Fixing crime in SA hinges on political will and equal treatment before the law

Martin van Staden / Midjourney
Martin van Staden / Midjourney

This article was first published by City Press on 24 March 2024

Outside of a war situation, based on statistical evidence South Africa’s overall crime situation must be one of the worst of all countries.

Over many years the country has notoriously maintained its status as the rape capital of the world (13 090 sexual assaults over a 3-month period 2023/24).  The murder rate seems to be heading in that direction (6945 murders over a 3-month period 2023/24).  The bleakness of the situation is brought home in the fact that the figures do not consider many unreported cases that by their very nature can never be reflected on statistics.  Then there is the growing menace of criminal extortion that targets various businesses even extending to the SMEs. It is a double-whammy as businesses have also have to contend with unnecessary government-mandated regulations that in turn translate into huge compliance costs.  The demotivating effect of the extortion practice is particularly concerning given the fact that it is solely and exclusively the private sector (in other words business) that creates jobs and generates wealth.

On all fronts of the prevailing crime situation things are getting gravely worse.  However, amid all this, the situation can be reversed within a reasonable time period.

Embarking on a turnaround initiative requires a deep understanding of what I understand to be a core principle of the rule of law and its application starting from investigation of reported or detected crime, right through the prosecution up to adjudication and appropriate sentencing prioritising cases of malfeasance.

This core principle is equality under the law. Its importance derives from the fact that if it is the case (or prima facie perceived as such) that powerful people especially but not limited to high-powered government personnel, escape the wheel of justice, the signal that is sent out especially to established criminals and others contemplating criminal activities encourages/justifies their criminal behaviour.

This occurs on the basis that if equality under the law is not seen to be held up consistently irrespective of a person’s office right up to the presidency or highest office in the judiciary, legislature, executive, or religious clergy of whatever persuasion, for example, then there is no justice for all.

In this scenario, within the broad court of public opinion, people ask questions such as: Has anyone implicated in the Zondo state capture report been charged, let alone sentenced in a court of law?

When people ask these questions, this underscores the sentiment that some people in high places are exempt from prosecution; thus in turn meaning there is no equality under the law which state of affairs results in loss of respect for the judicial process. The danger is that the moral principle that inhibits bad behaviour is absent because the high-powered people do crime and get away with it, and thus the criminally-inclined then do crime but for them it is just a challenge as to how they can get away with it. Taking out witnesses results directly from this. Whistle blowers are deterred and combatting crime is prejudiced in the process.

Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), the first Prime Minister of Singapore (from 1959 to 1990), knew this as the primary antidote to his crime-ridden country.  Inheriting a country that had a reputation of criminal notoriety, LKY, as a matter of urgent top priority, proceeded to incorporate targeting individuals holding high public office with no quarters spared! Through his leadership, the principle of equality under the law had become virtually institutionalised as the crucial factor in effectively combating and ultimately obliterating crime.

Thanks to LKY and his formidable team, Singapore is now paraded on the global stage as the paragon of an almost crime-free country. A miraculous achievement, to say the least!

Exacerbating the crime situation in South Africa is the fact that the police, prosecutors, prisons, and supportive related administrative infrastructure are under-resourced and ill-equipped to deal with crime. Trying to cope inordinately with many other non-violent, non-serious crimes clearly comes at the cost of deprioritizing crimes such as murders and rape. Instead, the government should focus primarily on violent crimes and decriminalise those things that belong in the category of misdemeanours as they waste law enforcement time, money, and attention.

For an even sharper, more focussed and effective measures of combating crime, there should be meaningful real devolution of policing powers from the national through provincial to the lowest tier of government, the municipalities. The reasons are obvious. At local government level, the reality is that policing detective work occurs essentially at the level of actual crimes with communities and private security firms separately and sometimes in coordination operating on familiar terrain. It is known that in many cases, the communities are the eyes and ears that most of the time provide the leads when a crime has been committed. Needless to say, further earning the trust and respect of the community on an ongoing basis, would progressively enhance the collaboration in combating crime efficiently and most importantly effectively.

As things stand, with crime galloping out of control, it becomes abundantly clear that more prisons, must be built.  The mere commitment on the part of government to build more prisons and the construction being seen and reported on publicly, at various stages, might be sending a subliminal message that this prison under construction is for YOU – career criminals and criminal wannabes.

In conclusion it is quite clear that enormous resources are needed to enhance the capacity to effectively combat crime, this begs the question as to how the required resources can be generated. The answer is very simple. On the broad policy canvas, policies that will be conducive to high economic growth need to be enacted from which will flow the resources. It is a free market that would put the economy on a steep trajectory of economic growth. Empirical evidence abounds to this effect.


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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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