The recent release of crime statistics by the South African Police Service (SAPS) presented a grim picture of dramatic increases in many crime categories across the country.
Crime is up across all broad categories, with sexual offences leading the field at 4.6% in the 2018/2019 financial year, followed by attempted murder (4.1%), common assault (3.7%), murder (3.4%), assault to inflict grievous bodily harm (GBH) (2.2%), common robbery (2%), and robbery with aggravating circumstances (1.2%), making for an average national increase of 2.6%.
But the national statistics are not necessarily a reflection of provincial, or indeed, local crime statistics.
The picture in the Western Cape is quite different, with murder topping the list with 3 974 murders, 6.6% up on the previous period, a staggering 60 per 1 000 population.
Of the 30 police stations with the highest murder rates in the country, 11 are in the Western Cape, and, more disconcerting, within the City of Cape Town, earning Cape Town the dubious honour of being the murder capital of South Africa.
Other crime categories in the Western Cape present a quite different picture compared to the national numbers. Sexual offences are up 4.4%, assault GBH (3.8%), and common assault (1.6%). Common robbery in the province, is, however, down 5.4%, followed by robbery with aggravating circumstances (1.1%), and sexual offences (0.5%), making for an average increase across the province of 0.9%.
In Bolander’s distribution area, the crime statistics overall, buck the national trend, and to some extent the provincial statistics as well. For the 15 SAPS precincts in the area, crime is down 6.55% overall, with Stellenbosch and the Cape Winelands district leading the charge at 10.28% down, the Drakenstein region down 6.55%, followed by the Helderberg Basin down 6.44%.
Bolander spoke to political leadership at municipal and sub-council level to gauge reaction to the local crime statistics.
Cape Winelands District Municipality (CWDM) executive mayor, Dr Elna von Shclicht, said: “It is important to note that although safety and security is not a direct function of the CWDM, according to our constitution, all spheres of government have the responsibility to contribute to an environment of wellbeing.
“Provincial premier, Alan Winde, recently announced that ‘safety and security is a priority’, and President Cyril Ramaphosa stated during his State of the Nation Address that ‘service delivery matters, including safety plans which will be rolled out in a co-ordinated, joint district approach.’
“We acknowledge and appreciate the decrease in the crime statistics. The CWDM is outraged and deeply saddened by the ongoing violence and increasing brutality of the attacks and murders experienced in our country, province and district during this year. There appears to be little reason to expect that a decrease in crime will be a continuing trend. These crimes are a huge threat to the safety of our citizens and have a devastating effect on our tourism and economy, which in turn affects our citizen’s income generation opportunities and therefore leads to desperation and more crime.
“Considering the increase in, especially violent crimes, the Western Cape Department of Community Safety has released funding to district municipalities across the province to address crime in their districts. The CWDM will receive funding which will be provided over a period of three years to establish and implement community safety and security programmes in rural areas.
“Even though it is one of the functions of national government to ensure the safety of our citizens, we are all responsible for safety. We know that the people of the Cape Winelands do want to work together to reduce and eliminate all forms of crime and violence in our communities. There is a lot of goodwill and a desire for co-operation in our district. The CWDM implores citizens or organisations who have feasible plans to help reduce crimes to come forward and share them with us.”
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Stellenbosch Municipality communication manager, Stuart Grobelaar, responded to Bolander’s enquiry. “Although crime prevention is not a primary mandate of local government, as a municipality we are committed to working with the South African Police Service (SAPS) when and where needed. We frequently cooperate with various stakeholders responsible for safety and security across our region, and I believe this public-private cooperation is reflected in the decrease in crime statistics in the area.
“We form part of the Safety and Security Initiative (SSI) and the Winelands Safety Initiative (WSI) in the region, which consists of various partners, including the SAPS, private sector safety and security companies, as well as Stellenbosch University. The purpose of the SSI is to form an integrated security network, allowing us to share and apply our resources more effectively. The SSI uses an integrated communication system that allows good cooperation and prevent safety stakeholders from working in silos.
“As local government, we also encourage and support neighbourhood watches. Increased visible policing plays a significant role in deterring criminal activities and they play a vital role in contributing to surveillance in our communities.”
But the overall decline in crime notwithstanding, drilling down into individual categories presents a more nuanced picture.
Commenting on the statistics for Somerset West, a significant part of the Helderberg Basin, Sub-council 24 chairperson, Stuart Pringle, said: “While there remains a definite need to increase police resources in the Somerset West precinct, particularly in Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, where the existing satellite station needs to be upgraded to a fully-fledged police station, I am very grateful to the officers in the local precinct for all their hard work, and to the security companies, neighbourhood watches and Helderberg Crime Watch, who work together making us safer.
“It would appear that a significant factor in the overall reduction is the dramatic decrease in burglaries of residential properties, which has declined from 1 022 in 2017, to 780 in 2018 to 651 in 2019.
“This may well be as a result of the increase in the number of neighbourhood watches within the Somerset West precinct, given that research by authors such as (UNISA professor of policing and forensic investigation, Rudolph) Zinn, demonstrate a link between active neighbourhood watches and a reduction in crime. From local government’s side, I will continue to support the neighbourhood watches via the ward allocations budget for equipment and training.
“Violent crime, particularly gender-based crime, remains a challenge, with rape and sexual assault, as well as attempted assault showing increases. Common assault and assault GBH have also increased.
“While robberies from residential areas are down – again perhaps as a result of the neighbourhood watches – those in non-residential areas have increased, together with thefts of motor vehicles and theft from motor vehicles. There is a clear need for increased CCTV cameras, and last year, I began to fund these from the ward allocation budget, in consultation with SAPS, and will continue to do so.
“SAPS can be commended for the increase in crimes related to police action, such as drunk driving, as these are wholly dependent on SAPS activities, such as road-blocks.”
Somerset West Community Police Forum (CPF) chairperson, Billy Smith, echoed many of Mr Pringle’s observations in his comments about the crime statistics in the Helderberg Basin.
“The decline in crime in the Helderberg precincts is the result of our officers focusing on the crime hot spots.
“It is also the police local intelligence being more effective in identifying time frames when crimes are committed, so that police patrols are planned according to these times. Our local officers have increased visibility, and have also improved working relationships with neighbourhood watches, and effective neighbourhood watches have proven to reduce crime in their areas. If one looks at areas such as Bridgewater in Somerset West, crime has reduced by as much as 59% since the introduction of a committed neighbourhood watch. The CPF supports focused smaller neighbourhood watches, that can patrol in their designated areas.
“Another example is Victoria Park, which has a dedicated neighbourhood watch, and has all but eliminated bin scratchers in the area. I am very proud of these individuals who sacrifice their time and money to secure their neighbourhoods.
“The decline in crime has occurred when our stations are under pressure with the lack in manpower, and this is indicative of an increase in productivity of our local police force. Our local stations have committed police officers who endeavour to meet the needs of our community. Their dedication to serve the local residents is indicative of their commitment to reduce crime.”