Tackling the social causes of crime
12 October 2006
The South African Police Service (SAPS) is to work more closely with communities and government departments to address the social causes of violent crimes in the country - which in the great majority of cases involve perpetrators who are known to their victims.
Such socially determined crimes, or "social crimes," were difficult to investigate "because of the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators, where levels of intimidation and family pressure are very high," Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula told journalists in Pretoria recently.
"Many of the cases, consequently, are withdrawn and do not reach court."
According to Nqakula, recent analysis of 9 623 police dockets on violent crimes indicated that the perpetrators were known to their victims in 81.5% of murders - and were relatives, friends or acquaintances of the victims in 46% of murders.
In the case of serious and violent assaults, the research indicated that the perpetrators and their victims knew each other in 89.1% of cases - and were friends, relatives or acquaintances in 72.9% of cases.
In more than three quarters of rape cases (75.9%), the perpetrators and their victims knew each other, with more than half (57%) of the cases involving family, friends or acquaintances.
"At the core of this problem is the matter of alcohol and substance abuse," Nqakula said. "We have determined that many of these crimes happen over weekends."
Nqakula's comments were echoed by Chris de Kock, the head of the police's Crime Information Analysis Centre, commenting in September on the release of the SA Police Service's annual report and crime statistics for 2005/06.
"The only way to prevent social crime is through socio-economic development, and to change the living conditions of people in this country," De Kock said. "We need investment and development."
Urbanisation, unemployment, poverty, growing material needs and substance abuse were among the conditions cited by De Kock as contributing to socially determined crimes.
The government's strategy for tackling social crime, Nqakula said, was to "work much more closely with our communities ... We have established partnerships, including with the South African Council of Churches, to mobilise our people as anti-crime resources for our country."
He said working with communities would also help the police to gather intelligence and stop crimes before they happened.
Other government departments, including the departments of Justice, Correctional Services, Social Development, Health and Housing, as well as local government structures, would also co-operate with the police on addressing the social causes of crime.
For example, the SAPS is working closely with local authorities and the Department of Housing to ensure that public safety features are incorporated in the design of new residential areas in the country, to allow police and emergency services to reach crisis situations quickly.
In older informal settlements in South Africa, emergency services' access is hampered by poor or non-existent roads and the high density of dwellings.
Other government-police initiatives against social crime in the country include a liquor control strategy, a domestic violence programme, a victim empowerment programme, an anti-rape strategy, and programmes for homeless children.
Nqakula said the Cabinet had endorsed a recommendation to commission a study on the violent nature of crime in South Africa.
In terms of law enforcement, sector policing would be instituted over the next six months in 169 policing precincts identified as having especially high incidences of "contact crimes", or crimes directed at physically harming people.
This visible policing would enable faster responses to "cries for help", Nqakula said.
SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews