newritings

May 13, 2007

Towards a Progressive Approach Towards Crime and Poverty: the Challenges

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 1:44 pm

What must a progressive approach start with?

A progressive approach must also take as its starting point the constitutional obligations of the state: as part of the implicit social contract which set out to ensure safety and security of all its citizens, this role cannot be overemphasised. We note, however, that the imperatives of equal rights and dignity have been difficult to translate into practice, in particular of the outcomes of social equality.

Indeed, South Africa is a society living under severe stress. About half of our people can be said to be living in poverty; hunger and poverty are widespread; over 5 million people are HIV positive; low wage casual, temporary employment is the norm, with about 40% of the working population, earning R2000 per month or less (People’s Budget Coalition 2006). Inequalities have been rising, and the Gini Coefficient, a measure of incomes inequality using the index to explain distribution of wealth, points out that in 1996 six percent of the population captured over 40% of income earned. [1] During 2005, with slight improvement in the score, the figures reveal continued and dismaying inequality and poverty, thirteen years after our democratic break-through – beaten only by Brazil as the country with the worst inequality levels.

Surprisingly enough, whilst crime is everywhere it almost did not make it (in terms of quality) into the South African Peer Review Country Assessment report had the panel of eminent persons for the SA not resuscitated the views of civil society into it.

The Sunday Times (May 6, 2007) reported the figures for the year to March 2006. Whilst there may be issues of how records are kept, who reports, etc., they are still significant:

– murder: 18 545 (down from 2002 figures by over 2 600)

– rape: 54 926 (insignificantly down from March 2002)

– attempted murder: 20 553

– assault with grievous bodily harm: 226 942 (down)

– common assault: 227 553

– aggravated robbery: 74 723

– indecent assault: 9 805

– kidnapping and abduction: 5 665

– child neglect: 4 828 (this is significant as it was 2 648 for March 2002, and may speak of increasing poverty directly impacting on the tensions in so called family relations and how welfare and social services are under strain)

– public violence: 1044 (was 907 for March 2002, and may in part speak to social protests in communities due to poverty related issues)

– car hijacking: 12 825

– truck hijacking: 829 (was dramatically reduced from 3 333 for March 2002)

– bank robbery: 59 (was dramatically reduced from 356 for March 2002)

– cash in transit robbery: 385 (gone up from 238 for March 202)

– residential robbery: 10 173

With figures like these, it is not surprising that our government and others advise to visitors to our country to be careful when visiting some places, for instance townships. [2] On Freedom Day, the president and other leaders made crime the political theme of the celebrations. In addition, the Minister of Safety and Security‘s recent charm offensive overseas points to a need to tackle crime for its obviously important links to economic and social well being of citizens. It must be obvious we do not believe that gated communities and the fleeing of mainly white citizens further north help either.

The reality of crime today, and from various “surveys”, clearly does not affect all people equally. It is generally speaking a metropolitan/urban areas’ phenomenon, [3] impacting particularly on resident middle classes, in particular white and South Africans of Indian origin. Its impact on the poor and the working people is equally severe and pernicious since the thugs and other petty criminals feed off – and often with extreme violence – those who have little, rendering them poorer in more ways than can be described. The poor and working class communities suffer crime differently too. When looking at the Western Cape we note criminal hyper activity in the following areas: gang warfare, rape, theft, housebreaking, drug dealing and even the “missing children”.

What are the challenges? What is missing in this debate?

Financial markets, criminal acts and tourism are amongst the few sectors of globalised economy that move relatively freely, but not without its winners and losers. Without getting into this in detail, it is common cause that with tourism goes both environmental degradation, change in cultures / morals of locals and crime.

A progressive approach must start with a full discussion on what constitutes crime and its impact on societies and not only elite concerns. Among others, what is often excluded from discussions on crime are the systemic violence against women and the so-called white-collar crimes (fraud and corruption), both legalised injustices that breed inequalities and hate. These do not explain the violence, in its own right, but if excluded, does not facilitate the beginnings of an honest national conversation on crime. We hope we can contribute to this below.

