Marianne Thamm

Lies and statistics

2007-07-05 08:24

Marianne Thamm

So, it's the start of the school holidays and we're staying in a small, seaside cottage when I spot it nestling at the top of a pile of old magazines and newspapers on a side table.

A three-month old edition of the International Express, the conservative English tabloid that targets British "expats" scattered across the globe but that is also read by a large contingent of South Africans who are only virtually here.

They're here physically all right, but in spirit they're wondering the streets of London or Sydney or Vancouver. These are South Africans whose dreams at night are populated by red double-decker busses, unarmed cops in Mr Plod helmets who say "elo, elo, elo" and Tony Blair proposing to Cheri while she scrubs the loo.

My local newsagent claims the Express sells "very well" in Cape Town as does five-year old copies of the enigmatic global publishing phenomenon, Hello magazine. It's amazing how in a world of instant redundancy, celebrity news can seem so enduring and timeless.

A picture of Paris Hilton taken eight months ago looks just like a picture of Paris Hilton taken in the last five minutes. But we digress.

While I paged through the Express the latest local crime stats were being recited by a newsreader on the radio: 40,5 people out of every 100 000 were murdered in South Africa during the fiscal year that ended in March, a 2.4% increase from 39,6 per 100 000 in the previous 12 months.


Ooh what's this here on page 8, top left hand corner of the Express?

"Now Stab Vests are part of school uniform," read the headline. The story below was about how "worried parents are kitting out schoolchildren with stab vests because of growing violence in British schools".

Crime across the pond?

Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis was quoted as saying that this was "a consequence of having very little police presence on our streets and in our communities to detect and deter violence crime".

Meanwhile on the local news it appears as if rape cases have decreased by 5,2%, attempted murder by 3%, and indecent assault by 5,5%. Aggravated robbery, however, which included categories such as cash-in-transit and bank robberies, rose by 4,6%, while common robbery decreased by 5,8%.

What to make of all these percentages I thought as scanned the rest of the page?

"Fears as AAs night patrol hits the end of the road," read the headline next to the one on the stab vests.

"Lone women drivers breaking down in remote country areas could be put at risk after a decision by the Automobile Association to scrap night patrols."

Over on page 10, the lead story is headed "£8m bill for 300 police who don't even work". "Hundreds of police officers are suspended but still on full pay, costing taxpayers more than £8m a year. A survey of Britain's 52 police forces shows 276 officers, including a superintendent are pocketing ether full salaries while staying at home on 'gardening leave'"

"We spend more on police than any other country in Europe but still have a very high crime rate," said the Taxpayers Alliance.

So what's the point of all of this distraction?

Essentially it is to highlight that crime has become an issue even in the "developed" world. While levels are not nearly as alarming as they are in South Africa they are worryingly high - well at least according to news reports - across Europe and the UK in particular.

So how do we beat it?

There are those who believe the rise in crime it is linked to globalisation and the negative impact it has on poverty reduction. Globalisation, they say creates a gap between the rich and the poor that just keeps widening, creating a sort of amoral vacuum where violent crime thrives and flourishes.

Those who support globalisation say it reduces reduces poverty and inequality. It is clear that we are unlikely to reach any consensus on this particular issue in the near future. What we can reach consensus on is that violent crime is the biggest threat to our democracy and makes angry, scared and intolerant people of us all.

Two days after the release of the stats everyone, like me, was trying to analyse and make sense of it all.

The Western Cape MEC for Safety and Security said that 80% of people killed in the province were done in by someone they knew. He added that drugs and alcohol were often an aggravating factor so it was hard for police to do anything about it.

Then a senior researcher from Unisa speculated that robberies had become so violent because homeowners had beefed up security and that this made it difficult for criminals to gain access without forcing the homeowner to let them in.

Perhaps one way of avoiding becoming a statistic is to stay away from people you know, especially those who drink or take drugs, to remove all security from your home and to create a neon sign that you can switch on when you go out and that flashes "owners out, security off, you're welcome to break in".


Send your comments to Marianne.

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