Tackling Violence in South Africa: The Context

Tackling Violence in South Africa: The Context – Learn how

Violence in South Africa - Facts and Figures

Violence is a global phenomenon. More than a million people die each year as a result of self-directed, interpersonal or collective violence. This makes violence one of the leading causes of death for people aged 15 to 44 years, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females. More than one third of these deaths are caused by homicides. High rates of intentional homicides have often been associated with extreme levels of inequality.

South Africa is among the countries with the highest inequalities worldwide – and high rates of violence. For the reporting period from April 2014 to March 2015, South Africa´s national crime statistics reveal that there had been 17,805 murder cases in the country, with the highest murder rate (per 100,000) in the Western Cape (52), followed by the Eastern Cape (49), Kwazulu-Natal (35) and the Northern Cape (35). The lowest murder rate was recorded in Limpopo (14). The national murder rate stands at 33 per 100,000 - up from 30 three years ago. Violence and crime are concentrated in the urban centres, like Johannesburg and Cape Town.

While all areas are affected by crime, community members and households in disadvantaged areas are particularly vulnerable. They generally must face crime without high walls and often without facilities such as proper public lighting and less access to security services. Here, the gross discrepancies between rich and poor and the 'spatial legacy of apartheid' are most obvious.

Gun violence in SA

For more information on gun violence, read "Guns and violence in South Africa"

According to the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS), firearms were involved in 30% of the homicides documented by the NIMSS in 2008.

The homicide rate in relation to firearms is declining faster than the general homicide rate, indicating a success of the gradual implementation of the Firearms Control Act of 2000.

"Attempts to mitigate fear have resulted increasingly in […] a withdrawal from public space. […] This ‘architecture of fear’ results in growing danger within the public domain and the increasing polarization of social groups."

Charlotte Lemanski

The country´s level of violence against children is among the highest in the world. There were 49,550 reported crimes against children between April 2012 and March 2013. Many more cases remain unreported.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to violence. According to the 2008 Youth Lifestyle Study conducted by CJCP, young people experience assault at more than 6 times the adult rate (8.4% for adults and 1.3% for youth), and robbery at more than double the rates observed among adults (5.7% and 2.1% respectively).

"Victims of violence are often violent towards others, and risk being caught up in cycles of violence. Young people who have been victims of violence are six times more likely to commit a crime than those who have not been victimized."

Patrick Burton, Lezanne Leoschut, Angela Bonora

In June 2009, 34,668 youths (among these, 872 were younger than 18) were incarcerated nationally - constituting 30% of the entire prison population. 55% of those incarcerated were accused of committing aggressive crime.

Women and children are especially prone to becoming victims of violence: According to a study by the MRC, every six hours a woman is killed in South Africa. A study undertaken in Gauteng in 2010 revealed that only one in 25 rapes had been reported to the police. One quarter of women questioned in the study had been raped in the course of their lifetimes. 

Many women are victims of domestic violence. Still, concrete figures are lacking, because domestic violence is not codified as a separate criminal offence in the South African legal system. Therefore it remains hidden in the statistical figures regarding assault.

How do South Africans perceive the situation?

In this regard, perception is critical because it relates to whether people feel safe, which is a vitally important indicator. According to the 2012 National Victims of Crime Survey, almost two-thirds of households believed that violent crime levels had increased or stayed the same in their area since 2009.

Gender and cultural background of the interviewees played an important role in regard to their perception of safety. 62.8% of the male interviewees felt safe when walking alone during the day, while only 37.2% of the female interviewees reported feeling safe while walking during the day.

Black female-headed households felt safer (40.5%) than coloured female-headed households (32.1%), white female-headed households (23.1%) or Indian/Asian female-headed households (16.3%). About 62% of the interviewees believed that burglaries and violent crimes were likely to be committed by people from their area. More than 66.5% of the interviewees believed the perpetrators were likely to be motivated by drug-related needs.

In observing trends in crime statistics, some types of crime have slightly increased while others have slightly declined. However, a general reduction in violence and crime has not been achieved, despite increasing budgets for law enforcement and security.

