Capacitating the criminal justice system a must

Judge courtroom flags

This article was first published by Daily Friend on 27 March 2024

With South Africa having one of the highest violent crime rates in the world, the government needs to place more focus on the security and peace of South Africans.

The violent crime rate in South Africa is well reported. According to the latest crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS), there are over 86 murders reported in South Africa per day – with only an 8% conviction rate for reported murders. This shows a situation that should be at the forefront of all conversations about the nature of the state.

According to the latest figures from the Minister of Finance during the latest Budget Speech, a total of R244 billion of the revenue of the state for the upcoming financial year will be spent on the peace and security of South African citizens. Peace and security include police services, courts and prisons, home affairs, as well as national defence in the form of the South African National Defence Force.

For context, the government is spending R255.4 billion on economic development, R271.9 billion on health, R480.6 billion on learning and culture, and a whopping R382.2 billion on debt-servicing costs. The R54.4 billion earmarked to be spent on courts and prisons this year is less than the amount spent on child support grants alone, which sits at R85.8 billion.

These are areas of expenditure that received more money than peace and security, and yet one could argue that the primary role of the state, before even healthcare and education, is securing the peace and security of its citizens. Why isn’t more spent on expanding the capacity of the security services when there clearly is a problem?

The South African state is bogged down by a large public sector. The state is the largest employer. The problem with South Africa is that due to high wages, we have a public sector that costs South Africans a lot of money, yet has a low headcount, according to Treasury.

This means that a good percentage of the money allocated towards peace and security, for instance the R125 billion allocated to policing services, will go towards salaries, instead of maybe increasing the number of police officers to come close to the Theoretical Human Resource Requirement.

According to the revelations of the Khayelitsha Commission, policing services are perpetually understaffed. This means that there is a need, even according to the resource model of the South African Policing Services, for more officers. One of the ways those human resources can be acquired is through increasing the amount of money that police receive.

The Khayelitsha Commission also revealed that there is a serious skills shortage or disconnect regarding detectives or investigation officers in criminal matters and the requirements of conviction for criminal prosecution. This means that detectives are usually ill-informed about the nature and manner of evidence to collect and how it should be treated.

As part of increasing the capacity of a service like policing, increased spending will have to be accompanied by far-reaching changes like the improved training of prospective police officers, and of tenured ones as well.

The problems of high wages and a low headcount which affect South African policing also affect the judiciary and the prison system. South Africa has a documented problem of overcrowded prisons. There need to be more prisons built to house all the violent criminals. How much of the R54.4 billion earmarked for courts and prisons will actually go towards building new prisons or expanding existing ones?

South African courts are notorious for having large caseloads and generally being subject to delays in the administration of justice. This was recently confirmed by research done by UCT, and is common knowledge for any South African who has ever had to deal with a court.

We need more courts and more judges as a way of dealing with the heavy caseload and general delays that characterize the South African judiciary. This will also necessitate that the R54.4 billion earmarked for said courts and prisons is increased, whilst the overall government-wide problem of a high wage bill and low headcount is addressed.

Policing, courts, and prisons are essential to the functionality of any civilization. They are a source of peace and security, one of the fundamental roles of the state. What use will education, health, and community development be if the people to receive those are dead because they were murdered during a robbery or hijacking?

The government and broader society need to focus on increasing the capacity of the services that ensure the peace and security of South Africans, lest we continue normalizing violence levels akin to a war zone, while being half scared to walk outside in the dark, in our own country.


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The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author.




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