Crime and Crime Prevention in South Africa: 10 Years After

By du Plessis, Anton; Louw, Antoinette | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Crime and Crime Prevention in South Africa: 10 Years After


du Plessis, Anton, Louw, Antoinette, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


La transition en cours en Afrique du Sud depuis 1994 exige un remaniement en profondeur des institutions et des lois nationales. Une plethore de nouvelles politiques et lois en matiere de justice penale ont ete adoptees ces dix dernieres annees. Apres 1994, l'une des priorites du gouvernement a ete la National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS), qui reconnaissait les causes sociales et conjoncturelles de la criminalite, ainsi que la necessite d'etablir des partenariats entre ministeres gouvernementaux et acteurs de la societe civile. Toutefois, cette strategie est en perte de vitesse en raison des pressions exercees par le public et les milieux politiques en faveur de solutions radicales immediates. Depuis 1999, le gouvernement privilegie les interventions musclees en matiere d'execution de la loi et l'adoption de nouvelles lois visant a ameliorer l'administration de la justice penale. Les auteurs de cet article affirment que le systeme de justice penale de l'Afrique du Sud fonctionne bien, compte tenu des defis a relever depuis 1994. Sa tache consiste maintenant a dissiper les perceptions negatives entretenues par le public au sujet de la securite, et a renouveler les efforts de lutte contre le crime en s'attaquant aux facteurs sociaux et conjoncturels qui echappent au controle de la police et des tribunaux.

Introduction

Few will dispute the claim that South Africa's transition to democracy has been a remarkable success. In 1994, the country moved from autocratic and oppressive oligarchy to human-rights-based constitutional democracy. This dramatic shift in the nature and functioning of the state required an extensive overhaul of its institutions and laws. The challenge for the new government was one of transformation and nation building during a time when crime levels and public feelings of insecurity were reaching unacceptable levels. Added to this mammoth task was the burden of having to fast track this process while at the same time operating within a new legal framework based on human rights and a respect for civil liberties.

The last 10 years in South Africa have been characterized by a flurry of new policies, plans, strategies, laws, and noble ideas. This article argues that the South African criminal justice system has performed well considering the challenges it has faced since 1994. However, while acknowledging this success, it also points out that there remain many challenges and that more could be done to address certain problems that still exist.

Crime trends in democratic South Africa

An accurate analysis of crime in South Africa since the advent of democracy should begin with a review of the trends before and after 1994. Figures for the pre-1994 period show that crime rates for most of the country have been increasing since the mid-1980s (Schonteich and Louw 2001). However, because these statistics excluded crime incidents in the apartheid-era "bantustans," they are widely regarded as inaccurate. The figures recorded by the police after 1994 indicate that recorded crime in South Africa has increased by 30% over the past decade (SAPS 2003). (1) Recorded violent crime has increased more than any other crime type (by 41% compared to 28% for property crime). The official police statistics paint a gloomy picture. But several considerations must be taken into account when analysing crime in South Africa:

* The reporting phenomenon. A recent national victim survey suggests that less than half of all crime is reported to the police (Burton, du Plessis, Leggett, Louw, Mistry, and van Vuuren 2004). Moreover, reporting rates were the lowest for those crime types that, according to the police data, showed the greatest increases (such as robbery and assault). In addition, according to official statistics, offences that are traditionally well reported, such as murder and vehicle theft, had decreased since 1994. To some degree, then, the increase in recorded crime is likely to be a result of increased reporting to the police. …

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