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‘Criminals will kill if you fight back’

Published Mar 4, 2012


Many South Africans believe they will be raped or murdered if hijacked or robbed, but a criminologist says threats and assault are more likely in such situations.

Criminals were inclined to pull the trigger if victims fought back, it is revealed in a study by Johan Burger, senior researcher for the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies.

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Burger delivered the keynote address on policing of three types of crime (house and business robbery and hijacking) at a seminar hosted by the Criminology and Victimological Society of Southern Africa and the UKZN this week.

He said criminals began their assaults with maximum violence by shouting, assaulting victims and even holding a gun to their heads to assert their authority.

He based this on research over two years of more than 1 700 aggravated robbery police dockets.

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It indicated criminals did not start out intending to kill or seriously injure victims in these crimes.

“My advice is to co-operate because they (criminals) want to see you submit to their authority and hear you say they are in control. Do this and the chances of survival are much greater. Resist and they won’t hesitate to kill you. They believe their lives are much more valuable than yours,” Burger said.

He said the research reflected the situation in the country and indicated the national aggravated robbery situation. Of the 1 700 reported cases, 89.5 percent of victims were threatened in house robberies, 91.8 percent in business robberies and 97.1 percent in hijackings.

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Burger said, “Criminals said they preferred not to kill their victims because they realised the police focus would be more intense on murder or attempted murder and rape cases than robbery. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but it happens less often than people think.”


Basing his data on police statistics Burger said house robbery and car hijacking is on the decline while business robbery had levelled out in the past year.

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Car hijackings have seen a decline from 13 902 in 2009/10 to 10 627 in 2010/11. House robberies declined from 18 786 in 2009/10 to 16 889 incidents in 2010/11.

Business robberies have increased from 14 534 in 2009/10 compared to 16 447 in 2010/11.

KZN had 7 039 house robberies, 1 943 business robberies and 2 619 car hijackings in 2010/11. He said business robberies were still high as between 60 to 70 percent of the incidents happened in poorer communities.

“Organised criminals do target and risk analysis before they hit and the more effective security at a business the more of a deterrent.

“Businesses in informal areas don’t have the financial means for security systems. Also many keep large amounts of cash on the premises because they don’t have a bank account either, because they are in the country illegally or operating the business illegally.”

While crime has generally decreased in the country, he said when there was a decline in one crime, you would see a spike in another.

He said ATM attacks and bombings have seen a steady increase over the last few years while bank and cash-in-transit heists have slightly declined.

There was over 60 percent growth in ATM bombings with 247 attacks in 2009/10 compared to 399 in 2010/11. Bank robberies declined from 93 incidents in 2009/10 to 39 in 2010/11. Cash-in-transit heists decreased from 358 in 2009/10 to 291 in 2010/11.


Commenting on the disbanding of the specialised Cato Manor unit, Burger said no police unit should be allowed to act as vigilantes. But he admitted there could be a spike in crime in the province as a result.

“Criminals are always on the lookout for situations they can exploit. The unit served as a deterrent and were very effective in solving high-profile crimes.

“Criminals are surely looking at their disbanding as an obstacle that has been removed, making it easier to achieve their goals,” he added.

Also of concern was low conviction rates. In contact crimes (crimes against a person) there was an almost 57 percent detection rate, with 32 percent of the cases making it to court resulting in a 24 percent conviction rate.

In property related crimes there was a 16 percent detection rate, with 31 percent of the cases going to court and a 25 percent conviction rate.

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