Between April 2012 and March 2013, there were 161,243 police officers (30 per 10,000 people15 and an additional 400,000 individuals employed in the private security sector allocated to provide security for firms, houses and even police stations. The budget allocations to the SAPS increased by 61% during five years between 2007/8 and 2011/12.

The cost of crime in South Africa (including medical, institutional, private security, economic costs and transfers) was estimated at US$ 22.1 billion or 7.8% of the GDP in 2007. The most burdensome costs of violence are carried by those who are most affected – the majority of people who cannot afford private security.

Why does violence occur?

Violence is an extremely complex and multi-causal phenomenon. Some of the most important factors are mentioned below.

How is inequality measured?

The GINI coefficient has become an international standard for measuring inequality according to the distribution of income in a society.

A GINI coefficient of zero means perfect equality (e.g. everyone has the same income), while a coefficient above .5 means strong inequality. A coefficient of 1 would theoretically mean: one person possesses everything, the rest of the population nothing.

The analysis of the context in which violence and crime occur is essential for us to understand and tackle violence:

  • South Africa suffers one of the world´s highest levels of inequality, with a GINI coefficient of 0.63. More than poverty, equality breaks down social cohesion and trust. When people who are deprived live alongside others who have excessive wealth, their sense of injustice and anger is often increased. The UK’s Equality Trust, citing various sources, show the links between high inequality and higher levels of violence.
  • Although it is a country with rich natural resources, South Africa has high levels of poverty – 39% of its population live on less than R418/month (poverty line). Many people cannot meet their basic needs because of insufficient income and the highly deficient delivery of basic services.
  • One reason for this, and a problem still to be solved, is the chronically high unemployment in the formal sector. More than 7.5 million youths live in a precarious NEET (not in education, employment and training) situation. A 2010 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) survey revealed that South Africa had the worst unemployment rate for young people between 15 and 24 among 36 countries surveyed in 2008, and that its 50% employment rate for working-age youths was lagging behind other middle-income emerging market economies, which employ about 80%.
Unemployment by age in the third quarter of 2013, figures published by Statistics South Africa
  • The figures show that 5,202,217 young people aged between 15 and 24 are unemployed, representing a rate of 49.9% of this age group. Among those aged between 25 and 34,, there are still more than 2,500,000 unemployed, 30% of all people in that age group. When we consider the fact that half of South Africa´s population is under 25, these figures show the need for urgent action, to improve the situation for South Africa´s youth. Jay Naidoo, among others former General Secretary, Congress of South African Trade Unions, `and former Chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, states in the “World Development Report 2011, Conflict, Security and Development”:

“In addition to successes, there were opportunities missed which may be of use when other countries consider South Africa´s experiences. This included too little attention to job creation for youth and risks of criminal violence.

It meant that we did not fully address the critical need to ensure that the new generation who had not lived through the apartheid struggle as adults were provided with a strong stake – and economic opportunities – in the new democratic state”.

World Bank: World Development Report 2011 – Conflict, Security, and Development.

  •  Employment dynamics affect not only the income but also the respect and status, involving social cohesion and economic opportunity.

“There is research that indicates that crime, and often violent crime, is a primary means for many young South Africans to connect and bond with society, to acquire “respect”, “status”, sexual partners and to demonstrate “achievement” among their peers and in their communities”.

Eric Pelser

  • Social and political exclusion and marginalisation affect young people particularly, causing problems rather than opportunities. Government’s “National Development Plan – Vision for 2030” starts to shift the perspective towards a positive view on youth.
  • Government institutions fail to support a positive youth socialisation, e.g. within the education system.
  • Masculine identities often promote the use of violence, meaning “a man has a right to be violent”.
  • South Africa has one of the highest alcohol consumption levels per drinker in the world. Much of the worst violence occurs as a result of alcohol and drug abuse. Many victims are also rendered vulnerable by alcohol.
  • Easy access to firearms contributes to high rates of armed violence. 
  • The legacy of apartheid and colonialism serve as a background relevant to high violence and crime rates in the country today. This is a complex topic: colonial racial oppression over centuries, violent state repression and institutionalised racism under the apartheid system, as well as migrant labour and influx control systems adversely affecting family structures and social cohesion, and the impunity of criminals in the townships under apartheid, are just some aspects related to violence and crime.
  • In this context, a culture of violence is often cited as penetrating daily life everywhere. It does not mean the cultures in South Africa have a violent character, but violence has become a part of daily life.

