It’s the New Year, but it’s the Same Old Story: crime plagues every sector of South Africa, and South Africa acts as if it is powerless to stop it. The non-stop onslaught of lawlessness is terrifying: murders, robberies, rapes, kidnappings, hijackings, white-collar crime…the list goes on.
Every day there are 58 murders in our country. A woman is raped every 10 minutes. In the time it takes you to read this article aloud, a woman or child will have been sexually assaulted.
Let’s face it: we are a nation under attack. Lives are lost, families are left in ruins, businesses are destroyed and the economy is on its knees – all because of our crime crisis and the inability to confront it. Law-abiding citizens live in fear, much-needed investment goes elsewhere and the tourists whom we rely on so greatly are scared away.
Inevitably, some opportunists use crime stories to make a political point. But let’s not offer race, religion or history as an excuse. Crime knows no boundaries. Let’s not politicise it, or make apologies for it. A crime is a crime is a crime. More regularly than I would wish, I share CCTV footage of real crimes on social media. These shocking images are shared thousands of times over. Some even go viral abroad.
I do not apologise for this: it would be wrong to pretend these outrages are not happening. If we are to defeat this menace, we must confront it. But we must come up with a plan for dealing with it before it is too late. One tragic incident, as 2020 dawned, highlights the huge problem that we face, and offers some clues on what we must do to overcome it.
Minutes after midnight on January 1, revellers were celebrating at Poppy’s jazz joint in Melville, Johannesburg, when a black BMW SUV drove by slowly, spraying bullets into a kerb-side crowd. Two women were killed. Weeks later, despite CCTV footage showing the faces of the shooters, no arrests have been made.
The suggested reasons for why these killers remain at large are familiar: police infighting, cop corruption, community silence, a lack of proper resources. It is a scene played out across SA on a daily basis: brazen criminals conducting their business – including murder – with seemingly little consequence. While there are pockets of excellence in the SA Police Service, a lot of work lies ahead to restore integrity and credibility to our law enforcement agencies. Levels of inefficiency are still unacceptably high.
It’s good to see Police Minister Bheki Cele being visible and often outspoken. But he has his hands full trying to extinguish on-going fires. We need to support the good cops. We need to get rid of the bad ones. We can no longer protect criminals. We have to blow the whistle on them and use tip-off services such as Crime Stop (08600 10111) to report criminals anonymously.
There are on-going problems with the 10111 emergency number. The Namola app supported by Dialdirect is free and hundreds of people get help each week. Police need to follow world trends and use body cameras. Citizens must invest in dashboard cameras, which can also help bring fake cops and abuse to book. Authorities need to use drones which are effective.
We must also realise that the crime crippling South Africa is not just about cops and robbers. Illegal trade robs our country of vital funds, endangers lives and ultimately destroys our potential to fight crime at every level. Criminals engaging in the illegal economy are systematically looting the state of R100 million every day. They do so by pocketing the taxes that are needed to transform and rebuild South Africa. Money that is supposed to be spent on education, welfare and fighting crime.
To combat this scourge, I have helped to found Tax Justice South Africa, a non-profit organisation campaigning for tax criminals to be brought to justice and sent to jail. We will show how tax is being stolen across the SA economy, ranging from counterfeit clothing to illegal alcohol, cigarettes and pharmaceutical drugs.
In the coming months we will seek support to ensure these crooks who are crippling our country are properly punished.We say #LockThemUp. The wheels of our criminal justice system work far too slow. We need special courts, even if it means sitting over weekends, to get rid of the backlogs.
The drug problem needs special focus. I have repeatedly argued that we need the special narcotic units to be re-introduced. How long is it going to take to bring the National Development Plan to life? There is a clear strategy about policing and creating safer communities. When will the Police Minister launch the advisory committee he promised?
We need the political will to Make South Africa Safe and we need it now. Let’s unite. Let’s hold the police to account. Let’s support the good cops. Let’s become active citizens. We have to stop the terror and we need to do it today.
Yusuf Abramjee is an anti-crime activist. He is also head or Tax Justice SA and is Vice-President of Crime Stoppers International (CSI).