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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
SA gets tough on crime
By Alastair Leithead
BBC, Johannesburg

South Africa police helicopter
Police raid in Hillbrow netted 150 - many of them illegal immigrants
South Africa is now no longer the murder capital of the world, according to new government figures that show a drop in the number of killings per year.

But with an increase in violent crime and car hijacking, the country still faces a huge challenge as society continues its transformation almost 10 years after the end of apartheid.

In a recent dawn raid in Hillbrow, one of Johannesburg's most notorious neighbourhoods, police abseiled from helicopters.

More than 250 armed police entered the high-rise flats from the roof and from the street.

Every room was searched for drugs and firearms. Every individual was fingerprinted and checked. Illegal immigrants were arrested and expelled.

It is a zero tolerance policing strategy.

Murder: 21,758, 17% fall since 1994
Rape: 52,425, 17% rise since 1994
Robberies: 228,442, 95% rise
Child abuse: 4,798, 56% rise
Kidnapping: 3,071, 25% fall
"If you combat the petty crimes, as we call it, then at the end of the day you will succeed with the major crimes," says police spokesman Superintendent Chris Wilkins.

"The main aim of the operation is obviously to gain back the buildings and the streets of Hillbrow, to make it safe, to make it a safe environment, and also to intensify the visibility of the South African police service."


South Africa has a crime problem.

Statistics show murders are decreasing - a good indicator of progress - but there were still more than 21,000 people murdered last year.

Carjack scenario
Drivers are taking courses on how to avoid being carjacked

And violent crime is on the increase. Even Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula agrees.

"Crime in South Africa is still high. We have done tremendous work to try to reduce this and we are supported by the statistics that we put out the other day which indicate a downward trend," says Mr Nqakula.

"We, from the point of view of those who are charged with the responsibility of safety and security, are doing as much as we can indeed to create an atmosphere of peace and stability within South Africa."

An increasing number of people are taking courses to teach drivers how to avoid being hijacked at gunpoint.

"I've been hijacked so I thought it would be a good way to not do it again," said one woman on the course, who believes being hijacked is now more likely than she was attacked six years ago.

"It is happening every day to everyone. You can not say you are safe. You can find yourself being hijacked and not even drive a fancy car," says another.

High-walled suburbs

The perception of crime here is that it mainly affects white South Africans in their high-walled suburbs.

Police search suspect
There is a higher level of crime in townships like Soweto than in white suburbs

But the reality is it is townships like Soweto where there is a much higher level of violent crime and people have much more chance of being affected.

And many crimes are difficult to police as they happen within communities or even families and often go unreported.

Simon Ndlovu from the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders in Soweto says it is hard to believe the statistics.

"For us on the ground, for people who interface with victims daily, I can tell you there is very little progress."

'National secrets'

The government has been quite shy about its statistics, only releasing them once a year and not revealing figures for local areas.

Ted Leggett from South Africa's Institute for Safety and Security says this means the zero tolerance policy cannot be assessed.

The South African Government has been shy about its statistics on crime
"I think it is just because of the intense pressure that they are under, that they feel that the crime statistics have caused them so much embarrassment in the past that they can not release information that might be misinterpreted by the public," says Mr Leggett.

"They are now treating these things like they are national security secrets. But I do think progress is being made, I do think that society is reforming itself.

"We are seeing South Africans returning who emigrated at one stage in order to avoid the crime. The situation is bleak but things are getting better".

The dawn raid in Hillbrow uncovered seven handguns and ended in 150 arrests - one a rape suspect, others illegal immigrants.

Zero tolerance in target areas may push crime elsewhere but it at least is a sign that South Africa is getting tough and fighting its crime-ridden reputation.

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11 Aug 03  |  Country profiles

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