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The feasibility of ending crime in South Africa by 2030

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Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA): Deputy Police Minister Cassel Mathale, Police Minister Bheki Cele and national Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola at GCIS where the quarterly crime statistics were released on November 23, 2022. One of the bold statements made by the ANC was that it strongly believes that South Africa will be crime free by the year 2030, the writer says.

By Bheki Mngomezulu

At its recent National Executive Committee (NEC) Lekgotla at Esselen Park in Ekurhuleni, the ANC discussed various issues of national importance. Key resolutions were taken and some commitments were made to steer the ship in the right direction.

One of the bold statements made by the ANC was that it strongly believes that South Africa will be crime free by the year 2030. This was in response to the alarming crime statistics previously announced by the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele.

As would be expected, there are South Africans who welcomed this news warmly. These are the optimists who are easily convinced by the promises made by their political leadership. Surely, it would be unfair to blame them for believing in their leaders.

However, many pessimists and realists simply laughed when they heard about this commitment. Some even asked: since when have politicians delivered on their promises? Why have they allowed crime to rise to the current levels?

For me, the main question is the following: is it feasible to end crime by 2030, especially given that we are now in 2023 already? Does the country’s leadership have the political will and the requisite skills to deliver on this promise? My answer to both question is No!

Firstly, the country is currently battling to deal with the energy crisis. Several deadlines have been given by which the nation was promised that loadshedding would have ended. To this day, nothing positive has happened. In fact, the situation has worsened as the country moved from stages 3 and 4 of loadshedding to stages 5 and 6. On many occasions, politicians have been economical with the truth. This has led to trust deficit between the political leadership and the general public.

What is not clear is whether this failure to address the energy crisis is due to lack of funds, lack of requisite skills and knowledge, lack of political leadership, an irresponsible citizenry or all of the above.

Now, if South Africa has been unable to tackle the electricity crisis, which is at the centre of the country’s economic growth, what will make the political leadership end crime in the country totally within seven years? If an estimated 72 people are killed in South Africa per day as Minister Cele has reported, what will be the panacea of the political leadership to suddenly end this scourge? Here, I am only mentioning one type of crime amongst many.

On paper, this promise sounds good and progressive – with a certain degree of empathy. But the more one thinks about it seriously, the more one reflects on the history of unfulfilled promises by our politicians, the more one thinks about how long the same politicians have failed to deal with the energy crisis, the easier it is to conclude that this promise is not feasible. This is not tantamount to saying that the political leadership of the ANC and the country has no genuine wish to end crime. The reality is that they are not capable to do so. As such, the promise to end crime by 2023 is a dream.

Before we can even begin to set deadlines on when we as a country plan to end crime, there are basic questions that we need to address. Among them are the following: What is causing crime to rise in this manner in South Africa? Are the individuals and state institutions that are tasked to deal with crime doing what they are supposed to do? If so, why are they not winning the war against crime? If yes, why are the crime levels still on an upward trajectory? What is the nature of the relationship between communities and the police? Are there enough resources allocated to crime prevention strategies? To what extent is the judiciary assisting or not assisting in attempts to root out crime from society? What role does our national Constitution in its current form contribute to sustained increasing crime statistics?

These are just some of the critical questions that we need to ask ourselves. If we cannot provide answers to some or all of these questions, then we cannot deceive ourselves by believing that we as a country will end crime by 2030! This is not rocket science but simple logic.

This reminds me of the wise words by the late Former President Nelson Mandela when in 1992 he said that: “There is nothing as bad as a leader making a demand which you know can never succeed.” Implicit in this statement is the view that it is not wise for a leader to make empty promises. Any leader who does that tarnishes his or her political image. This results in what is generally referred to as ‘trust deficit’ between the leader and the followers.

If this is the case, such thinking triggers the following questions about the ANC: Does the party genuinely believe that it will end crime by 2030 or has it simply used political rhetoric as has been the case with loadshedding? Was the promise genuine and real or was it meant to allay citizens’ fears given that they are no longer safe even in their own homes?

What would have convinced many people would be for the political leadership to visit a few African countries such as Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania and many others with the view to understand how they keep crime levels ‘normal’. Most importantly, they could find out from their African colleagues how they deal with criminals once they have been apprehended.

The reality of the matter is that in South Africa criminals are handled with kid gloves. Things went wrong during the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy. The spirit of reconciliation and the determination to reverse all the wrongs that were done by the apartheid regime robbed the country of an opportunity to be realistic. Even capital punishment was done away with mainly because the apartheid regime had used it to purge its political opponents – those who were in the liberation struggle.

What we ignored as a country is the fact that there are people who commit heinous and unprovoked crime because they know that they will either go scot free or will only be given a slap on the wrist. Those below the age of 18 commit crime deliberately because they know full well that they will be defined as “minors” and thus avoid jail sentences.

Other factors compound this challenge. Some police officials are negligent when they collect evidence. Some temper with the crime scene. When the case is taken to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), it is dismissed for lack of compelling evidence. In other instances, judges deliver very controversial judgements which are hard to explain even by a layman on the street who never studied law. At times the sentence is not equivalent to the crime – criminals are given light sentences to the dismay of the victims.

Given the complexity of the causal factors of the increase in crime figures, it is hard to believe that the country can emphatically say that it will have rid itself of crime by 2030. This goal is not achievable. The contributing factors encapsulated in the questions posed above paint a grim picture. Had the argument been crafted to say that the crime levels might be brought down by 2030, then this would have been a plausible argument.

My view is that in making this promise, the ANC actually invoked the National Development Plan: Vision 2030 – Chapter 12. This document states that in 2030 people living in South Africa must feel safe and have no fear of crime. This goal is to be achieved by doing five things: (a) Strengthening the criminal justice system; (b) Making the police service professional; (c) Demilitarising the police service; (d) Building safety using an integrated approach; and (e) Building community participation in community safety.

If indeed this is the case, then the ANC should not have presented this as its fresh promise emanating from its NEC Lekgotla. Instead, the statement should have said that in line with the NDP: Vision 2030 – Chapter 12, the ANC re-commits itself to ensuring that this vision is put into fruition. Such would have been an honest statement. Moreover, emphasis should have been placed on the statement that neither the ANC as an organisation nor as the governing party can achieve this goal working alone. It will need the support of all South Africans.

Put succinctly, the ANC cannot end crime by 2030 working alone. In fact, the vision itself is not feasible at this stage. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done by all South Africans if crime levels are to drop. Unless that is done, the opposite will happen, crime statistics will continue to rise to higher levels.

Bheki Mngomezulu is Full Professor of Political Science & International Relations and Director of CANRAD Centre at Nelson Mandela University.

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