Root of crime leads to the door of dirty cops, Mbalula

2017-05-22 14:09

It's almost cute when Police Minister Fikile Mbalula blusters about crime and talks tough about how the police are determined to fight crime.

If Twitter tweets are an indication of the fight against crime, we would be winning by some margin.

However, talk is almost as cheap as lives when it comes to South African crime and locals are well aware that the reality of crime is all too graphic and painful in their neighbourhoods.

Crime is not just about breaking the law: It's about a general malaise in society that begins with the leadership of our law enforcement offers.

It's as important to remedy the environment that creates the space for crime as it is to go after the crooks themselves.

It's going to be difficult to convince South Africans that the crime rate in the country is under control, following the brutal deaths of Karabo Mokoena, Franziska Blöchliger, Sinoxolo Mafevuka and Courtney Pieters.

Lack of crime reporting

Karabo Mokoena was brutally murdered and her ex-boyfriend, Sandile Mantsoe is on trial for the crime.

Sure, officials can make the argument that it's not as bad as Syria, Afghanistan or Yemen. Even if they are correct, the reality for South Africans that crime affects almost every one and it has a demoralising effect on society.

Some years ago, during the gang violence in a Cape Town suburb, there were calls for the army to be deployed.

But the root of the problem was not even the number of illegal guns in the hands of teenagers in the area; it was the allegation that some police members were selling rounds of ammunition to gangsters for about R150 a magazine.

Police Colonel Chris Prinsloo who was in charge of the armoury, was convicted in a case where he stole guns and sold them to gangsters on the Cape Flats.

It demonstrates why residents hesitate in reporting any crime to the police: They fear that one corrupt cop who will sell their details to the gangsters - effectively handing over their death warrants to the executioner.

Take, for example the case of Jaydee Magerman who was gunned down in Mitchell's Plain as far back as 2013. He was shot five times in the back and lay there on the street for hours. Many people saw the crime, but when police asked for witnesses, no-one came forward and to this day, there hasn't even been an arrest, let alone conviction for that case. Or how about Samantha van Rooyen was shot dead in Ocean View? It was no random killing: She was determined to testify against a known gangster in a rape case and while he was in jail, two henchmen arrived at her house to kill her and secure their place as gang leadership.

So it begs the question: Is there a culture of corruption in the police?

The data tells a damming story: Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi was convicted of corruption in 2010, Bheki Cele was suspended over suspected property deals in 2011, and Riah Phiyega found unfit for her office in 2016.

Even the current (and we don't know for how long) commissioner Khomotso Phahlane is himself under a cloud of corruption suspicion.

Perhaps the job of police commissioner should be advertised as a temp.

But the rot doesn't end with only top brass guilty of corruption.

Dirty cops

In 2015, Phiyega reported that 1 660 police officers had been dismissed for corruption and in 2016, 66 officers in Gauteng alone were dismissed for crimes including attempted murder, kidnapping and rape.

It doesn't take a wholesale corruption at one police station to undermine the service to the public - it takes just one officer.

Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula has taken the fight against crime to social media. And nobody is suggesting that all the remaining officers employed in the SAPS are squeaky clean: In fact, it probably more likely that life for honest cops is very difficult in an environment where your colleagues appear to easily get ahead by turning a blind eye to crime at best, or being at the very centre of it, at worst. According to the Institute for Security Studies, suspects are only detected in 29.6% of murders.

The conviction rate is even more disturbing.

The Law Commission of South Africa's Research Paper 18 Conviction rates and other outcomes of crimes reported in eight South African police areas found damming evidence of poor conviction rates for serious crimes like murder.

In its study of 964 cases of violent crime in the West Metropole of Cape Town the Law Commission found that 74.1% of cases did not make it to court because they were closed as "undetected".

Only 5.7% of cases resulted in a conviction two years after the initial crime was reported to police and 40% of cases that made it to court were withdrawn.

The organisation's findings for specific crimes is even more devastating and indicate that poor police work plays a contributory role in delaying justice for victims of violent crime.

Conviction rates

In cases of murder, 61% of cases do not get to court, in adult rape it's 68% and minor rape 58%. The guilty verdicts are all low - see table below.

Crime

Not gone to court

Guilty verdict

Not Guilty

Withdrawn

Murder

61%

11%

8%

8%

Rape of an Adult

68%

5%

9%

15%

Rape of a Child

58%

9%

9%

18%

Robbery with Aggravating Circumstances

89%

3%

1%

5%

* Sourced from the South African Law Commission

More important than mere statistics is that fact that families are often left devastated by the death of a loved one, more so when that death was violent and even more so when the offender walks free in their communities.

In particular, there is the argument that if criminals are aware that they have a fairly good chance at getting away with crime - even serious crime such as murder - they might be more likely to commit crime.

It is idealistic at best, and painfully naïve for political leaders to pretend that crime is under control when even the officers who are meant to enforce the law are not under control.

The risk to the South African public is an increase of vigilantism on the one hand as people become more frustrated with the criminal justice system, and apathy on the other as people don't bother to report crime.

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