From a range of studies including Ten Year Review, it is reported great progress in the reduction of crime in the following: murder, vehicle hijacking and bank related crime, ranging from 30 to over 50% respectively. The South African Story argues that state authorities have done very well; [4] initiatives such as the Assets Forfeiture Unit (AFU) and the Scorpions under the National Prosecuting Authority have done a sterling job in fighting crime. By 2003, AFU had initiated over 300 cases and frozen nearly R500 million of criminal assets. In addition, they “recovered” 35 million in the Criminal Recovery Account to be used for the fight against crime. [5] In addition, they argue that the police population ratio is improving all the time with police numbers growing from 119 560 in 2002 to 140 000 in 2004 and is expected to reach at least 165 850 by 2008. [6]

As it turned out the Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel in his budget speech allocated an extra R 6.8 billion to the police and prisons and the justice services over the next three years bringing the budget R 921.5 billion above the amounts projected earlier.

The “South African Story” points out that overall spending on SAPS “is budgeted to rise to more than US$ 6 billion in 2007/8, an average increase of 11,3% since 2001/2.” In addition they point out that, during 2003 and 2004, police confiscated 26 000 illegal firearms and 1.7 million rounds of ammunition and made 6 000 arrests for weapons offences.

Challenge: private security for public security?

Whilst I do not believe that the indicators of police population are useful for a progressive approach – it is stark, true, but my concern is their implication for corrective action is that we need simply more police! They are not, especially in our country, where huge democracy deficits remain, including the challenges of poverty and inequality. We must remember that the state our government inhabits was ruled by state security agents, and cheap talk of more police without fundamental societal transformation at the same time could see us ending up with a strong state that is not democratic but repressive and not responsive to rights and interests of mainly elites.

In addition the talk of simply “more police, that must be visible” ignores the shifting balance of power ushered in by so-called globalisation, which lauded the market (read private property, low taxation, etc.) against public (read public services and expenditure, which they considered “bloated state”). And those of us, socially and economically well-off with better access to justice (simply being middle class and confident, etc.), protecting ourselves further by buying private security in our gated communities inevitably undermine the right to quality public security. We are in fact supporting privatisation of our daily lives, which implicitly eats into the fundamental right of the state to provide comprehensive, quality safety and security for all.

Whilst the National Victims of Crime Survey, 2003, points out that the growth of both private security industry and the vigilante activity are “indicators of the population of non-state forms of policing”, they found it encouraging that only 26% of South Africans said a group or organisation other than the police existed in their area. [7] My contention is that this had to take into consideration the political diminution of the role of the state agencies (smaller role and size, inferior quality) as well as “power and influence” of the private sector, which marks a shift in thinking on public goods and towards privatisation of government services and of our lives. Then 26% is horrendously high! The fight against crime then raises complex questions of the very nature of our government and so-called globalisation, and whether private security can do the job of creating social cohesion and commitment that will make us live better together in tackling deprivation, greed and all crimes.

The private sector security industry is a contradiction of the mandate and role of the state in any democracy. Private security in effect is impractical to implement and is in a word a joke, if its impact was not that serious. Who can forget the almost farcical story (when it first appeared) of public safety authorities enlisting private security companies to look after them! A newspaper report then in 1996 [8] pointed out that the Commissioner of Police George Fivaz “showed monumental insensitivity to force morale when he announced that tenders had been invited from security firms to protect his headquarters.” As if to prove one of my central concerns in this discourse, the journalist pointed out that “privatisation does not appear to have helped much; this week a police spokesman apologised to journalists for his inability to fax statements to them, explaining that all the facsimile machines had been stolen.” Ten years later – although there has been some improvement – stories like this can be readily called up. A common one, which I hear regularly in our township, is that the police are unable to attend to a citizen’s call for help as there are not sufficient vehicles to come to their service.

Jokes aside, the growth in numbers and political significance of the private security industry is a serious issue. Not in small measure talking to its ownership structure and presumed politics, since most are widely believed to be ex-state security agencies (police, military, etc.) and largely white and not known to be progressive.

The folly of private security is obvious, but not seen by those who chase the quick buck. Take any area where private security companies operate, and one will see the futility of the market when it comes to security and emergency services more generally. One will find a number of companies competing in the same locality. Sometimes in one street one will find all of them (ADT, Chubb, etc.) side-by-side but not cooperating. Does this not explain perhaps the continuing crime wave and hate-fear psychosis – because it is good for business? Or maybe this is happening: Private Security Company A will sit by as crooks break into a house “secured” by Security Company B?