A culture of violence – what does that mean?

Many researchers on violence concur that the core of the problem of violence and crime in South Africa is a culture of violence, which needs to be seen and understood in the context of an extremely violent past. A culture of violence means: a majority of children and young people grow up in an environment in which violence is part of daily life.

  • Violence within families, between parents, and parents being violent towards their children;
  • Violence at school and on the street, on TV and other media, video games glorifying violence;
  • Violence as a means to deal with one´s feeling of inferiority or as a means to create a feeling of belonging, for instance to a youth gang;
  • Violence of men against girls and women as part of expressing one's masculine identity; and 
  • Violence which has been considered by people supporting apartheid, and people fighting against it, as a 'legitimate means' to achieve one´s political purposes over decades.

In a culture of violence, violence is seen as a normal and inevitable part of daily life. This can and needs to be changed, step by step.

Legislative, Policy and Strategic Response to Violence Prevention

Violence and crime prevention have been priority topics for South Africa´s governments since 1994. The present government defined as one of its 12 strategic, high-level outcomes:

“All people in South Africa are and feel safe.”

The "White Paper on Safety and Security", developed by the South African Government in 1998, provides a helpful distinction between two perspectives and approaches to reduce and prevent violence and crime:

  1. Crime prevention through effective criminal justice, including strong law enforcement on the one hand and
  2. Social crime prevention on the other.

Crime Prevention through Effective Criminal Justice

Reduces the opportunity for crime by making it more difficult to commit crimes, more risky or less rewarding. Effective law enforcement creates a strong deterrent to crime.

How is it achieved?

  • Justice system acts as a deterrent
  • Law enforcement
  • Rehabilitation and reintegration
  • Active visible policing (e.g. through CPFs)
  • Successful investigations
  • Victim empowerment

Who is responsible?

  • All levels of government
  • All government departments, particularly those engaged in the National Crime Prevention Strategy
  • South African Police Service

The Community Policing Forums (CPFs), as a new form of partnership in policing, should serve different purposes:

  • to consider the perceptions of the citizens regarding crime and safety in the planning of the respective SAPS stations,
  • to strengthen co-operation between police and citizens in practical policing of neighbourhoods,
  • and to be an instrument of law enforcement and crime control.

Social Crime Prevention

Reduces the socio-economic and environmental factors that influence people to commit crimes and become persistent offenders.

How is it achieved?

  • Designing out crime (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design – CPTED)
  • Education
  • Promoting social cohesion
  • Supporting youth and families and groups at risk
  • Breaking cycles of violence
  • Promoting individual responsibility
  • Socio-economic interventions to undercut causes of crime

Who is responsible?

  • All levels of government
  • Government departments such as Housing, Education, Welfare, Health
  • Municipalities
  • National Crime Prevention Strategy
  • Organisations of civil society
  • Citizens and residents of South Africa.

The Community Safety Forums (CSFs) are designed to serve as a platform for coordination, integration and monitoring of the implementation of multi-sectoral crime prevention and community safety initiatives. The CPFs can be one of the members of the CSFs, as can CBOs or other members of civil society. 

The CSF is an important instrument with coordinating function in integrated safety and violence prevention programmes. The vision according to the new CSF policy points clearly in that direction.

At the time of writing in 2015, the "White Paper on Safety and Security (1998)" was being revised and the reviewed "Draft White Paper for Safety and Security (2015)" together with the new "Draft White Paper on the Police (2015)" is in the making. 

