South Africans are winning the fight against crime, with fewer incidents of violence occurring than before, and perceptions of a crime-infested society are stronger than the reality, says Trevor Bloem, the spokesperson for Charles Nqakula, the minister of safety and security.

“Studies show that despite crime statistics reflecting a decrease in criminal activity in certain areas, the perception worldwide was that crime was rising when in fact many nations experienced a drop in criminal activity,” Bloem said. One of the reasons for the perception that crime was on the rise might be the extensive media coverage, he said.

“Reporting of high-profile crimes no doubt fuels the perception,” he told The Sunday Independent ahead of this week’s release by Nqakula of national crime data. “For a variety of reasons, over the past three to four years people across the world have been feeling more unsafe, but the statistics tell a different story.” The United States’s global war on terror may also have contributed to heightened security tension around the world, he said.

The South African Advertising Research Foundation’s latest AMPS survey found South African adults were less affected by crime than at the time of its previous study. Respondents were asked whether in the foregoing 12 months they had personally fallen victim to violent crime. They were asked the same question about non-violent crime. “The percentage of people claiming to have been personally involved in violent crime declined by 12 percent to 5,9 percent of total adults. The proportion of adults claiming to be victims of non-violent crime… dropped by 6 percent to 11,7 percent,” the research foundation said.

Jean Redpath, a criminology expert with Hlakanphila Analytics, said reported crimes often reflected factors other than the crime itself. For example, she said, theft rates were a reflection also of the extent to which people were insured; and rape and sexual abuse rates reflected victims’ comfort with reporting the incidents.

“That said, reported crime is showing changes in nature. In particular, the rates of reported robbery with aggravating circumstances show a large increase, while other rates of reported crime are decreasing. It is difficult to tease out what relates to changes in actual crime and what relates to changes in these other factors,” Redpath said.

Perhaps fear of crime had led to more people taking out insurance and thus more claims being lodged, she suggested. “Surveys all over the world show that people tend to think crime has got worse, no matter what has actually happened.”

Crime figures, according to the SA Police Service’s 2004/5 annual report, showed a drop in contact crimes (assault) and burglaries, while motor vehicle theft increased and charges relating to drugs rose 23 percent over the previous year. The report said 369 known organised crime groups were operating in South Africa. Most of them specialised in drugs, vehicle theft and hijacking, fraud, corruption and trafficking in non-ferrous metals, precious metals and stones. Of these organised crime groups the activities of 211 had been terminated and 158 were under investigation.

Investigations had led to the arrest of 422 syndicate leaders and 1 195 members. In 2004/05, 1 303 people were arrested for the illegal purchase, theft, possession or picking up of uncut diamonds and un-wrought precious metals. The value of diamonds, unwrought gold and other precious metals recovered was more than R40 million. Over the same period, 23 runners were arrested for trafficking in endangered species, parts or products including plants, rhino horns, elephant ivory, reptiles and insects. Items seized were valued at R16 million.

The serious and violent crimes units had notched up successes in investigating farm attacks, heists, hijackings, robberies at financial institutions, faction fighting, train violence, taxi violence, inter-group violence, gang violence and urban terrorism. In the period reviewed they handled more than 11 040 cases leading to hundreds of convictions.

In July the justice, crime prevention and security cluster outlined successes in several areas identified as crime-busting priorities. Roadblocks, raids and other investigative measures resulted in many criminals being put behind bars and criminal operations being shut down. Nqakula will release the recent crime statistics on Wednesday.

Sunday Independent, September 24, 2006