On the numbers, the growth has been phenomenal and now is around 5000 security businesses. To be precise, in 1997 there were 4 437 registered going up in 2001 to 5 591 and settling to 4 639 by 2005. [9] The Financial Mail pointed out that although the number of registered companies shows “an overall growth of about 5% since the 1997 figures, the number of security guards on duty has increased dramatically”.

In 1997 there were 115 331 active security officers, increasing to 288 686 in 2005. If compared to the police services they noted that in 1997 there were 110 177 police officers compared to the 107 791 in 2005, [10] a decline of about 2 400. Thus we now have a situation where for every 2.68 security officers there is one policeman! This trend is consistent with other countries such as USA, UK and Canada. It begs the question: is the privatisation of the most basic of public “services” not the reason why we have so much crime and lawlessness and lack of social cohesion?

The profits of the corporation bosses, organised by employer body South African Security Employers Association (SANSEA), cannot be accurately known but – according to the Financial Mail – of the industry’s R15bn (2005) earnings, R9bn came from guarding. It is thus pitiful that guards earn as little as R500 per month with the average wage for a security worker being R1 500 (apparently higher then the so-called governments minimum wage).

This all speaks to not only poor regulatory regimes in the security sector but fundamentally the role of the state in ensuring that social cohesion and community well-being are at the centre of its reconstruction. It also begs the question: what is the insurance industry doing towards building a more just society, instead of just being re-active?

Challenge: the white-collar crime

The right for the state to bear arms was for it to protect us, and it is universally acknowledged. It is also a truism that public services – which constitutionally we are to receive equally – do not work for most of us, particularly the working people and the poor. It seems that whilst the courts prosecute persons for stealing lawnmower, bananas, etc – some white-collar crimes do not even fall under the radar.

For many of us, we must include in this discourse the so-called victimless crimes, the so-called white-collar crimes that are fuelled by greed. Quite frankly, if power and wealth are loved so much, there is little that people will not do, including resorting to physical violence, to get it.

The crimes of corruption (bribery, theft, etc.) must be included in the debate. In this country, for the private sector alone, 50 bn was said to be lost due to fraud. [11] In addition, we must include what is not yet recognised as corruption – socially – such as tax evasion and avoidance by big corporations, who continue to profit at the expense of the poor. The developing countries tax losses (are estimated by Tax Justice Network) [12] due to assets held in tax havens amounting to about USD 100 billion annually, which is more than the yearly official development assistance from all OECD countries. Whilst the IMF calls, these “offshore financial centres” facilitate massive tax evasion and laundering of dirty money originating from criminal affairs. Tax haven assets held by individuals alone (corporations excluded) stand at least USD 11.5 trillion, which represents a tax loss amounting to USD 225 billion by conservative estimates.

When Minister Manuel took a swipe at white-collar crimes in his budget speech, The Business Report journalist Quentin Wray took issue with this. [13] Quoting Minister Manuel saying that “the government recognised the seriousness of crime” added but “rather than discussing rape, murder and assault, he spoke of fraud and corruption”. Amazing as it may sound, this is the prevalent attitude towards the injustice of crime that we must deal with.

Challenge: the crimes of elites (selective morality?)

What I want to talk of, does not even qualify as white-collar crime given and it is also unjust but not illegal: CEOs living it up and taking home big packages whilst workers earn peanuts and are employed in temporary and unsafe conditions. Ann Crotty and Renee Bonorchis have written about this in their book on CEO pay in South Africa. [14] Their study shows that on average CEOs took home about R15 million per annum for the year under review.

As indicated in an earlier section, Minister Manuel was correct in the aftermath of the exposes of corporate malfeasance, such as the Brett Kebbles missing millions and the Fidentia Asset Management scandal, where inspectors of the Financial Services Board could not trace over R680 million taken from investors, including families of mine workers. Manuel correctly asserted that white-collar criminals were “responsible for some of the fractures that give cause to crime” and, echoing widely held sentiments including those of the president, he attacked the “destructive effects of the relentless pursuit of individual self enrichment.” He was correct too in seeing the link between crime and the culture of greed and callous acquisition. This “link” plays itself out in what is normally regarded as crime, which often resulting in violence (own emphasis). The Minister of Finance showed his commitment to fighting this, by giving more funds to the criminal justice services and asking for oversight bodies like the Tax revenue office and Financial Intelligence centre and the Financial Services board to deal with this crime and its ill-gotten gains.

