New laws target South Africa crime


SOUTH AFRICA’S police chiefs have unveiled a range of new measures to tackle the country’s appalling crime rate, which was once again brought under the spotlight with the release of the latest crime statistics this week.

While the country’s murder rate declined over the 2008/09 financial year by 3 per cent to 18,148, the statistics mean that around 50 people are still being murdered every day – one of the highest murder rates in the world outside a war zone.

Released in Cape Town by Statistics SA, the figures showed that 2.1 million serious crimes were reported in South Africa last year, of which 32.7 per cent were “contact” crimes associated with violence.

Police minister Nathi Mthethwa bemoaned the high levels of crime, which he partly blamed on “the high number of firearms among civilians, greed, the psychology of patriarchal power relations and attitudes towards vulnerable members of society, especially children”.

With less than nine months to go before an estimated 450,000 football tourists descend on the country for the 2010 soccer world cup, it had been hoped the police could get a handle on crime ahead of the tournament. However, Fifa’s local organising committee brushed off suggestions tourists would be unsafe during event, citing the few incidents of crime against visitors last summer when South Africa hosted Fifa’s Confederations Cup and the Lions’ tour.

More than 30,000 new police officers have been recruited to provide security for fans around the host cities and stadiums during the month-long tournament that begins on June 11th next, and many of these officers were on patrol during the two events.

Newly appointed South African president Jacob Zuma has targeted crime reduction as one of his main priorities, and he appointed a new police commissioner, Bheki Cele, in August to get to grips with crime.

Following the release of the statistics Mr Cele admitted the police needed to do more. With that in mind he said he had begun an internal audit of how the force’s human and material resources were being deployed in response to reports of crime.

He added the measures police would take to curb crime included pushing ahead with the introduction of changes to section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act, so police would have wider powers to shoot at criminals.

Special police units would also be strengthened, and police stations respond to distress calls would also be improved.

The most striking rises in crime came in the areas of burglary and sexual offences. Business and residential robbery increased 41.5 and 27.3 per cent respectively, while sexual assault had increased by 10.1 percent.

“We are deeply concerned about the increase in house robberies ... it is one of the crimes that are the most intrusive and personalise the crime experience,” police minister Nathi Mthethwa said. “We simply cannot tolerate a situation where people do not feel safe in their homes.” On the positive side cash-in-transit robberies were down 2.3 per cent, bank robberies 29.2 per cent and attacks on ATMs 10 per cent. However, the conviction rate for murder has remained low, rising slightly by 0.15 to 12.8 per cent.