What are solutions to our crime crisis?

Temba Nolutshungu says question is where money will come from to cost-effectively impact galloping crime

Based on official statistics and the fact of unreported cases, anecdotally, the crime situation seems to be approaching apocalyptic proportions. Yet, the situation is not insurmountable, but it is reversible to a significant extent. All it takes is political will, fixity of purpose, and a moral compass in terms of the drastic measures that have to be implemented on a no-prisoners-taken, uncompromising, without fear or favour basis; all this exclusively on the part of government.

Renowned journalist, Stephen Grootes, on Tuesday 16 April 2024, reported as follows: “The continuing brutality of SA lives - not taken seriously by most major parties”.

This statement is such a damning moral indictment against the errant parties that Grootes had identified in the face of South Africa’s spine-chilling crime statistics. Considering just only two crime categories (others notwithstanding) the situation depicts a hellish abyss that claims so many victims of murder (83 per day), and rape (43,037 cases of rape were reported to have been recorded for the 2022-23 fiscal year). No wonder the country stubbornly maintains the notoriety of being the rape capital of the world, with murder seemingly vying for the same status outside of a war situation. Other crime categories generally seem to reflect the same trend.

On all fronts, the multifaceted crime situation is so pervasive and rampant! It is as if we had invented crime.

What is the solution?

First of all, it will be useful to study measures that were implemented by countries that achieved significant turnarounds in reversing horrendous crime situations to negligible levels.

El Salvador. News that is currently making waves on the international crime busting front is what has been achieved by the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, the incumbent president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele. Notably, Bukele feels that he has justifiably arrogated to himself the title of “philosopher king”. No doubt. Bukele borrowed the concept from Plato’s book, Republic. Faced with the mammoth task (that he had undertaken as a national priority) of dealing with a crime-infested country that in 2015 reflected a murder rate of 107 per 100 000 people. Implementing draconian measures, the murder rate was reduced to the current rate of around 7 per 100 000. Levels of extortion of business are now negligible. This is the case with other crimes, so much so that people generally feel safe wherever they are.

The Guardian reports that Honduras has started to implement similar crackdowns as in El Salvador and that furthermore, in other adjoining crime-infested countries governments are gravitating towards “Bukelismo” solution. Guatemala has seen pro-Bukele demonstrations. A mayor in Equador has been persistently urging “Copy it [Bukelismo], as simple as ‘that’“.

The question looms large as to how, Bukele, at the helm of government, achieved this remarkable feat. Some of the measures entailed the drastic curtailing of due process resulting in the court process of the judicial system being seriously compromised. The attorney-general was fired and 5 members of the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber were also fired.

In this scenario, it is easy to imagine innocent people being convicted.

With South Africa’s prevailing (and getting worse) crime spree, it is easily conceivable that in desperation the “Bukelismo” phenomenon could easily resonate with many people in our country, calling for desperate measures irrespective of whether the rule of law might be seriously compromised. This sentiment dangerously extends to instances of miscarriage of justice (resulting from the absence of due process among other contraventions of the rule of law principle) such as the punitive sentences and the death penalty particularly. In this scenario, people would condone such judicial misjudgements, even where irreversible sentences were carried out. However abhorrent, if this state of affairs were to eventuate, there would be many innocent victims. In this regard the cautionary wisdom prompting our consciences should be heeded as St. Vincent Prime Minister, Sir James Mitchell stated, “The lawyers tell us that it is better that 10 guilty men or women escape rather than one innocent person be found guilty”.

But in the long term we would strongly not advocate the Bukelismo path. One other important reason is that when draconian measures are implemented at the cost of individual liberties (even on the back of supportive public sentiments vis-à-vis seemingly insurmountable challenges) there is the moral hazard that the dictatorial tendencies being extended and entrenched, and then one day the citizens wake up to find that a dictatorship has become institutionalised. In this regard the words of classical liberal historian Lord Acton (834 – 1902) reverberating across the ages are poignantly relevant to this day, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

But there is a fair and just alternative that would not compromise individual rights but instead reinforce them in the context of democracy.

