Is S.Africa’s crime prevention funding misdirected? - CNBC Africa

Is S.Africa’s crime prevention funding misdirected?

Southern Africa

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South African Police Service

With Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's mid-term budget speech on Wednesday, analysts are questioning whether the funds allocted to the defense, public order and safety divisions for this year are being misappropriated?

“What they [the government] haven’t done effectively over the past ten years is to identify funds that could specifically be spent on crime prevention,” senior researcher, Chandre Gould, told ABN Digital in an exclusive interview.

When it comes to the criminal justice system in South Africa, certain divisions are well funded, such as the South Africa Police Service (SAPS) and the Department of Correctional Services.

South Africa’s national budget expenditure

Evidence of this reflects in the South African Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan’s, annual budget speech for this year. He highlighted that SAPS received 2.5 billion rand over the mid-term expenditure framework to improve detective and forensic capability while the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development received 1.2 billion rand to revamp the criminal justice sector.

These funds may assist the country in getting justice for the victims affected by crimes by putting more criminals behind bars. However, the main concern is whether the increased funding into these government divisions are ultimately preventing violent crimes in the country?

According to Gould, violent crime prevention is not a matter that can be addressed effectively by the criminal justice system alone as they fail to unravel the root or source of violent crimes in South Africa.

“We’re seeing the criminal justice system as the solution to crime and violence in South Africa rather than looking at what we need to do to prevent crime from happening in the first place because the police and the criminal justice system only really kick in after the crime has been committed,” she explained.

While crime prevention in the context of policing works in some areas, such as in combating commercial crime, it does not work when dealing with malicious and violent crimes such as murders, armed robberies and car hijackings, which have become prominent features of today’s South African society.

South Africa’s crime statistics 2013

Looking at the national crime statistics for 2013, murders, business and house robberies as well as car hijackings all increased during the past financial year 2012/3.

Based on these statistics, it is clear that a violent crime prevention strategy or policy is yet to be drawn up by the South African government.

“If you look at violence as being a societal problem that needs addressing, I don’t think that we have clearly identified what it is that we should be spending our money on and how much we would require in order to put in place the kind of prevention policies that are needed if we want to reduce violence in South Africa,” said Gould.

Crime prevention solutions

In search of the appropriate crime prevention strategy, she proposed, a good base to start off from would be for public spending to rather be directed towards researching and identifying the risk factors and social circumstances that give life to crime.

South Africa is embedded in a culture of violence. It has become the norm to witness or become a victim of violence with no support or counselling provided.  

For example, children that are exposed to violence in their homes, communities and schools tend to resort to violence as a means to deal with their problems at a later stage.  At the moment, violence in schools has been overlooked by government when it should be cause for major concern.

“We see no change in levels of school violence over the past five years and that is something that we need to be addressing,” explained Gould.

 A solution would be for public funds to be spent on trauma counselling and supporting children, families and care givers that have witnessed acts of violence. According to Gould, this is the first step in undoing the normalisation of violence in South Africa.

Another important note, she added, is that due to the culture of violence in the country, it is not surprising that the South African police force tend to be more militant in nature.

Police brutality and violence being used as crime prevention tactics raises the question on whether that is what South Africans envisioned for their country after becoming a democratic nation nearly two decades ago.

“The issue that we should be concerned about is that whether the police are being transformed into the kind of police service we hoped to see almost 20 years into democracy? The intention after 1995 was to see a more civilian police service that was in service of the people, that were conscious of human rights and that had the need to protect human rights,” said Gould.

According to her research, South Africans are still calling for a police force that will respond quickly to an incident, will treat them with respect and listen with concern when recording a crime.

“The questions that we need to be asking ourselves now is have we achieved the kind of change that we had hoped to achieve? I think we will find that we are still falling short,” she added.