Police commissioner tries to draw hope from bleak crime stats
“Hope is a waking dream! Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over‚ it became a butterfly.”
These were the words of national police commissioner Khehla Sitole as he wrapped up a gloomy appearance before the National Assembly's police portfolio committee‚ where the police on Tuesday presented the latest crime statistics.
Sitole was quoting a proverb as well as Greek philosopher Aristotle‚ as he attempted to console South Africans who he acknowledged as having “taken pain” from the crime in the country.
He had just reassured MPs that a work study investigation on specialised units had been completed and that police would kick off the festive season with a serious and vigilant crimes unit. Specialised units would also be responding to murders‚ taxi violence and gang-related crimes.
“Other specialised units are going to follow this particular period‚” he said.
With regards to the Western Cape‚ he said the police had strengthened the gang combating and prevention strategy and had deployed other force levels to stabilise the area.
The 290 extra police deployed to the province earlier would remain in place for an extended period to beef up the gang combating and prevention strategy‚ he said. The basic training curriculum had also been reviewed and so had the organised crime threat analysis and it was now in place along with the turnaround strategy of crime intelligence‚ said Sitole.
He was responding to a question posed by his boss‚ Police Minister Bheki Cele.
"What is to be done?" Cele asked.
“The minister indicated that we dropped the ball and it also impacted on the organised crime approach‚” said Sitole.
Cele had earlier lamented the grim crime statistics which his department presented to Parliament on Tuesday morning.
“The crime stats are nothing to write home about. It doesn't matter what figures you put‚ if you can't deal and control murder cases‚ you are not giving any joy to the South African people. It doesn't matter what else you reduce‚” he said.
Cele revealed that‚ on average‚ 57 people were murdered a day in South Africa in the period between April 2017 and March 2018. This was 20‚338 murders in the year‚ the highest figure in a long time.
He said the murder statistics “borders close to a war zone‚ while there is peace and there is no war in SA”.
Cele has never been shy to talk about how murder numbers were going down by 1‚000 a year when he was appointed national police commissioner in 2009 and that during his tenure as police commissioner‚ they went down by 2‚000 cases in a single year.
He bandied these figures again in February this year when President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed him as police minister in February - daring those who raised eyebrows at his appointment to judge him based on the output of his work as commissioner.
“Here we are today on 20‚000 people [murdered]. Somebody has calculated it. If we had kept the trend we would be talking about 9‚000 people murdered but we are talking about 20‚000.
“SA Police Service dropped the ball‚ we literally dropped the ball for such figures to happen‚” he added.
MPs were also not impressed with the figure‚ with the committee chairman Francois Beukman noting that the 6.9% increase in murder cases was “really alarming and totally unacceptable”.
“It is clear that violent crime is a present danger to all South Africans and relevant communities‚” he said‚ adding that an urgent plan was needed.
Cele received unlikely applause from the Freedom Front Plus for publishing in some detail the crime stats on farms.
“I want to thank the minister for giving us the farm murders' statistics. It is the first time since 2007 that we receive these farm statistics; that is the correct way of handling it‚” said FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald.
The police recorded 62 murders on farms and smallholdings‚ 33 house robberies‚ six attempted murders‚ two rapes‚ two cases of stock-theft‚ one robbery with firearm‚ one car hijacking and one kidnapping.
Of the 62 murders‚ nine were of farm labourers and one of a farm manager‚ the police said.