The politics of crime — and the crime in politics
In the past few days, it has been confirmed that South Africa’s murder rate, which can be a proxy for all violent crime, is now higher than it has been at any time in the last 20 years. While this points to a severe weakness of the South African state, so pressing is the problem that there are likely to be political consequences.
The politics of South Africa will increasingly be influenced by crime: there will be demands for populist measures that invariably lead to harsher measures for migrants and others. There will be ever more calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty, and some politicians will try to benefit from satisfying those calls.
On the opposite side of the fence, there is now growing evidence of the links between politicians and hardcore common criminals, which could come back to haunt them at the polls.
Many people feel the sense of living under siege. South Africa’s annual murder rate is now 46 per 100,000 people. You would have to go back to the 1990s to find a similar figure.
It is not entirely clear why there has been such an explosion of violence. As the researcher David Bruce explained on Monday, it may well be the combination of the pandemic and its impact on the economy, which has deteriorated markedly of late. But Bruce also points out there is an “entrenchment of organised crime” which is playing a role in the increasing murder rate.
Examples are plentiful, as with residents of Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, who complain of extortion rackets linked to organised crime, where young women are forced to pay protection money simply to walk down a road with a new weave.
Urgent action is necessary: callers to radio stations are demanding that the Constitution be changed to reinstate the death penalty, and many people are turning on undocumented immigrants. There can be no doubt that the actions of people like Nhlanhla “Lux” Dlamini are tolerated simply because of this kind of violent crime.
Police Minister Bheki Cele promises that there will be action and says that police officers are dealing with the problem.
But this is not what communities experience — they feel the impact of violent crime on themselves, their families and their friends.
And by 2020, only 19 out of every 100 murders in South Africa were actually solved. That number is likely to be lower now.
There appears to be almost a consensus among crime experts that political will is needed to tackle this problem. They point to the problems in Police Crime Intelligence, a unit which was hollowed out by Richard Mdluli and others during the State Capture era.
They also point to a deterioration of intelligence-gathering ability.
There are so many other problems.
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Good reason to distrust the police
During the intense rolling blackouts that we are experiencing, City Power in Joburg appealed to residents to call the police if they see anyone tampering with their equipment. It is not clear how the police would respond — if at all.
Citizens have good reason to distrust the police. Police officers often assault, rape, kidnap, steal and kill.
As Viewfinder has reported, between April 2012 and March 2019, there were 42,365 criminal cases against the police. And, for many reasons, to do with underfunding and the fact that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate has lacked political will, virtually no action is taken against these officers.
It would be natural to assume that political leaders would be aware of these problems and would want to set an example. In an ideal world, politicians would tell voters that they are squeaky clean and would portray an image of determination to act against all matters criminal.
While the Zondo Commission has seen overwhelming evidence of corruption against many of our politicians, there is also evidence of links to organised crime.
For example, the ANC deployed Bheki Cele as minister of police. He was removed from the position of National Police Commissioner by then president Jacob Zuma over a leasing deal (a court ruling eventually overturned that decision).
He also attended parties thrown by Shauwn and S’bu Mpisane in eThekwini. This was after S’bu Mpisane became famous as a police officer driving his Lamborghini to work while earning a monthly salary of R15,000.
Even now, despite increasing anger by voters at crime, there is evidence that the ANC has allowed gangsters to infiltrate its structures.
Just a year ago, Fikile Mbalula — now the ANC secretary-general — and Deputy President David Mabuza referred to the Tshwane-based gang Boko Haram (no relation to its Nigerian namesake) and suggested it had influence in the party.
It is almost certain that crime, particularly violent crime, is about to become a major political issue.
In his first State of the Province Address, on Monday, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi said fighting crime should be the province’s “apex priority”.
It is interesting that up until now, none of the major parties has made it a major plank of their public policy. While there have been protests against the ANC over load shedding, and a planned “national shutdown” directed against Eskom and President Cyril Ramaphosa by the EFF, so far none of these parties has held a major event against crime.
Parties with dubious track records
Some parties may find their own track record makes it difficult to speak with credibility on crime. The leaders of the Patriotic Alliance are both ex-convicts who claim to believe in “second chances”. So munificent is their forgiveness, they even nominated a former mayor convicted of fraud in their first term to be mayor of Ditsobotla for a second term.
The EFF has its own problems, partly to do with the fact that credit card evidence ties its leader, Julius Malema, to the massive corruption at VBS Bank. Deputy leader Floyd Shivambu’s brother also received money, and then agreed to return it.
The ANC, of course, has its own problems too.
Some of the smaller parties and some of the newcomers may benefit from the criminal chaos.
It is likely that the IFP, for example, may try to claim that it should lead the fight against crime. This is despite the fact that in at least one case, its deployee has been unable to manage the Johannesburg Roads Agency, and may have made the situation much worse.
Obvious winners likely to emerge out of this mess are the xenophobic movements. Despite the evidence, many people believe that the majority of crimes are committed by foreign nationals. It is easier to believe this than to believe that our own people are responsible for most of the violence which is experienced by so many people.
Thanks to such a fundamental misconception, the parties that promise to “expel all migrants” may well win support, and the shift could explain the ANC government’s decision to end the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit.
This could also open the door for ActionSA and its leader, Herman Mashaba, who has been vocal on the matter. The fact that he has no record of corruption or crime, and has acted quickly to remove anyone from his party who has been linked to wrongdoing, may well help him here.
The DA will hope that the same is true for them, with a strong track record in Cape Town, but a more difficult situation in Tshwane. So far, none of its deployees has been convicted of wrongdoing in office.
One of the problems that all parties will have in fighting crime is that it will not be easy. It is true that we have more murders now than at any time in the last 20 years. But the murder rate has been successfully reduced before. The party that is best able to harness the growing public anger may well get a chance to try to reduce it again in the real world. DM