South Africa is known as a country with high rates of violence, which range from random murder to rape to domestic, high intimate partner violence, and robbery anywhere people are found, be it in a private space or public.
This has put the country at the top of international violence lists, and instilled fear that investors and tourists will avoid visiting, fearful of becoming victims.
According to statistics delivered by Police Minister Bheki Cele earlier this year, the country saw a marked increase in murders of 62% between April 2011 and March 2022, and during the first three months of 2023 there was an average of 70 murders daily.
Gauteng has had operation like ‘O kae Molao’ clamping down on crime, but, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said, this has not made enough of a difference, as murder numbers continued to increase.
The nature of violent crime was found to differ from place to place, and driven by multiple factors, the police said. And, said the ISS, murders by organised crime groups required different interventions to those perpetrated during social disputes.
“It should be possible to reduce murder substantially by enhancing the police’s ability to use its resources better,” the ISS said, despite how, between the 2011/12 and 2021/22 financial years, the SAPS’s ability to solve murders and hold perpetrators accountable in court declined by 55%. In 2022, only 14.5% of murder dockets were closed as detected. “This means that in over 85% of murder cases, the perpetrators could walk free to continue committing violent crimes.”
In their analysis, they found that the police’s determination to increase visible policing appeared to be misplaced when evidence suggested that this approach alone did not improve public safety. “What is known to work is ensuring accountability for those who perpetrate crime.”
They also said there was evidence the SAPS was complicit in the violence, having had to pay R2.3 billion to victims of unlawful police conduct over the past five years. “This requires a clear plan to substantially strengthen intelligence and detective capabilities. Close monitoring by police oversight structures must ensure a rise in rates of detection and cases sent to court for serious violence and organised crime.”
Without that, hiring more police and holding more roadblocks was an expensive and ineffectual response to a worsening crisis, the security specialists said.
They also said visible policing would have positive outcomes if the aim was to build public trust and strengthen community relations with police, but police needed to act professionally and treat everyone fairly. This comes as strategies that promote “aggressive” policing typically weaken the fragile ties between police and communities which already prevail in South Africa.
The ISS said: “The R471 million paid out last year was 344% higher than in 2011/12, when the service adopted a more aggressive style of policing and reintroduced military ranks. Policing needs to inspire public trust.”
People would then be more likely to share information, co-operate and comply with the police and obey the law. As it is, procedural justice offered a cost-effective and evidence-based means to improve community-police relations, which involved treating everyone fairly and with dignity, giving them a chance to speak and listening to them.
But, they added, the responsibility to reduce violence doesn’t rest solely with the police. “As Cele correctly says, all of society must be involved. The effects of violence and trauma permeate our households, schools and communities. Children raised under these conditions are susceptible to poor health and social outcomes. Ensuring their well-being is vital for South Africa to grow effective, empathetic and accountable future leaders.”