenders in terms of the new Child Justice Bill.


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1997 Crime Prevention Digest. Montreal: International Centre for the Prevention of Crime.

Leggett, Ted

2004 No one to trust: Preliminary results from a Manenberg crime survey.

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Institute for Security Studies. (ISS Monograph no. 78)

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Leggett, Ted

2004b Why wait? By-laws and regulations for high impact crime prevention.

SA Crime Quarterly 8.

Mistry, Duxita and Judy Klipin

2004 Strengthening civilian oversight over the police in South Africa: A report on research into the national and provincial Secretariats for Safety and Security. Unpublished report for the Open Society Foundation, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria.

Parenzee, Penny

2001 While women wait … Monitoring the Domestic Violence Act. Nedbank

ISS Crime Index 5(3): 10–13.

Pelser, Eric and Antoinette Louw

2002 Lessons from practice. In E. Pelser (ed.), Crime Prevention Partnerships:

Lessons from Practice. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.

Pelser, Eric, Johann Schnetler, and Antoinette Louw

2002 Not Everybody's Business: Community Policing in the SAPS' Priority

Areas. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies. (ISS Monograph Series no. 71).

Rauch, Janine

2002 Changing step: Crime prevention policy in South Africa. In Eric Pelser (ed.), Crime Prevention Partnerships: Lessons from Practice.

Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.

Roper, Margaret

2002 Kids first: Approaching school safety. In Eric Pelser (ed.), Crime Prevention

Partnerships: Lessons from Practice. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.

Schönteich, Martin

2003 NPA in the dock: Thumbs up for the prosecution service. SA Crime

Quarterly 3: 29–32.

Schönteich, Martin

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Schönteich, Martin & Antoinette Louw

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Sekhonyane, Makubetse and Antoinette Louw

2002 Violent Justice: Vigilantism and the State's Response. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies. (ISS Monograph Series no. 72)

Shaw, Mark

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Police Service, 1 April 2002 to 31 March 2003.

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Legislation cited

B103-2001, Child Justice Bill.

B107-2002, Sexual Offences Bill.

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996, No. 108 of 1996.

Criminal Procedure Act, No. 51 of 1977.

Domestic Violence Act, No. 116 of 1998.

Firearms Control Act, No. 60 of 2000.

Prevention of Organized Crime Act, No. 121 of 1998.

Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act, No. 12 of 2004.

South African Police Service Act, No. 68 of 1995.


Analysts: Perceptions of crime in South Africa affected by leadership, communications

The Associated Press

Published: March 9, 2007

PRETORIA, South Africa: Trust in police in Africa's economic powerhouse is near the lowest on the continent, with even Zimbabweans living in their increasingly autocratic state feeling they are more likely to get help from police than South Africans, a researcher said Friday.

Experts at a seminar on crime and public perception said the lack of trust resulted from a failure of leadership and communication in the police force coupled with a spike in some crimes last year - despite overall decreases.

Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi's spokesman Selby Bokaba said there was no leadership crisis at the top level. However, he said there was a lack of skills at the station level and that a number of changes to the lower leadership levels had already seen improvements. He added that Selebi had made housebreaking a priority.

"Our people have to feel safe in their homes and the South African Police Service is committed to making sure they do," Bokaba said in an interview.

South Africa has gained notoriety as the crime capital of the world, although rates are falling. There were 18,545 murders in 2005, down from 21,405 in 2001; 20,553 attempted murders in 2005, down from 31,293 in 2001; and nearly 55,000 reported rapes in 2005, down slightly from 54,293 in 2001, according to police statistics.

A spate of violent high-profile slayings, dramatic shopping mall shootouts and robberies of armed trucks carrying cash last year fueled negative headlines and added to concerns that South Africa would not be safe for visitors expected for the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.

Professor Robert Mattes, director of the Center for Social Science Research at the University of Cape Town, said in Africa, trust in police was highest in Tanzania and worst in Nigeria, while ease of working with police was highest in Botswana and lowest in Benin with Zimbabweans saying it is easier to work with police than South Africans. He cited a series of comparative studies done on the continent last year.

Mattes said South Africa was doing better than some countries but despite the greater amount of resources "many far poorer less developed countries do better."

"Something is missing in the relation between police and the public," Mattes said at the seminar.

Antoinette Louw, senior research fellow at the Pretoria-based, independent Institute for Security Studies, said at the seminar that the total number of crimes in South Africa has increased by seven percent over the past 12 years with a peak around 2002-2003. However, since then there has been "encouraging" decreases with murder down 41 percent, she said.

"Trends over past 12 years have seen a lot of good news," she said, but added that police attempts to communicate this with the annual release of crime statistics in September failed.

"It came after eight months of some very serious and nasty crimes and it just didn't fly. It made the public more skeptical and alarmed," she said.

Louw also said that despite the overall decline, insurance industry and other government figures showed increases in certain crimes such as car theft and hijackings.

Louw said the result of this coupled with a response by police and political leadership had a negative impact on public perceptions.

"The leadership crisis ... was exposed in the face of the spike in crime. The leadership crisis is not new and has been brewing for sometime," she said.

