Ah, spring! Up-country, it’s the first rains. Down-country, it’s the annual lamentations in parliament that greet the release of our crime statistics.
On the one set of statistics that matters the most, murder, the figures have been particularly grim. In the year to March, 20 336 people were murdered – a rise of 6.9% over the previous year. It’s the sixth consecutive annual increase.
Last year there were 57 murders a day, up from 51. Compare that to the 38 people that die each day on the roads.
To my surprise, Gareth Newham of the Institute of Security Studies tells me that he is, however, cautiously upbeat. “For the first time in years, there was no attempt at spin. Murder is always the most reliable statistic, but in the past the minister always tried to gloss over how bad things are by highlighting slight and sometimes dubiously accurate improvements elsewhere.”
It is true that Police Minister Bheki Cele freely admits that the figures “scare” him, that SA is “close to a war zone” and that the police had “dropped the ball” in the crime-fighting efforts. “South Africans must not take it as a norm that they can be hijacked, robbed and killed every day.”
But, sadly, it is the norm. In the past 10 years, more than 175 000 people have been killed. That’s more than in the Afghanistan war (about 144 000), or in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (about 135 000).
Between the beginning of April 1994 and the end of March this year, 485 177 people were murdered. Soon some poor, as yet unknown person will have the unhappy distinction of being the half-millionth South African murdered since democracy.
Research shows that economic inequality is a key aspect. Newham points out that 50% of murders took place in 13% of police precincts. Just 30 precincts accounted for a fifth of all murders. It does not take a brilliant tactician to deploy police resources more effectively than at present.
As much as being a social problem, crime is a political problem.
For at least a decade, the primary task of SAPS has not, at the highest level, been to fight crime. Ever since Jacob Zuma took the presidential reins in 2008, the SAPS leadership has rotated among officers that Zuma and his corrupt cohorts thought could guard their backs.
Newham says that during the Zuma years, extravagant use was made of Section 45 appointments in order to deploy cadres and cronies to key posts. Section 45 of SAPS regulations allows the immediate appointment of an officer, circumventing civil service rules on qualifications, experience, and years of service to allow for flexibility in exceptional circumstances. Say, when a cyber-specialist needs urgently to be brought from the commercial world.
There are roughly 900 officers of the rank of brigadier or above, who make up the SAPS top management. In 2016/17 alone, 55 Section 45 appointments were made to these top echelon positions.
SAPS, along with the National Prosecution Authority and the elite investigative units, was just another target of state capture. It will take years to loosen the Zuma death grip.