A renowned journalist and political commentator gave this valuable insight at a gathering I was at this week regarding violent crime in our country. On the back of the most recent mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, which claimed six lives, he noted how as South Africans we are quick to be shocked at instances of mass shootings, often breathing a sigh of relief that it doesn’t happen in our country.
Except it does, he correctly argues. Every day in our communities, on our streets, in shebeens, and behind closed doors. Just because these murders aren’t carried out by one individual, they still happen on a daily basis in communities in which citizens are the most vulnerable.
While all crime is abominable, it is murder that illustrates the full extent of the violence within our communities. And the latest crime stats released last month show we are losing the fight and moving backwards.
According to the figures, there was an increase of 696 murders during the last three months of 2022, up from 6,859 murderers in the same quarter of the previous year.
Out of the 7,555 people murdered, 3,144 were killed with a gun, 2,498 people were killed with other weapons such as knives, sharp and blunt instruments, bricks, and bare hands.
The threat to life from violent crime affects everyone – no one is immune. The recent spate of high-profile murders shows this. Prominent rapper Kiernan Jarryd Forbes (AKA) was murdered in Durban in February. This follows other murders of popular artists, such as popular amapiano artist Oupa John Sefoka, known as DJ Sumbody, who was killed in a hail of bullets in Sandton. In January, Pretoria musician Itumeleng “Vusi Ma R5” Mosoeu was gunned down in Soshanguve.
Most recently, the Bosasa liquidator Cloete Murray and his son Thomas Murray were assassinated in broad daylight in their vehicle on a prominent highway. There was also an assassination attempt on the Vice Chancellor of Fort Hare. These were high profile incidents of crimes, but killings happen daily across the country without any hope of the culprits being apprehended.
It’s not a money issue, but a policy issue, as the Institute of Security Studies’ (ISS) Gareth Newham argues well. In referring to murder in particular, he says that police cannot solve the murder cases they are investigating despite a “ton of money thrown at them”.
In 2012, he says, police could solve about a third of all murder cases but last year “they could only solve 14% of murder dockets. While their budget last year was 72% higher than what it was in 2012.”
It is clear from data that our policing system is deteriorating, and it is clear from public sentiment that citizens feel unsafe and don’t trust police to combat crime. This is a justice issue as much as it is a safety issue. To address this, Build One South Africa’s (BOSA) policy solution is to localise policing to communities as one of BOSA’s 10 big ideas to build South Africa.
Writing on this topic, political scientists Jerome Skolnick and David Bayley describe localised policing as a “strategy for improving relations between the police and the public while strengthening police effectiveness in preventing and controlling crime”.
It has four elements: 1) the organisation of community-based crime prevention; 2) the reorientation of patrol activities to emphasise non-emergency servicing; 3) increased police accountability to local communities; and 4) the decentralisation of command.
Globally, common elements of localised policing have arisen, including town hall meetings and so-called problem-oriented policing, which entails police and citizens identifying specific areas where specific types of crime are occurring, and working together to define solutions.
This provides a real opportunity in South Africa. Communities know who the tsotsis are, where they live, and how they operate. Yet all policing is directly from central in Pretoria. This is the reason we can’t catch and convict criminals. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t working, and it is straining police-citizen relations.
How do we achieve this? Firstly, through the formation of small regional and municipal police forces with a strong volunteer component and the additional authority to deputise private security providers with peace-officer status.
In addition, policing will be decentralised by devolving police powers to the provinces and municipalities who will be able to raise their own policy forces made up both of permanent officers and well-trained community volunteers. Accountability to communities will be enforced by making the office of station commander an elected position by the community that a police station or agency serves.
The private sector will be enlisted to provide well-functioning forensic services, laboratories, and databases so criminal justice is not delayed or denied because of inadequate forensic work. We will also establish better cooperation and working relationships between police forces and private security providers, including the power to deputise private security officers to perform certain basic police duties.
Lastly, we will establish a specialist investigative and prosecutorial team whose sole focus is to hunt down, apprehend, and convict a list of the nation’s 100 most-wanted violent criminals. This list will be continually updated and will target the country’s most notorious crime syndicates and street gangs.
The quality of any society is reflected by the safety and security of its most vulnerable members. African societies where young children play freely, express themselves wholeheartedly while learning in nurturing environments best reflect the freedom we so dearly fought for.
Sadly, too few parts of this country know this type of freedom to be a norm. Our mission is to build a safe, secure and crime-free South Africa for all its citizens. DM