Last year a close friend of national Police Commissioner Selebi was arrested in connection with the murder last year of mining magnet Brett Kebble, causing a massive public outcry and calls for Selebi to resign.

"At the time when South Africa most needed very clear and strong leadership on this seeming crime wave we heard little from Selebi. When we did hear from the commissioner it was him defending himself rather than on what the police were doing about crime," Louw said.

Comments from ministers accusing whites of "whinging" about crime and an interview by President Thabo Mbeki in which he said there was no evidence that people thought crime was spinning out of control only added to public anger.

"Crime," she said, "is too an emotional issue to be treated in this way."

ANC TODAY VOL 7 NO.10 16 March 2007


The British Bulldog barks again

THE BBC HAS BEEN at it again. On its BBC News website, as we write this article, it carries an item of news dated 10 March 2007, headed, "Thousands march against SA (South African) crime".

Among other things the news item says, "Thousands of South Africans have marched in some of the country's main cities in protest at the high levels of violent crime. Politicians, religious leaders and schoolchildren were on the streets of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town...The protesters want a change in what they call the government's relaxed attitude towards policing...

"While the overall crime rate in South Africa has shown signs of a downturn, President Thabo Mbeki admitted in February that people lived in fear of violent crime and promised an increase in police numbers. Just weeks before, he had insisted that most South Africans did not think the crime rate in their country was getting out of hand."

It is true that anti-crime demonstrations took place in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town on 9 March, as the BBC and other media organisations reported. However, it is entirely untrue that thousands of South Africans participated in these demonstrations. As far as we can determine, the BBC was the only and sole media organisation that saw thousands of demonstrators on our streets, whereas everybody else counted, at most, up to a combined national total of 500 demonstrators.

As the BBC reported, it is true that among these 500 demonstrators were politicians, religious leaders and school children. However, it is perfectly obvious that the BBC report in question was composed in a manner that sought to suggest the existence of a mass national revolt against our government on the issue of crime, spontaneously attracting even children, in addition to our political and religious leaders. [ my bolding]

What the BBC did not mention was that the political leaders to whom it referred are leaders of opposition political parties. These parties, as part of normal and legitimate practice in any democracy, have, in our country, picked on the issue of crime as part of their platform to express their opposition to our government, and gain whatever political advantage they can from propagating a particular perception about "the government's relaxed attitude towards policing".

Of note, in this regard, and within the context of the suggested national revolt against our government on the issue of crime, [my bolding] that even these political leaders, given whatever might be their national and localised popularity, did not bring to the demonstrations any of the "thousands" of demonstrators the BBC reported to have marched on our streets, but who, in truth, only marched in the virtual computer streets created by BBC News.

As the BBC knows very well, like contemporary British society as a whole, South African society is seriously concerned about the national challenge of crime prevention and combating. This concern includes the ruling party and our movement, the ANC, as well as our government.

In our case, it is not at all necessary for the BBC to invent "thousands" of demonstrators or suggest a mass national revolt against our government, [my bolding] to substantiate any report that our society, like British society as a whole, is seriously concerned that government must do everything necessary and possible to reduce the incidence especially of violent crime.

In this regard, once again, we must also say that even before our liberation in 1994, the ANC recognised the hard reality that apartheid had left our democracy with a deeply entrenched legacy especially of violent crime. What President Mbeki said about crime not being out of control, was not in any way inconsistent with what he said, as correctly reported by the BBC, concerning a national fear of violent crime and our government's undertaking to increase the size of our police service. For our part, we would never use the phrase "out of control", as in the instance of a veld fire, unless we sought to describe a situation that was "out of control", or "out of hand", to cite the phrase the BBC used.

In Vol 7 No 7 of ANC TODAY we carried an article that criticised a BBC World report that purported to report on crime in South Africa {My bolding]. The BBC responded to our comments. We published the complete text of that response in our Vol 7 No 8, in which the BBC said: "Having reviewed the report by John Simpson on crime in Johannesburg, BBC World not only stands by the piece but also refutes all allegations by the ruling African National Congress of racism, as published on its website on 16 February."

In our Editor's comment following the BBC statement, we suggested that, "we and the BBC should always interact with each other with honesty, integrity and mutual respect, always ready openly to admit our mistakes, if either one of us does make a mistake, as will inevitably happen."

When we made these comments, we were very mindful of the eminently correct and critically important ethics of journalism that the BBC claims to uphold. In this regard, for instance, speaking in the British House of Lords on 28 April 1998, Lord Moynihan said:

"In this Committee there is overwhelming consensus that the BBC World Service sets accepted standards of excellence. By providing an objective and accurate source of information, it is internationally acclaimed -- most rightly so - as an upholder and promoter of democracy. For millions, including world leaders in the fight for democracy, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader in Burma, and Nelson Mandela, now President of South Africa, the World Service has provided a beacon of fair, trusted and respected news coverage - more so than any of its free world rivals...The World Service is a uniquely powerful asset on the world stage. It projects those critical and fundamentally important values of democracy, objectivity and fairness, which are then identified by opinion formers as British values. Its voice helps shape this country's reputation and image."

