Crime report fails to provide answers

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pretoria - A much awaited report that sought to find answers to the question, 'Why is crime in South Africa violent', has failed to adequately do so, the Police Ministry said.

The report - a culmination of three years of investigation into the causes and nature of violent crime in South Africa - was complied by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) at the request of government and was released for public comment on Tuesday.

While the Police Ministry welcomed the report, saying it opened up debate on the nature of crime in the country, it also raised serious concerns about some elements of the report.

Secretary for Police, Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane, said nothing "incredibly new" had arisen from the report and that the innovations and suggestions were not new either.

"The fundamental issue was looking at why crime was violent. We believe the report has failed to answer this question critically," she added.

In a statement, the CSVR said that a core problem of violent crime in South Africa was a subculture of violence and criminality.

This subculture was characterised prominently by young men who were invested in a criminal identity and engaged in criminal careers.

The prominent place given to weapons within this subculture was a key driver behind the problem of violence in the country.

The report also noted the high level of inequality in the country, especially that gap between the rich and poor.

International research demonstrated that societies with high levels of inequality tended to have high levels of violence, indicating that inequality itself was a key driver of violence, the CSVR added.

"Inequality is also inter-related with other intractable social problems such as those of poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation in South Africa," it added.

The CVSR pointed out that the vulnerability of young people was linked to inadequate child rearing and poor youth socialisation.

Children in South Africa were exposed to many risk factors while growing up, which enhanced the possibility of them becoming involved in crime and violence.

The CSVR also noted that coupled with the ambivalent attitude regarding crime and the law, the normalisation and widespread tolerance of violence was a critical issue.

"This reflects widely held norms and beliefs which see violence as a necessary and justified means of resolving conflict or other difficulties," it said.

The Police Ministry said the concepts of the culture of violence and criminality needed to be unpacked and better understood.

"To even link culture or socio-economic conditions to commission of crime, is not a true reflection," Irish-Qhobosheane said.

The report did not "really engage" with the implications of the post 1994 policing environment. More could have been said about police violence and its implications, the ministry added.

"The question about why some countries with histories of violence are not as violent as South Africa deserves further exploration... why some poorer communities are strongly affected by violence whilst others are less affected also deserves further exploration," the ministry said.

Some of the recommendations of the report include:

* The development of a policing strategy to address armed violent crime in metropolitan and surrounding areas.
* Strengthening evidence based crime investigation and prosecution as well as strengthening measures to ensure police integrity.
* The need to create public areas that are gun free zones and discouraging violence and bullying at schools.
* The creation of weapon free zones in drinking establishments.
* Improving safety in prisons.

The ministry's concluding views were that the report recognised that a lot was already being done and that there were elements which called for government to re-orientate itself.

"The recommendations must be seen as building blocks of a crime fighting approach and that some of the recommendations are already being addressed in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster," Deputy Police Minister Maggie Sotyu said. 

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