Crime is a problem in South Africa. Yes, yes, laugh it up. Say “no duh!” or whatever else you need to, and then pay attention. Because, I am now pretty sure that crime is going to go down. Let me explain.
People often say that poverty causes crime but this isn’t precisely true. Even poor people in America are better off than most people on Earth (no, don’t argue with me, the simple fact that you can see this message means that you are wealthier than more than half the people on the planet). The fact is that there are many poor countries that don’t have high crime rates.
A more precise explanation would be that crime is often pushed by the following combination of factors: 1. A large gap between rich and poor, and 2. The perception amongst the poor that even if they work hard they have no chance of becoming rich.
Can you say ‘South Africa’? And ‘America’? And (probably) ‘the UK’? And, ok, a shitload of countries, I’m not going to list them all.
But, I hear you ask, if South Africa has buckets and buckets of the factors that promote crime then why do I believe that crime is going to drop? Well friends, everything in life is the result of the interplay between “push factors” (things that make something more likely to happen) and “pull factors” (things that make something less likely to happen). So even if a country has lots of push factors for crime these can be counterbalanced by pull factors against crime.
In ‘Freakanomics’ Stephen Levitt explores several of these and it seems to me that South Africa has, by coincidence or design, achieved a whole bunch of them all at once.
Not policing in general you understand, although that does seem to be generally improving as well, but the sheer NUMBER of police available. As I have often said: police, nurses and teachers are three groups of people who are absolutely vital for the running of any sane society, and yet few of them are given any respect and they are often neglected by society as a whole.
Over the past 10 years or so, in South Africa at least, one of these forms of neglect has been short-staffing. We simply didn’t have enough police (or teachers, or nurses) to do everything that needs to be done. As a result the police we did have were asked to work harder and harder and were paradoxically treated worse and worse.
It is no coincidence that South Africa has suffered a spate of murder-suicides involving police officers, and their families :(
But this shortage ironically lead to an improvement. When it was announced that we would host the World Cup one of the requirements of our tender was the training of TENS OF THOUSANDS of additional police.
One article I read stated that we had gained 55 000 additional police, an increase of roughly a quarter. Assuming these new cops are kept on the beat the SAPS will at last have sufficient work power to get the job done. Now, another law enforcement-related factor that discourages crime is harshness of punishment, and brother, we’ve got that too. No one, but NO ONE, wants to end up in a South African prison. They are overcrowded, oppressive, dangerous places that even career criminals want to avoid.