Politics

Crimes, damned crimes and their statistics

By Carien Du Plessis 8 September 2011

As usual in the past few years, the annual crime statistics for last year proved to be a mixed bag of successes and setbacks, but on the whole police minister Nathi Mthethwa believes victory is in sight. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.

The annual release of crime statistics is always a media circus, although police minister Nathi Mthethwa on Thursday seemed to have brought half of his force with him too. The Jacaranda room in the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria was packed as Mthethwa told the nation that “the tide against crime is turning and that police, joined by society, are gaining an upper hand against vicious criminals”.

The rape stats, however, were a bit of a disappointment. Again.

Mthethwa started his statement with the decreases – and this is for the 2010/11 financial year (it always seems odd to measure crime in financial years, but that’s how we do it). Contact crimes – murder, attempted murder, sexual offences, assault (grievous bodily harm), common assault, aggravated robbery and common robbery have decreased by 6.9% and is down in all provinces except North West and Western Cape.

“Trio crimes” – house robberies, business robberies and vehicle hijacking – are down by 10.7%.

Murder, one of the easiest crimes to keep track of because there’s always a body to show, is down by 16.5%, but at 15,940 cases it’s still nothing to celebrate (it’s still more than 43 murders a day, but Mthethwa reminded us that the 1994/5 murder rate was a staggering 27,000, so it could be worse). Attempted murder is down by 12.2%, which could have been a bad thing if the murder rate was up, but in the event Mthethwa is “pleased” with the figure.

Sexual offences are down by 3.1%, but the minister admitted “we cannot seriously say we are winning the war against rape”.

After a few weeks of lobby groups lobbying about the less-than-progressive rape judgments made by Chief Justice nominee Mogoeng Mogoeng in the past few weeks, and after some hype around last month’s Slutwalk march in Cape Town, this had our attention. Reported rape cases (this crime is usually under-reported, due to the emotions and other factors around it) increased from 55,097 to 56,272, and while this isn’t really a crime that can be policed by increasing law enforcer visibility, Mthethwa believes that the re-introduction of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units in the past year would help police “address” these crimes better.

Assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm decreased by 4.5%, aggravated robberies are down by 12%, house robberies are down by 10.1% (this is an important crime when it comes to perceptions – and insurance companies are also happy), house burglaries by 4.8% (this is attributed to special festive season campaigns), car hijackings are down by 23.6% while truck hijackings are down by 29.2%.

Robberies at small businesses, spaza shops, supermarkets, taverns, schools and general dealers have increased by 0.9%. It’s a difficult area to manage, Mthethwa said, unlike for the big businesses, which have more money to pay for security. Cash-in-transit heists – always very violent and disruptive – have decreased by 18.7%, but ATM blasts seem to be the new trend in “bank robberies” (and possibly the new cash heists too): the former is up by 61.5%, most of them in Gauteng, while bank robberies are down by 58.1%.

Stock theft is down by 8.2%, something which the police have been paying special attention to, but drug-related crimes (10.2%), drunken driving (4.5%) and commercial crime (2.8%) are all up. The good news is that the increase in crime statistics here often indicate better policing.

Police deaths have decreased from 110 the year before, to 94 in the last financial year – good news in a sombre kind of way.

Mthethwa told us repeat offences seem to be on the increase, but officials conceded that they do not keep scientific stats on these. Of course, police chief General Bheki Cele was there as well, in a bad leather jacket with police insignia on, and his police hat. After his illness, he looked a bit thinner than usual and, although the mischievous smile was there, the glint in the eye was gone.

Cele, who is in trouble after the Public Protector found multimillion-rand irregularities in the leasing of buildings to the police, was at pains to point out that the decrease in statistics was not due to a miracle, but to hard work. “It was not the descent of the holy ghost in the hearts of the criminals. Some people have worked for it.” Prayer could have been part of it, but it was the hard work of the foot soldiers, he continued.

There was a bit of his stand-up comedy routine, when he reminded us that the “big guys” doing cash heists “do not do it with feather dusters, but with high-calibre weapons”. So you won’t respond with mere “broom sticks”, but hi-tech equipment that matches theirs or is better is needed. He said crime prevention is also due to greater police visibility, as well as the pursuance of criminals. “We see the car is parked. If you steal it, we come and arrest you. We don’t just collect cars and allow you to steal the rest. We get the car, we get you.

“It is not as if there was thunder somewhere and people turned around. People have worked under (their) leadership,” he added. With rumours that he might be deployed as a diplomat to Japan, Cele must kind of want to prove that he’s irreplaceable. DM



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