Substance abuse fuelling violent crime

Social ills are increasing on the Cape Flats, writes Lester September.

Although the murder rate has been halved since 1995, the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance agrees with Institute of Security Studies senior researcher Chandre Gould that it remains too high.

Substance abuse is mainly found in economically depressed communities. Restricting alcohol trading hours would go a long way to correcting the exacerbation of social ills, says the writer. Photo: Neil Baynes. Credit: CAPE ARGUS

The nominal 2012 decrease from previous years, and Cape Flats crime trends, show that employing more police won’t drastically reduce violent crime.

Substance abuse fuels most crimes on the Cape Flats. However, it’s mainly restricted to economically depressed communities.

Western Cape social development services are mostly outsourced to NGOs, but aren’t adequately funded to make a significant difference. It’s disingenuous for the provincial government to quote spending comparisons with other provinces, while ignoring studies that reveal we have the highest rate of substance abuse in South Africa, with alcohol fuelling 70 percent of violent crime.

Under Premier Helen Zille’s watch, children’s homes have been closed without enough replacements opened, resulting in volunteers being unable to find accommodation for abused children living in dangerous environments.

Reports of rape, torture, mutilation and murder of children across our province are increasing, but early-warning and life skills programmes are especially non-existent in Cape Town’s ghettoes.

Principal Ruchida O’Shea of Tafelsig High School complains that Tafelsig has the highest number of teenage pregnancies, rape and gang violence, with little support in dealing with the sexually abused. Sonke Gender Justice Network head Dean Peacock complains that children need psycho-social support because of the violence they experience.

A lack of social workers and psychologists based in schools and communities, to identify problem households and abuses, denies children protection. It is inexcusable that there is one psychologist for over 50 schools in Mitchells Plain, while some model C schools have one in each school.

Zille can’t simply finger the police for the high 2012 provincial crime rates, when most of the crime is fuelled by social ills which her government has direct oversight over, while the province and city’s social development departments are dysfunctional.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has said: “Wherever one is in the world, the avoidable death of a child is considered a disgrace; the rape of a child is considered an abomination. Yet in Cape Town… it’s impossible to tell how many children have been brutally violated and/or killed over any given period…

“The reality for citizens across broad swathes of the Cape Flats and the surrounding region is that 20 years into South Africa’s democracy they have yet to receive a freedom dividend. They have yet to be freed of the yoke of oppression wrought by gangsters and sex fiends and other criminals. Most of these communities remain as fundamentally dysfunctional as they were when they were first thrown together as racial enclaves in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The perpetuation of apartheid spatial planning with low-cost housing on the outskirts of society exacerbates the problems. Jared Sacks, a director of a children’s protection non-profit organisation, states: “The recent publication of South Africa’s racial distribution by Adrian Frith shows how, despite the intense segregation in all South African cities, poor so-called ‘non-white’ South Africans are most crammed into Cape Town’s ghettoes than anywhere else.”

Research by Professor Charles Parry (Medical Research Council), Professor Lesley London (UCT) and Dr Richard Matzopoulos (Medical Research Council) shows that “longer liquor trading hours directly increase death rates”, and that reducing on-premises trading consumption (eg pubs) to 11pm could reduce Cape Town’s murder rate by 350 a year.

A presentation by Professor Craig Househam, head of the Western Cape Health Department, titled “Violence Prevention: WC Burden of Disease Reduction Project”, reveals that targeted reduction in trading hours is “potentially the most cost-effective option which could reduce violence by nearly 50 percent in the very short term”, but that this “potentially politically controversial option” has not been explored.

We support provisions in the draft Western Cape Liquor Amendment Bill, simplifying the shutdown of illegal shebeens by police. However, the province and the city are losing the fight against substance abuse that fuels most of our violent crime, worsened by city by-laws, allowing for more days and longer liquor licence trading hours.

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