'Poverty the root cause of crime'

2008-10-06 11:22

Johannesburg - Most South Africans believe that poverty is the root cause of escalating crime levels in the country, a survey by TNS Research Surveys revealed on Monday.

"Three quarters of the 2 000 adults from the seven major metropolitan areas of South African cities agreed that crime was mainly caused by poverty," the company's director of Innovation and Development Neil Higgs said.

While this view was held by the majority of people from various cultural, economic and religious spheres, it was those living in informal settlements and backyard dwellings who strongly agreed.

Eighty-four percent of those living in shacks held this view, followed closely by hostel residents and backyard dwellers at 72 and 77% respectively.

Desperate circumstances

"The extreme differences in perspective on poverty as a root cause amongst shack dwellers show the desperate circumstances in which these people feel that they are and the possible desperate measures they see happening all around them by those who want a better life. The urgent need for service delivery, at the very least, is tangible here," Higgs said.

The survey also looked at perceptions held by South Africans regarding the impact of racial discrimination from the past on crime.

Only 51% of those surveyed blamed past injustices as the root cause of crime. The majority of white people (30%) surveyed disagreed on this while 65% of Indians and 55% of blacks and coloureds agreed.

Cultural 'depersonalisation'

"Sociologists feel that the unusual violence associated with crime here has to do with cultural 'depersonalisation' which has been the net outcome of the repression associated with apartheid. The culture then becomes self perpetuating and worsens. Perpetrators see the victims as 'other' and not as a part of their culture," Higgs said.

While the study generally found that most South Africans believed that crime was not going down, they were hypocritical in that they continued to buy pirated DVDs and CDs and refrained from reporting those they knew to be buying stolen goods.

"Over eight out of ten people feel that crime levels are not dropping, yet a fifth of these very people admit their willingness to buy pirated goods. A quarter of people surveyed know others who have bought stolen goods. Had these people been reported to the police, the market for stolen goods would disappear," he said.