Although already in 1994, the government had started to develop policies and strategies based on a holistic understanding of violence and crime prevention, the perspective narrowed to an strong focus on crime control and law enforcement between 1999 and 2011, accompanied by respective strategies and policies.

Development of policy frameworks over time

The National Development Plan - Vision 2030

Formerly endorsed by government in September 2012, the "National Development Plan – Vision for 2030" addresses the main problems South Africa faces today, and proposes strategies to overcome these with a long-term perspective.

Crucial root causes of crime and violence, such as youth unemployment, a deficient education system, corruption, severe gaps in the system of social protection and still-prevailing unequal opportunities, as well as a high proportion of the population which cannot satisfy its basic needs, are addressed – though not under the umbrella of social crime and violence prevention.

In this overarching national document, perhaps for the first time in a national document, youth is not dealt with as "a problem". Young South Africans are rather seen as “an unused opportunity and potential” for the country´s future. This can give rise to a necessary shift away from further marginalisation and stigmatisation of youth towards supporting the youth as socially responsible and productive citizens.

The building of safer communities is addressed in a specific chapter, linking safety to the necessity of strengthening the criminal justice system, including a substantial change in the police force, e.g. through the establishment of a "code of conduct" for police service members, and a "civilianising" of the police, which “from 2000, […] gradually started reverting to a semblance of a paramilitary force” instead of a police serving the community.

Opportunities for real change

In 2015, with the new and revised "White Paper on Safety and Security" and the "White Paper on the Police", the Civilian Secretariat for Police drafted two new frameworks that help to distinguish between law enforcement and prevention approaches to violence. The integration of both approaches and the contributions of all national, provincial and local stakeholders is crucial for operationalising the vision outlined in the NDP.

Despite an obvious paradigm shift in national strategic and political documents on violence and crime prevention since 2011, there are still many structures and policies that have not undergone this shift, including the attitudes and understanding of those involved in these structures.

A closer look at the outputs, formulated for government outcome 3: ‘All people in South Africa are and feel safe’ reveals that none of them refer to ensuring safety in the broader sense, as described for instance in the National Development Plan. Instead they all focus on law-enforcement measures rather than daring to emphasise measures with long-term effects, and they reveal a continuing lack of coherence of policies and strategies in th prevention of violence and crime.

Furthermore, it still needs a "translation" of the mentioned strategies and policies into practical and comprehensive regulations and guidelines, including programmes of capacity development. Those who are in charge with the practical realisation of integrated social violence and crime prevention on all levels, from the local to the national, need to be equipped with the necessary tools and know-how about its use.

Yet the strategic documents, developed since 2011, can become an important national reference frame for violence prevention and safety initiatives, which emerge from government-civil society cooperation and cooperation across sectors. Recent policies and strategies have significant potential to advance integrated prevention of social violence and crime, with a focus on local communities. This provides opportunities for real change.

Municipalities and the Community Safety Fora

The CSFs shall provide a “platform for coordination, integration and monitoring of the implementation of multi-sectoral crime-prevention and community safety initiatives”.

Developed in 2011 by the Civilian Secretariat for Police, the “Community Safety Forums Policy” concretises the role and responsibilities of the Community Safety Fora (CSFs) as an entity, which can assume a crucial role in community-based violence-prevention initiatives. 

The CSFs can play a crucial role if its members clearly understand their roles and responsibilities, and have learnt how to translate them into action.

Capacity development of the CSFs, access to necessary financial resources, clear definitions of roles and responsibilities of the different players involved, and an improved crosssectoral as well as government-civil society communication, co-ordination and co-operation are essential.

Local governments have a mandate to provide community safety, and several legal and political documents refer to its responsibilities and roles in this field (mentioned in green in below figure):

Some stakeholders for community safety and relevant legal and political documents

A central instrument in the hands of local governments is the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) and as part of it, the Safety Plan.

