In my many visits to the beautiful country of South Africa one of the things that I was struck by was the proliferation of violent crime. The situation seems to have reached truly alarming proportions where people have lost all sense of safety and are in a state of siege. The situation appears to be at a stage that if it is not tackled effectively and urgently it can easily result in a total meltdown of civilized society. The most ‘alarming’ thing in my view is the ‘acceptance’ of the situation that I heard in the tones and words of the many people, who seem to be getting resigned to the situation. I remind myself that in the presence of injustice, the truly alarming sign is the lack of will to fight against the injustice. That is the truest guarantee that injustice will prevail in the land. As long as there are those who fight against injustice, those who perpetrate it, need to fear the consequences of their actions. When that fight stops, then the criminals will rule the world.
The classic example of this is the difference in the stance of people, between Tibet versus South Africa in the apartheid regime. In the former, the people of Tibet tacitly accepted Chinese occupation. And so, it remains under the heel of Communist China with no hope of ever becoming free. On the other hand, in South Africa, the oppressed people fought against the oppression and though it took 50 years and the lives of countless martyrs, South Africa is free. For as long as the fight continues, there is hope for those who believe in justice and freedom. This shows us that the first thing to do in the fight against crime in South Africa is for the people who are law abiding citizens, not to lose hope and never to accept the current status quo. It is their duty to continue to look for ways to make South African society a place that the criminal fears. Not the law-abiding citizen.
Multi-pronged accelerated Strategy
I am not going into a detailed analysis of the causes of violent crime. I believe these reasons are clear to all those who know the history of this beautiful country and all those who fought and laid down their lives to create a land where people can live with dignity, in freedom. The martyrs of the freedom struggle did not die to create a situation where the normal, law abiding person still has to fear for his or her life and dignity. To change this situation is the responsibility of those who inherited a free South Africa. In my view crime in South Africa must be tackled at multiple levels. The objective must be to remove or reduce the ‘need’ for crime and make it as difficult as possible to commit it. This must be supported by very tough policing which raises the stake for those who commit crimes. And finally, a judicial system that is swift in its disposal of cases so that criminals pay a fair price for their crimes. It must be remembered that the purpose of law is to make it safe and comfortable for the law-abiding citizen to live in society.
Not to make it safe for the criminal to commit crimes and then to hide behind the cloak of fairness and justice. It was the criminal’s choice to breach good faith and violate the law of the land. And for this he must pay a price that is not only ‘fair’ in the context of the crime that he committed but becomes a deterrent for any aspiring criminals who may seek to emulate this ‘easy’ way to earn a living by preying on people.
1. Partner with Companies to alleviate poverty and create employment
The historical reasons for poverty are clear to all those who live in South Africa. I will not go into them here as we are more concerned with ways to solve the problems. Poverty breeds crime. It is not that rich people are intrinsically honest but that if people are extremely poor, then respecting other’s life and property becomes more an academic argument that is easily lost sight of in the search to fill the belly. We know for a fact that the government is truly concerned with doing all it can, to alleviate poverty. What needs to be done is to get citizens involved in the process as well. A very successful model that has been adopted in India voluntarily by some corporate organizations is to adopt villages. This means that the company pays for schools, hospitals, cheap housing, roads & drains and all welfare civil work as well as to create employment opportunities for the people. Some companies have also entered the area of micro-credit and entrepreneurship development. They also work to introduce better farming methods, seeds, fertilizers and so on. The government allows the company to deduct some or all of the expenses incurred from its taxes. These are all hugely empowering programs and since companies are compensated for what they spend there is an eagerness to contribute.
2. Police Training & Citizen Partnership
Once again, I draw on the Indian example because it parallels the South African one. In some ways, the Indian situation is more complicated and the forces of corruption are more entrenched. After all we have had more than 200 years of practice. However mercifully violent crime is still a rarity in India and holdups and robberies South Africa style are seen mostly on the screen in Bollywood movies. The way the government has tackled this is by setting up an elite officer cadre called the IPS (Indian Police Service). This consist of cadets who are recruited on the basis of a very tough examination at the all India level (called the Union Public Service Commission exam) that allows successful candidates to enter the bureaucracy in different ‘Services’ like the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Audit & Accounts Service (IAAS) and so on. The minimum qualification to appear for the examination is a graduate degree. Most applicants are post graduates.
The written exam which is conducted anonymously is number driven. Competition is at least 1/300. Following this, there is a personal interview with a board comprised of serving and retired officers. Once the candidate passes this he or she enrolls into a very intensive 2-year training program consisting of both college study in the different Service Academies (for the different services) and field training in real-life situations. At the end of that period they formally enter the Indian Police Service. These officers are supposed to be of higher quality and more dedicated and committed than the rank and file that is recruited apart from the UPSC exam route. I say, ‘supposed to be’ because this is not always the case, but the system itself is an excellent one.
I suggest that a similar system be created for the South African Police where highly qualified young people are recruited into a fast-track officer cadre and then intensively trained to become career service professionals. I am personally involved with training IPS Officers at the Indian National Police Academy in Hyderabad, India and can say that we can do wonders with the right training. When these officers take charge, they will change the face of policing.
Simultaneously with training the officer cadre it is essential to start a Police-Public Network where citizens become the eyes and ears of the police and partner with them to solve crime. Citizens must be armed and formed into policing committees with some police officers accompanying them. There must be frequent interaction between police and the public in informal settings to build bridges and create an atmosphere of mutual trust. Religious leaders must take a lead role in this and have interaction with local police officers as a part of their religious event calendars. If enough awareness and openness is created then it makes it difficult for police officers to be corrupt or to support criminals.
3. Education: Moral and ethical code of behavior
The third element of the strategy to fight crime is to work on the minds of the young ones by introducing and strengthening their code of moral and ethical behavior. This may be done both through religious and faith organizations as well as through the secular school system. The key is to help them see the value of morals and ethics in their own lives. For this, apart from theoretical instruction it is very useful to have an exchange program where children from backgrounds which are high crime, deprivation and lack of good parental models visit homes where there is a strong sense of family, moral and ethical behavior is clearly evident and the home has a sense of harmony and safety about it. When children see these models and experience love, respect, concern for one another and good manners, they start to see the value of these things and theoretical instruction starts to make meaning.
4. Fast-track Courts to handle criminal offences
The fourth and last element in the strategy to fight crime is to create fast-track courts to handle criminal offences. These courts must naturally insist on proper investigation and following of due process of law but must dispose of the cases without any delay. The sentences handed out must be in relation to the seriousness of the crime. More serious the crime, more severe the sentence. The death penalty must be reinstated (even if it is done temporarily) for all convictions of murder and rape. This may seem harsh but in my view the torment and suffering that innocent women undergo when they are raped is far more. As also is the torment of the families of those who are murdered in cold blood for no fault of theirs by criminals who have no concern for either the law of the land or for the lives and dignity of people. As I have said earlier, the purpose of law is to protect the one who abides by it. Not the one who breaks and violates it. The law breaker must feel the pain of breaking the law which he chose to break without any compulsion from anyone. It is his choice. And all choices have a price tag.
We get what we pay for. What we support, grows. It is essential to ensure therefore that we don’t support lawbreaking and lawless behavior no matter who does it. And to ensure that the lawbreaker pays a price that is at least equal to the harm that he has caused. Only then will we be able to create a society that is safe for those who respect the law.
As you can see, the situation of crime in South Africa is complex in terms of the reasons behind it and needs solutions that are multi-pronged. Some of them must be empowered by legislation or ordinances. Others by training and education. The situation is grave enough to warrant all the energy that we can put behind these efforts.