When the crime statistics were released, South Africans, and indeed the international news media, were horrified to discover that Cape Town was crowned the murder capital of the continent.
That’s right, the whole of Africa.
The crime is at its worst in Nyanga, a Cape Town township that has been revealed as one of the world’s most dangerous places outside of a war zone.
Bloomberg‘s Michael Cohen and Paul Vecchiatto went behind the lines to get to the bottom of what it’s like living in Nyanga. They started by interviewing Siyabonga Mrwetyana, who rushes home every day to bolt his doors before the sun goes down.
“In the winter time, I must be in bed by six o’clock,” the 45-year-old unemployed builder, who’s been robbed more than 20 times, said in an interview in the settlement of shacks, cramped cinder-block houses and low-rise apartments. “I’m scared. It’s not safe.”
Nyanga is at ground zero of the explosion of crime in South Africa, where the scourge ranks among the world’s worst — the national murder rate of 35,2 per 100,000 people is more than six times higher than that of the U.S. and the highest in nine years.
An average of 56 homicides a day were reported in the 12 months through March. Over the same period in Nyanga, police logged 308 murders, 1,910 assaults and more than 2,000 robberies there.
While this might surprise the millions of tourists who flock to Cape Town every year, locals are getting wise to the dangers around them.
Heads up – yesterday we published a list of high-risk crime areas on Table Mountain.
So what is behind the spike in crime and violence? Criminologist and researcher at the University of Cape Town, Anine Kriegler, says that the stark inequality, lack of access to schooling and jobs has bred “a real sense of frustration and rage”.
More than 40 percent of those aged from 15 to 24 weren’t working or studying, well above the national average — a statistic born out by the throngs of people loitering in the litter-strewn streets.
Residents blame the crime on the young people, hooked on crystal meth. Intermittent taxi wars, rising rates of domestic abuse, and excessive drinking also contribute to the violence.
“The police have had virtually no presence and crime intelligence has barely been functioning,” said Dalli Weyers, co-head of programs at the Social Justice Coalition, which campaigns for improved safety and rights for poor communities. “It’s a very brutalized community. There’s been a culture of neglect.”
South Africa’s crime crisis can in part be attributed to the legacy of apartheid and former white-minority rule.
“It is very common that new modernizing, middle-income countries with high levels of inequality and recent widespread experiences of trauma, especially at the hands of the state, have very high rates of violence,” said the University of Cape Town’s Kriegler, who cites El Salvador and Honduras as examples. “The people are alienated from the police and don’t find common cause with them.”
After 1994, trust in law enforcement went up and the murder rates went down. In 2011, however, the trend reversed, as crime-fighting efforts were crippled by repeated changes to top management at law-enforcement agencies during criminal-in-chief Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
The crime is also aggravated by drug and gang-related violence alongside budget cuts that have limited the hiring of police officers.
The police service now has 191,000 members, 9,000 less than it did eight years ago, while the size of the population surged about 17 percent to an estimated 57.7 million over the period. The National Prosecuting Authority has also seen an exodus of senior staff, with more than 1,000 posts currently standing vacant.
The high crime statistics reported this year actually only capture a fraction of the crime taking place in the country. Many crimes go unreported, because many South Africans don’t believe that anything will come of filing a complaint.
Police Minister Bheki Cele admitted last month that his officers had “dropped the ball” and said they were going to fix the situation.
In the meantime, stay safe out there.
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