Daily Maverick

The war zone in a no-war zone as minister Cele admits police have dropped the ball

Members of the Social Justice Coalition march through the streets of Cape Town on 11 September 2018 over police resources and crime statistics which were being released in Parliament. Photo: Leila Dougan

Murder is up. Rape is up. Sexual offences are up. Bank robberies are up. Down somewhat are assaults, as are break-ins and property crimes at residential homes and businesses. Police Minister Bheki Cele released crime statistics in Parliament on Tuesday that he said he’d rather not: “Fifty-seven a day, that’s how (many) South Africans are murdered. It borders close to the war zone…”

The SAPS top brass from national HQ and the provinces were assembled in Parliament’s Good Hope venue. Police Minister Bheki Cele limped in leaning on a walking stick. As protocol dictates, his were the first words to Parliament’s police committee, on what has become a regular item on its calendar – the release of crime statistics for the previous financial year. On Tuesday that meant police reported crime statistics from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018.

I have said (to the SAPS leadership), never again do we come here to give these kind of statistics…..” Cele told MPs, acknowledging police had dropped the ball. “The crime stats this financial year is nothing to write home about.”

The bottom line? A total of just over 2,09-million crimes were reported in the 2017/18 financial year, including 433,966 crimes dependent on police detection, like drug offences, and 1,662,815 so-called community reported crimes – anything from murder and rape to theft.

That the rate of reported crimes has dropped in yet another consecutive year, by 71,165 in the 2017/18 financial year, raises questions whether police refused to open dockets or whether citizens have decided not to bother. In September 2017 Statistics South Africa’s Victims of Crime survey highlighted only 51.2% of those whose home was broken into reported it to police, and just 30% of theft of personal property were reported to police. Six out of 10 victims of crime indicated they did not report because they believed the police would not or could not do anything.

However, the murder rate is a yardstick for crime measurement because very few, if any, murders are not recorded, investigated or reported.

In the 2017/18 financial year, there were 20,336 murders recorded, or 1,320 more than the previous financial year. This includes 2,930 murdered women, and 985 children, both girls and boys. The majority of murders of women were recorded in KwaZulu-Natal, 665, followed by the Eastern Cape (550) and Gauteng (549).

Crucially, the crime statistics show there were 62 murders on farms, including those of owners and workers, or visitors who may have found themselves on the farm or smallholding at the time of the crime.

Overall, murder increased in every province but the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, with KwaZulu-Natal having recorded the most at 4,382 murders, followed by Gauteng (4,233) and the Western Cape (3,729), according to the statistics presented by the SAPS in Parliament.

Attempted murder was also up, by 28 counts, to 18,233. Rape is up by 207 charges to 40,035, while sexual offences increased by 515 charges to 6,789.

Robbery at homes is down by 392 counts, to 16,325 while there was a drop of 82 cases of robberies at businesses in the same period, the 2017/18 financial year from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018.

The crime statistics were presented as numbers – Cele said percentages could be used to “hide things” – in what effectively a continuation of last year’s approach. It comes after years of presenting crime statistics as a ration of incidents per 100,000 of the population. That was the methodology introduced in 2001 when then police minister Steve Tshwete lifted the one-year ban on crime statistics publication.

In 2013 under one of Cele’s predecessors, Nkosinathi Nhleko, controversy erupted after that year’s crimes stats were released using inaccurate population figures. Following that debacle, a memorandum of understanding was signed in 2015 with Statistics South Africa regarding the crime statistics’ integrity.

The SAPS crime stats were not tabled in Parliament alongside the SAPS annual report, in what is a highly unusual and unprecedented, move. Last year, the crime statistics were tabled as an addendum to the annual report.

Police committee chairperson Francois Beukman said on Tuesday that the increase in murder rate “alarming” and “totally unacceptable”. Violent crime is a clear and present danger confronting communities that required strategic and effective intervention.

The committee is of the view that the need for specialised units to deal with gang and taxi-related crimes is long overdue. Safety and security is one of the important pillars of an economically growing country that is able to create job opportunities for the people of the country,” said Beukman in a statement.

MPs from across the party political party expressed their concerns, but on Tuesday it was a preliminary engagement with the minister and SAPS top brass.

Cele responded to ANC MP Angie Molebatsi’s question about how police would use these crime statistics by saying there would be discussion, but “it cannot be the police alone that deal with crime matters…”

It was left to national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole to provide more details, including talk about the stabilisation and normalisation approach. So there’ll be a focus on the festive season, but there’s also the involvement of traditional leaders and other sectors in a broader anti-crime approach. There was a clear focus on drugs, Sitole said, and other “moral fibre contamination” crimes, alongside a turn to “spiritual crime fighting”.

The time with MPs ended, and the official ministerial and department media briefing started in another venue in the parliamentary precinct.

Cele stayed on message. “We (police) have dropped the ball,” he told the media briefing, adding that the question now was “how do we collectively pick up the ball? We must do this for the benefit of all South Africans”.

It had been a “terrible day” when he had briefed Cabinet about the crime statistics. “Our bottom line is that this situation must be reversed. I’m not putting my head on the block. I’m putting all these heads on the block,” said Cele, pointing to Sitole and other top SAPS managers.

These crime statistics are the maximum of the negative… We are not going beyond this one,” the minister added later. “ We’ll be fixing our things… Our heads are on the block.” DM

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