The coming crime catastrophe: The 2019/20 crime stats and post-COVID19 violence prevention in South Africa
by Guy Lamb
If it had not been for the national socioeconomic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the emerging corruption scandals associated with funding for relief measures, there most likely would have been a public outcry following the release of the 2019/2020 crime statistics last week. Many South Africans were hoping that with the deployment of the South African Defence Force alongside the South African Police Service (SAPS) on the Cape Flats from 2019, as well as the dedicated work of the Anti-Gang Unit, that there would have been major reductions in violent crime, especially in the Western Cape. But unfortunately, this has not happened, other than some declines in crime in a small number of traditionally violent areas, such as Mitchells Plain, Bishop Lavis, Nyanga and Lusikisiki.
In fact, violent crime, especially murder, increased noticeably in many other areas, such as Inanda, Umlazi, Libode, Kagiso, Diepsloot, Moroka, Mpumalanga (KwaZulu-Natal), Motherwell, New Brighton and Delft. Compared to 2018/19, for the whole of South Africa, the number of murders increased by 1.4%; robbery with aggravating circumstances increased by 2.8%; and carjacking by 13.3% in 2019/20. In the Western Cape where gun violence is rife, fewer illegal firearms were confiscated by the police compared to previous years. It is important to note that over the past 10 years, murders have risen by 34%; robberies with aggravating circumstances have increased by 43%; and carjacking has almost doubled.
Various research reports have shown the devastating effect that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations have had on large segments of the South African population, in which there have been alarming increases in poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, hunger and domestic violence. These dynamics are likely to transform the current crime crisis into a crime catastrophe in the medium term, as existing risk factors for violence perpetration will be exacerbated, such as physical violence in the home; dropping out of school; and diminishing meaningful job prospects. This will be especially the case for young marginalized men, who are most at risk for violence perpetration. We are also likely to see increases in unrest, with the recent violence associated with land invasions being a likely taste of things to come.
This crime catastrophe will possibly lead to an increase in the use of force by the police in an attempt to contain the growing criminality. Already, the militaristic tendencies of the police were super-charged under level 5 of lockdown, which resulted numerous reports of excessive use of force by the SAPS and Metro Police. The Minister of Police continues to emphasize the need for the police to be tough on crime, underscoring that a heavy-handed response to offending under lockdown has allegedly had a crime reduction effect. However, as numerous policing studies have demonstrated, forceful and militaristic policing strategies may contribute crime reductions in the short-term, but are unsustainable in the long term, as they may severely undermine public trust in the police, as well as democratic governance in general.
This article was originally published on SaferSpaces on 4 August 2020