SAPS under fire for ‘discriminating’ against poor

Nobody wants to become a crime statistic yet the crime figures released recently show the probability of this happening to the average South African remains high. Despite crime affecting all citizens across communities, their experiences may vary depending on certain factors.

Murder in double digits

This week on the same day MPs in the National Assembly debated the scourge of crime in the country, another taxi violence bloodbath in which at least ten people were killed in KwaZulu-Natal made headlines. For the second time in just over a month, a double-digit figure was put to murder victims of yet another violent crime incident. This follows an earlier shootout in the Marikana settlement in Philippi East that left at least eleven people murdered and another seven people were reportedly killed in a related incident the same night. These figures are consistent with crime statistics published last week which shows yet another increase in the murder rate. According to the statistics, an average of 52 people is murdered in the country every day.

These incidents show poorer and mainly black communities continue to carry a disproportionate burden of violent crimes yet policy is not sufficiently addressing this reality. EFF MP Sam Matiase told MPs during the debate on crime in the National Assembly Tuesday the “real panacea to crime and criminality lays in addressing the socio-economic structural flaws of apartheid and colonialism”. “Our people are trapped in ghettos and townships where they have no prospects of a life, but to resort to crime and criminality,” he said.

Police minister Fikile Mbalula, in turn, is also on record admitting during this debate it is poor black communities who bear the brunt of violent crime yet the police still make pronouncements on how to tackle it with a forked tongue. Even Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police in its Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report saw it fit to avail two lines in the entire report for a recommendation on the matter stating, “the policing model should make provision for equity of policing services in urban, rural and deep rural areas and geographic divides”. It is also recommended this must include “clear provision of police resources to historically disadvantaged areas that do not discriminate against areas which have disproportionally high crime rates or is economically disadvantaged”.

Back in Court

Only time will tell if SAPS will heed this recommendation as not all in police structures necessarily agree with this sentiment. The police still dig in its heels in an ongoing court application that seeks to compel SAPS to revise how it allocates police resources in communities. The Social Justice Coalition and Equal Education are among the applicants in the case that is expected to be heard in the Equality Court later this month. The applicants argue SAPS’ allocation system discriminates against poor and disadvantaged black communities. SAPS, however, disagree.  Provincial Head of Organisational Development and Strategic Management in SAPS Brig. Preston Voskuil in his answering affidavit maintains more police resources is distributed to communities with high levels of reported serious crimes and that race plays no part in this decision.

An interesting dynamic at the heart of this issue, however, is SAPS considering reported crimes as among the factors in determining how resources are allocated. In the latest Victims of Crime Survey released by Statistics South Africa, however, it was found low levels of trust and confidence in the police can influence the reporting of crimes. The survey found white South Africans are more likely to report a crime than black South Africans. Senior Researcher at the SJC’s Safety and Justice Programme Dalli Weyers told ParlyBeat the level of underreporting of crimes in black communities is to be expected due to the breakdown of trust between police and these communities. “Crime stats should be looked at in conjunction with the Victims of Crime Survey which found a year on year decrease in willingness to report a crime in working-class black communities and an increase in the lack of trust that police will assist them as victims of crime.” Taken from the perspective of serious crimes being underreported in poorer black communities, a failure to allocate resources where it is clearly needed most, then becomes indefensible and the allocation system irrational, the SJC maintains.

Much has been said on Twitter platforms to Parliament about keeping South Africans safe yet it is the political will to address the systemic policing challenges, that is needed. An unambiguous statement regarding the allocation of police resources may well be a good start considering the pending court application.

Article by Alicestine October

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