South Africa has an unenviable reputation for a high rate of crime, both violent and non-violent and one of the highest murder rates globally. In 2022, 68 murders took place each day!
Crime is seen as a crisis, a view reinforced by a grim assessment of crime risks in South Africa by the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.
This was the subject of an article on November 24th of the Daily Maverick online (DM). That highlighted South Africa’s current efforts to combat its serious crime issues. Organised crime is rampant and said to be an existential threat.
As the DM has it, 15 organised crime markets have been categorised as a threat to “democratic institutions, economy and people.” These embrace a long list, including illegal drugs, weapons, human trafficking, wildlife, as well as violent crimes such as extortion, robbery, human trafficking, kidnapping, also economic/financial offences and illegal mining.
It is common knowledge that nearly ten years of “State Capture” under Jacob Zuma’s presidency cost the country dear. It not only affected millions of lives – the poor disproportionately so – it also weakened the justice system, allowing organised crime to take advantage of this. Gangs and networks had been able to establish themselves.
The Zondo Report that was published this year into “State Capture”, opened a new chapter in the struggle against corruption. President Cyril Ramaphosa responded by announcing the empowerment of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)’s Investigative Directorate (ID) on corruption and State Capture. The ID is to become a prosecuting agency with investigative powers able to deal with complex and serious corruption. It is planned to protect courageous whistle-blowers, which is essential in fighting crime.
In the wake of Zondo, VIPs in the public and private sector have been arrested, companies have also been charged. More cases are surely still to come. In many cases, the resuscitated NPA has succeeded in gaining convictions. Moreover, its unit dealing with assets, has been able to regain control of billions of rand in stolen assets! The NPA is doing its best to restore public confidence in the justice system, in its effort to return to the “norm” that crimes are punished.
South Africa was formerly a role model in opposing organised crime. No doubt a great deal is needed to restore its reputation, which should happen as swiftly as possible. It needs an NPA staffed with highly skilled prosecutors, able to deal with corruption as well as with the fight against dangerous criminals. The DM speaks of the need for a multi-disciplinary approach, which has not always functioned well. It means cooperation of different organisations such as the Hawks – the police unit for priority crime investigation – the Revenue Service, the Special Investigating Unit and the Financial Intelligence Centre. Structures and staff have to be rebuilt to withstand inevitable future “shocks and stresses”.
New strategies have to be evolved to stop the activities of a relatively small number of determined criminals, who pose a grave threat and are doing well at present and, as the DM described, “have deep pockets, wily lawyers and powerful friends.” The article states, to achieve their defeat, the crime agencies need “to think differently about the evolving threat facing the country”.
However, the causes of the crisis have to be tackled, namely the huge rich-poor gap, poverty, high rate of unemployment, especially of the young, failing service deliveries and the long history of violence in dealing with problems. Clearly, a long road lies ahead for the authorities and civil society.