The galloping pay of chief executive officers (CEOs) does not assist us in closing this wealth and inequality gaps or building social cohesion. It is legalised theft and a crime that often does not warrant discussion by many in power, a conspiracy of elites – must be called a crime for what it does to the whole society, in theory and practice. In theory and practice underwrites injustices and the rule of the powerful – and at the same time undermines the legitimate struggles of mass popular organisation and NGOs as being against progress and development, or anti-globalisers. The ideology has always been “there is no alternative” – which is now being exposed as ideologically fraudulent.

Challenge: the conduct of persons in power

The conduct of persons in power is a complex category and puts all of us on the spot. Calling for an “RDP of the Soul” (Reconstruction and Development Programme) may be appropriate, but this concept must too be broadened, to include ethics and mutual responsibilities – to include reckless driving as the carnage on our roads is a crime we all suffer and live with. We all know someone who has been killed by reckless acts of others. The new powers by the Assets Forfeiture Unit and others initiatives including the awareness campaigns to “arrive alive” have a long way to go in making this crime go away. In addition, here we could put those who abuse the environment, like particular corporations making profits at the expense of public good. We can include employer misconduct in this category as well, in particular where employers exploit pay and health and safety conditions for bigger corporate profits. A classic example is of the factory boss in Lenasia who plea bargained and paid a fine to families of the deceased, after eleven of them were killed in a fire and could not escape because they were locked up by the employer.

Challenge: violence against women

The crime of violence against women is disturbing and indicates the lack of a progressive political analysis of the intersection of public crime and crime that takes place in the so called privacy of the home, and dark corners. According to Carrie Shelver of People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) and the One in Nine Campaign, there are not comprehensive figures for violence against women. However, considering that 60% of women experience some form of violence in their lifetime and that rape is a very underreported crime, only one in 9 women report rape. Shelver points out that according to police records about half a million women are raped. In addition, she pointed out the extent of the scourge:

– 1 out of every 2 women is raped in her life (this is not a crime of outsiders / strangers only),

– 1 in 4 women is in an abusive relationship,

– 85 percent of rapes are gang rapes, and

– one woman is killed every 6 days by an intimate partner.

This calls for action, but not only from government. Many of these abuses take place within our own homes!

Challenge: The crime of violence against immigrants and non-nationals

The xenophobic attacks on non-nationals are often not seen by all as a crime. To this, it must be added the tardiness of the police in some cases, as well as corrupt practices by some police (including citizens, gangs, etc.) who see immigrants/refugees as “walking ATMs”, meaning they are ripe for soliciting a bribe or simple theft – and accompanied by violence and threats of violence.

Challenge: the criminal justice system and the police services

One additional concern is to rehabilitate the police services to work in favour of human rights and justice. The deaths in police custody, the grindingly slow pace of our prosecutorial and court systems do not inspire confidence. Was it not under the regime of Commissioner Jackie Selebi that the anti corruption unit of the police was closed down and was it not the same commissioner who said that the Internal Complaints Directorate (ICD) had outlived its usefulness? Well, I believe that we must strengthen both statutory and citizens’ autonomous oversight of our security services. During 2007 the ICD reported an increase in deaths in police custody. Deaths in police custody rose by 281 to 739 for the period 2006-07; a contradiction of our values of human rights and a blot against our good name as a democracy: many fought and died to put an end to such violations. The criminal justice system, in particular the incarceration of offenders, must not violate human rights obligations. It must, however, provide truly a second chance.

Challenge: an armed society

The issue of guns in our society must be systematically dealt with. Whilst we are not like the United States of America where violent death by gun is a daily occurrence, here it is said to number about 3000 per day. What it does raise is the need to openly discuss stark facts raised spasmodically when the gun law was reformed. The Firearms Control Act, which came into effect on 1 July 2004, aimed to reduce gun-related crimes by in part asking gun owners to re-register. Yet it is making slow progress.

