Non-state solutions to crime are now essential

Gideon-Joubert copy

The following opinion piece was written by Gideon Joubert, independent security consultant, firearms instructor and head of security projects at Sakeliga.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) recently made headline news, but yet again for all the wrong reasons. The Department of Labour declared the building which houses the SAPS headquarters in Pretoria as “unfit for human use”, resulting in the evacuation and closure of the premises. The Department inspected the property alongside representatives of Solidarity’s Occupational Health and Safety division, and found it to be in such a disgraceful state of disrepair and uncleanliness that it ordered it to be shut down.

Bizarrely, this state of affairs was well-known to the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, who admits he has been working from home for the past four years due to the “terrible” state of the SAPS building.

The unsanitary condition of the police headquarters, and the fact that nobody in a position of authority (not even the minister) did anything at all to address it, is emblematic of the broader and far deeper problems in the SAPS itself. The organisation appears to be teetering on the brink of wholesale dysfunction.

To list but a few of the numerous serious and debilitating crises presently besetting the SAPS:

Sakeliga's Mission: Building Scalable Solutions to State Failure

These extensive failures of policing are not merely bullet points for a theoretical discussion, they translate into alarming real-world consequences affecting everyone. Conviction rates for serious and violent crimes have declined to such a low level, that in some instances they can be considered entirely negligible.

For example, the NPA claims a successful prosecution rate of 80% for murder and 83% for trio crimes – the combined category of robberies at residential premises, robbery at non-residential premises, and vehicle hijacking. However, the NPA prosecute only a small fraction of total reported cases annually: just 3738 murder cases out of 27 494 murders committed in the 2022/23 financial year were prosecuted, or just under 14%.

Even at 80% successful prosecution, this only means 11% of all murder cases ending in a successful conviction.

Trio crimes fare even worse. Of more than 65 800 trio crime incidents in 2022/23, only 1034 were successfully prosecuted. Therefore, robberies at residential premises, robbery at non-residential premises, and vehicle hijacking have an average conviction rate of less than 1,6%.

But this only paints a partial picture. South Africa has a significant problem pertaining the underreporting of crime. The public has little faith and extremely low levels of trust in the police, and in some cases outright fear of them, which translates into a staggeringly large proportion of crimes (even violent confrontational ones) that are simply not reported to police.

In October 2018, the previous National Commissioner of Police, Khehla Sitole, told Parliament that the SAPS has an “overstretched mandate, impossible to fulfil”. It is clear that matters have only deteriorated further since then.

As a result, there are almost no meaningful consequences for violent criminality – and therefore little to no cost attached to perpetrating crime – from the state’s criminal justice system. If crime is made cheaper, then one can certainly expect an abundance of it – as is attested by the country’s worsening annual and quarterly crime statistics.

The solution cannot be solely to put more pressure on the state to reform the police service. Since at least 2010, the state has demonstrated precious little will or ability to reverse the failure of the SAPS, and the organisation has suffered continuous and visible deterioration. It is therefore unlikely that those responsible for such negligence in managing the institution can or should be entrusted to turn it around.

Instead, concerned communities will have to look to non-state solutions to address the mounting crisis of crime and chaos. There are already numerous private role-players in communities throughout the country that have achieved great success through private initiative and action.

There is much we can learn from these inspiring civilian responses on the road towards building solutions to defeat crime and chaos. We will highlight some of those initiatives in forthcoming articles.

There has perhaps never been a more crucial time than now to start building alternative security structures.