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Worries over post-lockdown crime wave in South Africa

South Africans expect crime to continue increasing in the coming months as the impact of prolonged lockdown and economic restrictions take hold, a new survey by the Automobile Association of South Africa shows.

The results are based on an online survey of more than 1,473 respondents conducted by the AA to gauge the level of safety and security experienced by South Africans before and during the nationwide lockdown which began on 26 March 2020. Respondents were asked how they expect their level of safety and security to change once lockdown is over.

“Respondents appear to be in agreement regarding the increase in crime levels in the foreseeable future,” the AA said.

Post-lockdown remains the time where respondents expect the crime rate to increase the most. Rising living expenses and record-high unemployment are the factors respondents believe are most likely to lead to an increase in crime.”

Official data from the South African Police Service (SAPS) shows that these concerns are somewhat warranted as the country saw a significant decrease in the crime rate under the strictest level 5 lockdown in 2020, which was attributed to the stay-at-home order and alcohol ban.

However, when the hard lockdowns were lifted, there was a 15% increase in crime in May 2021, in comparison to 2019, the AA said.

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“A culture of violence, as well as high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality, will continue to be a threat to the internal security of South Africa,” the group said.

“It is apparent that the South African Police Service (SAPS), South Africa’s Intelligence Service and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are failing to mobilize an appropriate approach to ensure South Africa’s national security (Cilliers, 2021). Therefore, there is a need for private security to protect the citizens of South Africa.”

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Lockdown impact on crime

The SAPS’ official statistics show crime rates in 2021 decreased from quarter 1 to quarter 2. However, rates began to increase from quarter 2 to quarter 3.

The trend of these crime rates may be understood when considering the Covid-19 lockdown levels, the AA said.

During quarter 2, South Africa was on adjusted alert level 3 from 26 July to 12 September 2021. During this level, South Africans were encouraged to stay at home and there were limits on alcohol sales and consumption. This may offer an explanation for why crime rates dropped in the second quarter of 2021.

“Quarter 3 saw the highest crime rates overall, however, it was during this period that South Africans were allowed to purchase alcohol again and the country moved to adjusted level 1 lockdown. Furthermore, the December holidays are noted for increased crime activity.”

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Intangible impact

The AA also acknowledged that there are is an intangible economic impact to South Africa’s high crime rates – beyond the typical psychological and physical impacts which are typically reported.

“The intangible cost of crime is much more elusive and has a considerably wider impact. An individual may choose to change residence, or change jobs, in addition to paying medical bills, counselling bills, and replacing damaged or lost property.

“The medical cost of victimisation may include long-term health issues as a result of injury, while the psychological harm can never be completely quantified beyond the cost of counselling.”

There is however no way to quantify the cost of behavioural changes or the reduction in life satisfaction, the group said.

“Victimisation does not only affect a single individual, but often those around them as well. For instance, the loss of a life impacts the lives of many other individuals. Furthermore, victimisation may send a message to entire communities or societies, telling them that they are not safe in their own homes or neighbourhoods etc.

“The cost of crime to society also includes declines in international investments and reduced levels of tourism, affecting the overall economy of a country.”

Read: Big travel changes coming for South Africa – including a new ID system

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