The basic argument of reformers is that firearms – legal and illegal – are a cause of injury and death of many. According to Small Arms and Light Weapons‘ in Johannesburg this month, criminal gangs possess 25,000 illegal guns and 1.6 million rounds of ammunitions, whilst other sources say this figure is closer to 500,000 and four million. Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) has campaigned for years and states that gun related violence claims close to 10 000 people each year. [15]

In addition, according to a Centre for the Study of for Violence and Reconciliation Researcher, in 1998 alone, 29 694 guns were reported stolen, an average of 80 guns a day. This, he argued, “undoubtedly contributed to predatory murder and armed robbery. A UN Commission shows that owning a gun in South Africa increases your chances of being a victim because criminals target those carrying guns.” [16]

Challenge: the role of the media

It is clear that what is being spoken about on talk shows and newspapers is essentially violent crime such as theft, hijacking and murder. This is often accompanied by calls for the death penalty as a deterrent and by a related attack on the presumed failures / weaknesses / incompetence of the criminal justice system. Yet the media also needs to assist in educating fully on crime to themselves as to the public. The public broadcaster (SABC) is a key communicator on issues of national importance, and must broaden the scope of this national debate.

Challenge: the role of the insurance industry

This industry is a key player in demanding changes of so-called consumers’ personal / household safety and, whilst I do not discuss them here fully, they must be integrally involved in all efforts towards dealing with crime and reconstruction. Suffice it to say that the industry makes mega bucks and is a silent partner in the deliberations of making a society collectively safer without fleecing more and more individual citizens. I do not know if they even get invited to anti crime summits? Would it not be more cost effective to work towards social justice and cohesion instead of insisting that each car owner has an immobiliser, steering or gear lock, a”tracker”, a gear or steering lock as part of the insurance policy package. Home owners seeking insurance must variously have a security alarm linked to a private security company. Do the private security company and the insurance company have a too cosy relationship? Do they care about ending crime holistically? Maybe they do, but if they do – it must be done and be seen to be done.

As an aside – it is worth saying that this sector has not been immune from accusation of corruption and or corporate mal-governance with detrimental effects on citizens and society at large. The top 3 insurance giants – SANLAM; Old Mutual and the Liberty Group – have CEOs who take home millions per annum; it is worth pointing out that they have disregarded the rule of the pension funds “they administered when they charged early termination of payments into retirement annuities.” [17]

Click here for the recommendations.

* By Hassen Lorgat, Media and Communications Manager for SA NGO Coalition. He has also worked for various trades unions in SA.


[1] See source www.naledi.org.za

[2] Various governments give their visitors advice when travelling to South Africa, which includes: do not carry cameras, avoid isolated places, avoid townships, do not wear expensive jewellery. The Lonely Planet adds, interalia, do not walk around at night, keep a distance between the car in the front and behind you to avoid being sandwiched, if held up, do not be a hero. See also The Guardian Saturday August 10:1996 – David Beresford, “Crime exposes frail S African prosperity.”

[3] I am aware of new studies showing that it is a rural phenomenon.

[4] See source www.southafrica.info

[5] Government Communications (GCIS), Pocket guide to South Africa 2004, P 165. See also www.gcis.gov.za.

[6] Budget speech, Treasury, 2007 February.

[7] National Victims of Crime Survey: South Africa 2003, Monograph No 101, July 2004, Page 68. See source http://www.issafrica.org/Monographs/No101/Contents.html

[8] Ibid

[9] Razina Munshi, Financial Mail, Financial Mail; June 23, 2006 – vol 186, No: 12.

[10] Ibid, relying on the SAIRR figures.

[11] <<Supporting this assertion the Justice Minister, Penuell Maduna, told a conference on whitecollar crime in Gauteng in November 2003 that “White-collar crime is costing the South African economy between R50 and R150 billion a year, with 82% of businesses being probable victims. It accounts for 30% of all business failures, and consumes 2-5% of a healthy company’s economic turnover”>> quote from Transparency International Country Study Report South Africa 2005, by Hennie van Vuuren.

[12] See source www.taxjusticenetwork.org

[13] Quentin Wray, The Business Report, 22 February 07.

[14] Crotty and Bonorchis, Executive Pay in South Africa — Who Gets What and Why, 2006.

[15] See source http://ipsnews.net/africa/interna.asp?idnews=24835

[16] See source www.csvr.org.za/articles/artguns.htm

[17] Crotty and Bonorchis, Executive Pay in South Africa — Who Gets What and Why, 2006, P. 145

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Click here to continue reading – A Progressive Approach Towards Crime and Poverty: the Challenges […]

    Pingback by A Progressive Approach Towards Crime and Poverty « newritings — June 21, 2007 @ 2:35 pm | Reply


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