South Africa


The politics of crime — and the crime in politics

The politics of crime — and the crime in politics
Minister of Police Bheki Cele. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | iStock

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


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Derrick Kourie says:

    Interesting how this article, seemingly reluctantly, slips in a brief and qualified mention to the country’s official opposition party. The DA has a deep historical record of dealing consistently and decisively with people suspected of criminal behaviour within its ranks. ActionSA, by comparison, is untested, since it is just past the starting blocks in SA political history. The DA should be held up as a model to other parties in the country.

    Also seldom mentioned in discussing the interface between crime and politics in SA is the ANC’s long and deep relationship with Putin and his oligarchs who undoubtedly use their patronage to influence SA foreign policy.

  • Boris Kamstra says:

    Our politicians are increasingly insulated against the experience of citizens living in South Africa. Armies of bodyguards manning battalions of luxury German sedans used to bully those they are meant to serve off the road provide them with a safe cocoon from which there is no cause to deal with crime.

    The laws the politicians make and impose, create the environment we have to live in. If they don’t experience this, they have no incentive to change. Other than to add to the mini armies they all have. If they cannot, through their actions and jobs as leaders of this country, instil law and order in South Africa, they should pay for their own bodyguards and blue light brigades should be banned. Then at the very least they will begin to experience South Africa as those that pay their salaries do.

  • Mervyn Bennun says:

    Reviving the death penalty would not lead to any improvement in the crime figures. Those who want the State to kill criminals should read the Constitutional Court judgement that found that the death penalty was unconstitutional, and refute its conclusions. _Makwanyane_’s case is easily available on the internet and is easy for non-lawyers to read. Apart from a better criminal justice system instead of the horror that we have now, restoring hope to South Africans of a better life is the way forward. The failure of the ANC to honour its promises to the nation is the problem. How can crime be reduced when one can trace the links from the township streets to the government itself? The Zondo Report is crucial. Bringing back the death sentence will restore one of the ugliest features of apartheid. Carrying out the Zondo Commission recommendations will re-establish hope in our democracy.

  • Mpumi Bikitsha says:

    We must not forget the European gangsters flooding our cities, especially CT night clubs which are infested with them. I read somewhere that Israel gangsters are now taking their fight there. It’s all drug related and the police are in their pockets. It’s very disturbing.

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    On Youtube see ‘Nhlanhla Lux: Why I left operation Dudula’ and get a surprise.

  • John Cartwright says:

    Thank you. Well put, and needs to be put again and again as people’s understandable fearfulness and frustrations cause them to turn to irrational (and failed) ‘solutions’.

  • Retief Joubert says:

    Surely it’s the highest order of wishfull thinking that politicians or parties will fix crime. South Africans in general are absolutely not law abiding citizens. Everybody decides personally to what degree they are bound to the law. They expect others to be model citizens but privately dodge taxes, run red lights, drive in the emergency lane, pay bribes when expedient, steal when opportunity presents itself. Many such people hold positions of authority. When the vast majority of society acts like this, you get the rapidly deteriorating fabric of society you see, where violent crime is a symptom. The problem starts with the baseline morality of every SA’can. Obviously I still wont pay e-toll though..

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The author has a problem with himself and gets tied into knots because he does not want to assign the crime problem to the ANC for reason one is unable to fathom. It is the ANC government that has introduced unprofessional practices in the SAPS and security services including our intelligence services. We have had the professional standards that are necessary to have a competent police and intelligence services in the name of ill – defined transformation. They sidelined experienced detectives who then left the services for the private sector. The introduction of Bheki Cele as a pick and pay general and commissioner was to have very disastrous results with a massive exodus of experienced police with investigative skills. An intersection between the police and criminals became the major programme of those who were behind industrial scale looting and state capture. The ANC was determined to defang the law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies to facilitate looting and introducing massive scale looting in the police force itself with relations with the criminal elements. Cele himself was found to be involved in corrupt police leases by the previous public protector.
    He was kicked out from the police force as a commissioner and pick and pay general by Jacob Zuma and made a Deputy Minister in agriculture where he was an unmitigated mess with one Zokwana. He was returned by Ramaphosa as a Minister and then brought his friend from KZN Masemola, a riot police as head.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Retief Joubert,touches the core of SA s problem.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Everybody is blaming everybody,it will only change when the citizens vote for someone else but the ANC(Eff excludes)

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Stephen Grootes – Do you know that we have an Official Opposition Party with a good record of delivery and fires baddies as a matter of principle? That party has a very good record of delivery where it runs towns, cities and a province without the crazy king-making tiny parties trashing democracy. That party is the Democratic Party that hardly gets a mention in your article. Elections coming, time to get serious, time to give the DA a fair mention.

  • Caroline White says:

    The London Metropolitan Police have also had many “bad apples” in their ranks. It’s crucial that criminal police officers are kicked out of the police seevice and prosecuted. Otherwise, how can citizens have any confidence in them?

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Dkourie, what you say is not my experience. The DA likes to SAY that it is so consistent with abiding by the law, but behind the scenes they are actually not so consistent at all. I have to say that regarding service delivery, especially at municipal level, they tend to be mostly acceptable – although not everywhere, as Tshwane apparently shows. But I am not convinced that they will be able to handle national government, because that is where crime fighting becomes a priority and they do not really have a good reputation in that.

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