Aligning Systemic Violence Prevention with Integrated Development Planning

Integrated Development Plan (IDP): Integrated development planning is a process through which municipalities prepare a “single, inclusive and strategic plan for the development of the municipality” for a five-year period. A municipality must establish a forum that will enhance community participation in drafting the IDP, as well as monitoring its implementation.

For the development of IDPs in South African municipalities, crime is a cross-cutting issue, together with poverty and HIV/AIDS. At the same time, safety and thus violence and crime prevention, is a separate sector under the IDP, with its own sector-specific safety plan. Therefore, there are two parallel ways of integrating safety into the IDP:

  1. To analyse and integrate safety issues as cross-cutting issues into each of the IDP sectors: this means for instance to raise questions like: where and how is safety positively or nrgativel affected by transport, housing, gender or environmental plans, etc.?
  2. To analyse safety issues and integrate strategies in a separate sector-specific safety plan, as part of the IDP. The safety plan is entirely devoted to increasing safety.

Selected tools from this toolkit can be used in both processes. The phases of systemic violence and crime prevention correspond with those of the development of a safety plan. The approach, however, is different.

Systemic violence and crime prevention and safety planning

Integrating a Process of Systemic Violence Prevention Planning with the Process of Development of IDPs

Integration of systemic violence prevention in the IDP process

What works in violence prevention?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has undertaken research in the field of violence and violence prevention for many years. In 2010, the WHO published a summary of research results on the effectiveness of violence-prevention interventions.

For an overview on the evaluation results that shows different kinds of intervention and their impact on specific types of violence, download this table.

There is a lot that practitioners from different countries can learn from each other’s experiences. And it makes sense to have a closer look at country-specific features.

Each region and each community has very specific ways in which circumstances and conditions have unfolded, and a very specific set of local resources and sources of resilience to build on. This means: a thorough analysis of each situation is needed, and planning
of measures by the people whose situation will be improved is essential.

We cannot take a short-cut and use general evidence instead of specific analysis. Nevertheless, general conclusions can provide helpful insights for analysis and planning.

Two South African perspectives are shown in the table below:

  • The national perspective of the Integrated Social Crime Prevention Strategy, with 13 prioritised focal areas for interventions on all levels, including national, provincial, district and municipal governmental structures, and
  • A local perspective with nine prioritised themes for community safety.

Focus areas for intervention, proposed by the Integrated Social Crime-Prevention Strategy (2011)

  1. Families
  2. Early Childhood Development (ECD)
  3. Social assistance and support for pregnant women and girls
  4. Child abuse, neglect and exploitation
  5. Domestic violence and victim-empowerment programmes
  6. Victim support and dealing with trauma
  7. Community mobilisation and development
  8. Dealing with substance abuse
  9. HIV & AIDS, and feeding and health programmes
  10. Social crime-prevention programmes
  11. Extended public works programme (EPWP)
  12. Schooling
  13. Gun violence prevention, reduction and law enforcement

Themes for the development of indicators for community safety from the Open Society Foundation South Africa's "Crime and Safety Project"

  1. Sustainable forums for coordinated action on community safety
  2. Access to essential services for safety
  3. A community free of drug and alcohol abuse
  4. A healthy start: pre-school children and their guardians
  5. A safe and supportive environment for children and youth
  6. A safe and supportive environment for women
  7. Safety in streets and neighbourhoods
  8. Meeting basic economic needs
  9. A weapon-free community

There are numerous examples of successful violence and crime-prevention initiatives in South Africa. Very often these are community-based, with a holistic perspective on violence and crime, and their prevention.

Additionally, some organisations have developed helpful guidelines and manuals to support practitioners in violence and crime-prevention initiatives to plan and realise their projects.

References

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More Helpful Links:

The Open Society Foundation South Africa´s Crime and Safety Project website offers relevant policy briefs, e.g., on community participation and M&E of community safety projects.

The OSF-SA's Key Findings Booklet provides an overview of the main learnings from three project sites. It summarises the findings as well as the suggestions for improvements in each of nine safety themes developed by each community, and after extensive research into international best practice.

WHO poster series: