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Picture: 123RF/BELCHONOK
Picture: 123RF/BELCHONOK

There is, sadly, nothing new about SA’s high crime rate and the negative effect this has on investment and business activity, as well as the country’s ability to retain its brightest and most entrepreneurial people.

But with each quarterly release of crime statistics by police minister Bheki Cele the message is rammed home more forcibly. The government’s efforts to attract investment will fall short of its ambitions if SA is not perceived as a safe place to live and to do business. At stake here is not only crime directly affecting businesses, such as truck hijackings, carjackings and graft. SA’s murder rate is seven times higher than the global average. That is a concern for any businessperson. So too are the high levels of rape and sexual assault.

The discourse on how to make SA a more attractive investment destination tends to be dominated by critical issues such as the need to tackle red tape and make it easier to do business, as well as to fix our ailing electricity, rail, port and road infrastructure. The crime rate has received less attention. But it is a crisis.

It is one that takes a heavy toll on SA’s crucial economic infrastructure, as the reports of endemic cable theft on the rail lines and alleged sabotage at Eskom indicate. And it deters investment and skills. It is a crisis that needs to be treated by the government as a matter of urgency. 

The figures for the January to March 2022 quarter released by Cele last week speak for themselves. Cash in transit robberies were up 26.2%, truck hijackings 31.4% and commercial crime 12% on the previous quarter, and the number of bank robberies escalated. The numbers were disturbing, with 53 (42 in the first quarter of 2021) cash-in-transit robberies, 465 (354) truck hijackings, five (one) bank robberies and 25,431 (22,558) incidents of commercial crime. The only positive trend was the 6.4% decline in burglaries of nonresidential premises.

No figures were given on the equally worrying theft of economic infrastructure, such as cable theft and vandalism, which also damages confidence and undermines economic growth and investment.

The number of murders increased 22% to 6,083, rape 13.7% to 10,818 and crimes against people 15% to 157,907. Nor are the well-secured suburbs of the wealthy immune: crime affects us all.

All of this creates an environment in which potential investors do not want to live and undermines attempts to lure them to SA. It also runs counter to the government’s commitment to halve violent crime by 2030.

Part of the problem must be laid at the door of poor policing, and one has to ask whether the department of police’s annual budget of about R100bn is being used effectively. Like all departments its budget has declined over the past few years due to the fiscal constraints on the government. It is just one of numerous competing priorities for an overburdened state. But it is also the case that the rise in some categories of crime is due to poor policing and poor management of the police service more generally.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and several of his ministers including police, justice and defence engaged with political parties last week to deal with their concerns about the security situation in the country. He acknowledged the extent and depth of the security challenges, with communities “under siege from criminals and gangsters, and rampant violence against women and children”. But there is little sign of the urgency or the resolve that we need.

If the government wants the economy to grow and create jobs, it needs to do much more to tackle the crime crisis.

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