In a report presented to the British Parliament in December 2005, the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said the "BBC World Service (must) enhance its position as the best, as the best known and most respected voice in international radio and online broadcasting."

In its Editorial Guidelines, relating to "Nations & regions", the BBC says: "In the UK there are different national and regional sensitivities which we should respect and reflect. There are differences in the powers of Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland. There are also big differences in the legal systems in the nations, as well as in the provision of education, health and social services. We must be both accurate and consistent in our coverage and avoid stereotypes or clichés."

All these are exactly the same points that ANC TODAY has sought to make in its public debate with the BCC, namely that: as media organisations, including our own lowly ANC TODAY, we must serve as objective and accurate sources of information, and beacons of fair, trusted and respected news coverage, systematically and consciously strive to be the most respected voices in journalism globally, and work continuously to be both accurate and consistent in our coverage, deliberately avoiding stereotypes or clichés.

In our article on the BBC in our Vol 7 No 7, we sought to urge the BBC to "avoid stereotypes or clichés" in its reports about our country, precisely to sustain its reputation and credibility as "an objective and accurate source of information and a beacon of fair, trusted and respected news coverage".


"Louw, also a renowned criminologist, said during a symposium in Bloemfontein on violent crimes: 'A positive national self-image should be promoted to combat the cynicism, distrust and depression that disempower South Africans to actively take part in the fight against crime. We can do something about it instead of just talking about it around braais (barbecue grills/parties).'

"Louw said the crime situation in South Africa should be put in perspective because this was something the South African media 'clearly did not specialise in...We lived in an abnormal society (apartheid); now we live in a normal society in a country in transition.'

"Louw said other transitional countries that had experienced the same crime situation as South Africa were Russia, Estonia, Cambodia and Poland. Louw said the media in other non-transitional countries like America, Wales, England and Australia had also reported on 'concerns' of an increase of violent crime in 1996.

"'These people are in the same boat as you and me,' said Louw, himself also a crime victim, having being stabbed twice in the back. Looking at the causes of crime, Louw said South Africans should not look further than themselves, and must stop pointing fingers at others. Louw quoted 19th century French criminologist Jean Lacassagne who said: 'Every society gets the number of criminals it deserves'...

"Civil Society Initiative chairman, Roelf Meyer, agreed that crime with a 'violent element' should be researched. Reasons for the 'mindset' must be found. Meyer said ways of improving the crime situation included involving the private sector in police training, proper and good management of policing at grass-roots level, and getting civil society involved."

The renowned criminologist, Professor Dap Louw, called on all of us, which must include the BBC and ANC TODAY, to avoid wrongly treating South Africa as the "criminal skunk" of the world, a frame of mind objectively born of the stereotypes and clichés that editorially, and very correctly, the BBC is determined to avoid.

We invite the BBC independently to check and verify every single fact contained or implied in this article, as well as in our previous two articles in which the BBC features. If the BBC proves that we have falsified reality, or, in plain language, told lies, we will publish our failings in this regard in this journal, without qualification. Naturally, we will also publish, in full, any comment made by the BBC that shows that we told lies.

We are convinced that the truth and the important issue of integrity in public communication, will find no comfort in the resort to the standard media reflex action that, for some strange reason, seems to have convinced media organisations that they should avoid admitting any failure to report truthfully, by saying, as the BBC said in response to our earlier criticism, "Having reviewed the report by John Simpson on crime in Johannesburg, BBC World...stands by the piece..."

The BBC World Service, the radio, television and internet section of the British Broadcasting Corporation that daily communicates with the rest of the world, operates within the context of a formal "Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO -Foreign Ministry)/BBC World Service Broadcasting Agreement". Among other things, the Agreement says: "This Agreement defines the relationship between the FCO and the BBC World Service, including the aims and objectives of the World Service, its target audiences and provisions for performance assessment...The Secretary of State is responsible for agreeing with the BBC World Service its objectives and medium term priority target audiences defined geographically and by audience segment, and appropriate performance measures."

During the House of Lords debate to which we have referred, the Member of the House of Lords representing the British Government said: "The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, made proper reference to the relationship between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the BBC World Service. He paid a well deserved tribute to the BBC World Service. I am answering this amendment because of my responsibility at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. My noble friend Lady Symons is the Minister within the Foreign Office responsible for relationships with the BBC World Service. She tells me that she meets Sam Younger of the World Service at least once a month and that there are continuing discussions on the 20 points to which the noble Lord referred."

We do not know whether the BBC will, once again, "stand by the piece" that put on our streets "thousands" of demonstrators who never took to our streets. Regardless of this, we are nevertheless convinced that no decent person or organisation whatsoever should derive a feeling of impunity, and comfort in the abuse of power, from the knowledge that they enjoy pre-eminent and secure positions as national and global purveyors of information, disinformation, and propaganda, thus to convince themselves that they have the liberty to manufacture such blatant falsehoods as the BBC saw fit to broadcast to the world, when it falsely reported that thousands of anti-crime demonstrators took to the streets of three of our main cities to protest against our government.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.