South Africa, a young democracy, is experiencing what almost every young democracy has experienced: an increase in crime, and other issues that threaten hard won freedoms. It often takes a tipping point, and an escalation to almost unbearable limits, in these situations, until society is shaken from its sleepiness and starts to fight back. I sense that this is where South Africa now finds itself. There is a feeling that crime, especially violent robbery, has increased dramatically in just the past few months, and I sense a heaviness in people’s hearts. But, is this the reality?
One of my favourite political analysts, JP Landman, has written on the topic. He is retained by BOE, a really future thinking bank, as an analyst and commentator. His thoughts on crime are really worth reading – not just for South Africans, but for everyone. He has some interesting comments on generations, and how countries with lots of young men also have high crime rates… But let me not steal his thunder. Read on.
JP LANDMAN, BOE analyst says:
The huge emotions generated by the planned FNB ad campaign illustrate how intense feelings around crime have become. It is a combustible combination. Thus it might not be too wise for an analyst to pontificate on the topic. But what the hell, lets tell it like we see it …
What the forensic evidence tells us
The first point is that South Africans have never felt as vulnerable and fearful of crime as now. Two sources confirm it: victim surveys from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) as well as research from the HSRC. Questions are asked like: are you more/less afraid at night; are you afraid to travel alone; do you travel at night and so on. The overwhelming response to these questions is that citizens are more fearful than previously. The conclusion is clear: citizens perceptions of crime are that it has deteriorated matters got worse.
The second empirical fact is that several categories of crime have declined. A critic of the government and certainly no friend of the Mbeki administration, The SA Institute for Race Relations, reported that 8 of 12 crime categories have declined over the period 1994/5 to 2005/6. This is confirmed by victim surveys. In victim surveys official stats are ignored and a sample of the population is asked if they experienced crime, what types of crime, how often and so on. These victim surveys confirm the official stats the SAIRR used.
Some of the crimes that decreased and the percentage by which they decreased (measured in the standard measurement of crimes per 100 000 of the population) are murder (41%), attempted murder (36,5%), car theft (32,8%) & commercial crime (28,9%).
The crimes that increased, according to the SAIRR analysis are rape (1,6%), indecent assault (106%), aggravating robbery (16,8%) and drug related crimes (72,4%).
Some people argue that in the middle nineties we had death squads and third forces and political killings and how can we compare ourselves with that period? Sure, that applies to murder. What about the other declines?
Why these opposing trends?
Citizens feel more unsafe, but several crime categories are falling. What is going on? It is perhaps best explained by the increase in robbery in peoples homes your house after all is suppose to be your castle where you are safe and in charge. All of that is destroyed when robbers enter your house. Add to that the savagery of some actions and one can understand why people feel insecure.
Are Whites targeted?
A friend asked me last week whether crime is a weapon to get rid of Whites. Beeld reported that a victim in Centurion was told by a group of robbers we will kill all whites. (Why they did not kill this victim is not sure.) Victim surveys also tell us that Whites and Indians feel more unsafe than Blacks and Coloureds.
But here is an interesting statistic from Jonny Steinberg, one of the more sane voices on crime: Whites constitute 1 in 11 of the population (just over 9%) but only 1 in 33 of murder victims. Your best chance of being a murder victim is if you are Black, male and young. Driving Whites out? Me thinks not.
I looked at pictures of David Rattrays murderer in the dock and I cannot imagine him being part of a conspiracy to drive Whites out of SA. To me he just looked like a screwed up young man with no hope and a gun.
So what is going on?
When it comes to crime, we only discuss efficiency and political responsibility. We make the police and politicians responsible. And that is fine, they should be held responsible. But in my view that is not the full story. I will submit there are two aspects around crime that we do not discuss, values and demography.
Take values first.
In 81% of murder cases the murderer knew the victim. In other words only in 19% of murders was the victim unknown to the murder. In the case of rape the numbers are 76% v 24%; and serious assault 89% v 11%. These come from an analysis of 2005/6 crime stats. Is this the normal way citizens treat one another?
The same lack of societal values is indicated by an opinion poll in the Sunday Times that 1/3 of all South Africans experience road rage. Nice, tolerant way of interacting with one another, would you not agree?
There is something seriously wrong with our societys social capital. No degree of police efficiency can deal with this. No amount of shouting at politicians can cure this. The sooner we start focusing on social capital, the sooner we can deal with this problem.
Link this to a second factor, demography. There is a school of thinking that says most violent crime is committed by males under the age of 35. Sociologists link the rise of crime in the US in the late 1960s to the birth of the baby boomers in the 1940s (Jonny Steinberg). If the age group 15 and 29 in a society is more than 30% of the total population, violence follows (Caldwell, Fin Times, 5 January 2007). There are 67 countries in the world with such youth bulges now and 60 of them are undergoing some kind of serious killing, civil war, insurgency and so on. According to the latest Actuarial Society of SA demographic projections (released late in December), precisely 30% of the SAs population are now in the age cohort 15 29.
From the television pictures, David Rattrays murderer looked as if he fitted exactly in the 15 to 29 year age group (in fact he is 23). Born in the mid 1980s, he grew up in a society of violence. Little values, no job, limited education and a gun.
- It is not sufficient to talk just about police efficiency and political accountability. More is needed. People do not change their values or behaviour because politicians ask them nicely to do so. (Remember when Mr Mandela famously urged the Kwa-Zulu Natalians in the early 1990s to throw their spears in the sea and make peace with one another? Political violence increased, perhaps even spawning Rattrays killers?)
- Values require the re-building of social capital. The Germans after WWII launched a deliberate campaign of establishing Academies where the values of the new (West) German state were taught and drilled into a new generation of West Germans. There was a conscious effort to counter their own legacy. Counter all nepotism and corruption. Do not carry jailbirds into jail. Take action against incompetence. But also avoid cynicism the ultimate destroyer of social capital.
- As for demography, the only solution is jobs, training and skills. And that requires economic growth and deliberate anti-poverty intervention (like the social allowances and public works programme). But it also requires time be under no illusions. We are now paying the price for the lost 25 years between 1977 and 2002 when the population grew quicker than the economy and labour market. Fortunately that has now turned (it may turn out to be Mbekis biggest legacy) but it will take time to undo two decades of damage.
- The complexity of the problem makes it all the more important that government addresses the feelings around crime. It will change very little about crime itself, but it will empower citizens to cope better. Will they? I do not know we will have to watch this space.
Thanks to JP for allowing me to post this on my blog.