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Causes of crime in South Africa

March 12, 2022

A survey about crime in South Africa conducted by Statistics South Africa focusing on crime stats, has listed the crimes which South Africans are most afraid to fall victim to in the country.

The [Victims of Crime Survey for 2014/2015] looked at home security in private households from all nine provinces in South Africa, and provides information about the dynamics (rather than the causes of crime in South Africa) of crime from the perspective of these households and victims of crime. As part of the survey, households and individuals were asked about violence in South Africa, which crimes they believe are the most common – and which crimes they are most afraid of becoming victims of in the country.

Looking at the crime data released by the SAPS in September 2015 for the reporting period 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015, the most common reported crime in the country – excluding drug related crime – is house robbery and burglary at residential premises, which saw just under 254,000 cases open in 2014/15. The survey data shows that South Africans at large are apparently well aware of this, as most citizens accurately perceived this to be the most common crime in South Africa.

More than six in every 10 households (65.9%) perceived the most common crime to be housebreaking/burglary, followed by house robbery (42.7%), street robbery (42.1%) and pick-pocketing or bag-snatching (26.0%).

When it comes to crimes most feared, however, things look slightly different. While housebreaking/burglary and home robbery (i.e. robbery when the occupants are at home) and street robbery were perceived to be the most feared crimes, the actual fear of murder and sexual assault also feature highly. Chandre Gould, a researcher from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), interviewed South African prisoners to try to understand the underlying problem with crime and violence in South Africa.

If you’re interested in getting involved and contributing to early childhood development, please visit Cape Town Embrace. With thanks to Rebecca Davis and the Daily Maverick www.dailymaverick.co.za for the original article.

Why do people turn to crime and violence?

We know that it’s not just poverty, because poorer countries than South Africa do not have similarly acute crime epidemics. “Inequality”, similarly, seems too simplistic an answer, according to Gould.

So, in a quest for greater understanding, Gould interviewed convicts who have been sentenced to prison terms for multiple crimes, at least one of which was violent in nature. “From that, I have come to see more clearly the factors that lead to men following lives of crime,” she says.

These factors invariably start very early in life. The loss of a parent or caregiver often features; more critical is the failure of parents to properly engage with infants and children. Gould found that many of her interviewees had experienced violence in their childhood homes. “Most were alienated early on from people and structures of authority,” she says.

Elmarie Malek, head of general paediatrics at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town says there is abundant evidence to support the idea that early childhood can be critical in shaping a later propensity for crime and violence in South Africa. Exposure at that time to what experts call “Toxic Stress” can have a significant negative impact. Malek describes toxic stress as “strong, ongoing, unrelieved stress in the absence of the buffering role that a caring adult plays”. This stress affects neural structures and can quite literally change brain architecture.

Such stress, Malek says, can be the effect of extreme poverty; neglect; abuse; or mental health problems on the part of the mother, such as depression or alcoholism. She emphasises that this is not just a problem associated with poverty: it could also apply to mothers who are isolated due to violent partners, parents who are very young, or parents who suffer from low self-esteem.

When very young children are continuously neglected, deprived of caring engagement and subjected to stressful environments, the brain areas responsible for learning and reasoning are affected. Lower confidence at school follows as a result, and behaviour can start to be affected. Such children begin to be classed as “problematic”.

“It sets in motion a whole chain of events that can become an ongoing downward spiral,” Malek explains. “There is definitely a link between the science around brain development and outputs for risk for criminality, anti-social behaviour and mental health problems.” Not every child who is exposed to toxic stress will become a criminal, she says, but that initial “dose of adversity” can significantly increase the risk.

Malek says that the need for children to grow up in stable and engaging environments can’t be overstated: spaces in which there is at least one caring adult available on a long-term basis to create a solid bond with the infant and respond to its cues. Such an adult does not have to be the child’s parent; it could be a grandmother, other relative or non-related caregiver. “We need to all be investing in everybody’s children,” Malek says.

Among the policy implications for the link between Toxic Stress exposure and later criminality are the need to screen pregnant families early on to identify those who may be at risk, Malek says. More education is needed about the importance of early childhood development, and the fact that the brain reaches 80% of its potential in the first two years after birth.

Malek suggests greater attention also needs to be paid to the issue of paternal and maternal work leave, to give parents the financial space to spend this crucial early time with children. From a government funding perspective, Malek believes the weight needs to tilt towards early childhood development, rather than education much later down the track. “Economically, we’d do better placing the emphasis on this early time,” she says. Both Malek and Gould are convinced that the key to tackling South Africa’s crime problem is by paying closer attention to the manner in which infants spend their first days.

“If we don’t take care of those early years of life, we are just pushing the problem of crime to the next generation,” Gould warns.

Types of crimes in South Africa

There are many types of crime that affect the lives of South Africans, and having a better understanding of these categories of crime can help you better prepare for them. While crime is an ever-present issue in South Africa, knowledge is the first step towards making your life safer and more secure. 

Contact Crimes (Crimes against the person)

Contact crimes are the most scary types of crimes. As the name suggests these are crimes where you come into direct contact with the criminal. This means these are the most violent forms of crime, and because they are often opportunistic, they are hard to avoid. They include murder, sexual offences, attempted murder, assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm, common assault, common robbery, and robbery with aggravating circumstances. 

For these types of crimes vigilance is your best defense. Stay aware of your surroundings, and don’t put yourself into situations where you are at greater risk. While this may not always be possible, as a South African you need to adapt your habits to be mindful of these sorts of crimes.

Contact Related Crimes

Contact related crimes refer to destructive crimes against property with arson and malicious damage to property. There are a number of measures you can take to reduce your chances of falling victim to this type of crime. The most obvious thing you can do is to improve the security of the property in question. Ensure that you have security in place to prevent access to the property itself. This means locked gates, and secure walls. It is also prudent to install deterrents such as alarms, motion sensor lights and cameras.

Property Related Crimes

Property related crimes can loosely be divided into three categories: crimes at a residential property, crimes involving your motor vehicle, and finally, crimes relating to stock theft. While the last two categories are important we would like to focus on the first one. Specifically, burglaries at residential and non-residential properties. This is one of the most common forms of crime and one where South Africans can take a number of measures to improve their security. We have already spoken about measures such as armed response, security systems and improved access control, but every layer of security you add to your property makes it that little bit more secure. The LockLatch family of devices are a great way to do exactly that. These devices can be fitted onto any type of window or door to make your space a bit more secure and stop opportunistic burglars in their tracks.

Crimes Detected as a Result of Police Action

The final crime category we wish to cover are crimes detected as the result of police action, these include illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, drug related crimes, driving under the influence, and sexual offences detected as the result of police action. While these crimes are not something that you as an individual can really take measures to avoid, they are a great reminder of the hard work the South African Police Services perform to try and make our lives a little safer.

How does LockLatch aid in home-related crimes in SA?

When we run through the psychology, causes and types of crimes plaguing South Africa, it is important to remember that the majority of crimes aren’t committed by syndicates or criminal masterminds. Our crime rate is a direct reflection of the inequality and poverty in our country and because of this most criminals are opportunists looking for an easy target. 

By taking small measures to improve the security of your space you can go a long way to ensuring that these criminals are discouraged. If they hit obstacles there is a very good chance they will move on in search of a softer target. This is where a product such as LockLatch shines. It is a simple, cost effective and universal means to secure your property and if your property is more secure, you are not only protected against property related crimes, but also less likely to be a victim of contact crimes that target homes such as robbery and sexual assault. 

So invest in a LockLatch today and take your first step towards living a safer more secure life.

 

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