In his book titled The Constitution and the Rule of Law an Introduction, Martin van Staden succinctly underscores the point that, “The Rule of Law protects core human rights such as the right to life; liberty and property, and those rights related to due process”.


The late Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew’s (LKY)) administration (1959 – 1990), having inherited one of the worst crime-infested countries among Asian countries, implemented the most effective crime busting programme without compromising on any aspect of the Rule of Law.

LKY knew that of the utmost significance/importance and urgency and as a matter of pressing urgency was dealing with the untouchable malfeasants freely operated as being above the law. The importance of such a focused mission derives from the fact that when the wheels of justice target highly-profiled individuals or entities, ultimately culminating in sentences that fit the crime, this effectively sends a powerful signal to the entire criminal world that their chances of escaping the wrath of justice are negligible and that therefore crime does not pay. The message that crime syndicates and other criminal careerists and the whole country that no one is above the law permeates the entire nation. This message is not lost abroad that you do not do crime here or else the consequences will be dire. As a matter of priority, LKY targeted those holding highest positions in the public sector.

It is all as if LKY was imbued with the wisdom encapsulated in the words of ancient Greece philosopher Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) who had asserted, “The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law”.

Enjoying the reputation of being a crime-free country, Singapore is the most economically free country in the world on virtually all criteria of empirically based studies; to name a few – the Economic Freedom of the World; Index of Economic Freedom, Human Freedom Index; International Rights Index and The Freedom and Prosperity Equation.

It is most noteworthy that according to UNCTAD’s World Report 2023, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows to Singapore placed the country as the third-largest destination (USD 141.2 billion in 2022) after the US and China and that in the same report Singapore accounted for almost two-thirds of FDI of the ASEAN countries. With a population of 6.03 million people, this island country has very limited natural resources.

It is important that the government that emerges (however it is constituted) after the elections on South Africa’s May 2024 elections should engage the overall crime challenges on a rational, non-ideological basis that is firmly grounded on empirical analyses.

We propound the following measures to be pursued with absolutely vigorous urgency in the context of our overall message as we firmly believe that in doing so, the crime challenges would be very substantially and significantly be reversed, if not totally defeated:

- Provide security of tenure, inter alia, for the high-ranking officials of the National Prosecution Authority with commitment to their salaries for the rest of their lives as is the case with judges. This would conceivably safeguard against interference by the Executive, Legislative and even the Judiciary or elements within these arms of government.

- Increase life insurance (with significant commensurate benefits) for all SAPS personnel covering even outside formal/official duty hours. This is because whenever or wherever they may be, they are always exposed to danger. In fact, death and serious injury (in some cases incapacitating) are an unwelcome constant companion to all members of the police force.

- For a start, double the average SAPS salaries which is currently at R18 600 (as updated by webdesk). The salaries of higher positioned officers should also be adjusted upwards concomitance with the rank. Related to this specific proposal, in order to prevent one’s eyebrows being raised, one should be constantly conscious of the fact that the police are exposed to some of the most traumatic scenes of murder, rape, and other horrific cases of brutal crimes. Imagine how these have taken toll on our police heroes. And still do. Ask any police personnel on this! See also how many have committed suicide as a result of these traumatizing exposures!

- The effective protection of whistle-blowers and other witnesses, however costly, is a responsibility that has to be borne. Of importance is the fact that any criminal violation vis-à-vis protection of whistle-blowers should be adjudicated on the basis of a sentence of fitting the crime. It should definitely not be as happened in the case of late whistle-blower Babita Deokaran, with 6 men directly involved and implicated in the brutal execution of a defenceless woman, the sentence was tantamount to a slap on the wrist.

- There should be more undercover investigating and intelligence-trained plainclothes personnel. In desperation, most people are understandably clamoring for visible policing. But it has serious limitations if one has a basic understanding of the criminal mind. This is because criminals fear being caught in the act. One can plausibly imagine that they have no problem with the visible presence of the police in their uniforms and their even more visible vehicles. When criminals spot them, they are temporarily deterred from perpetrating their criminal misdeeds. For example, they will rob or commit some other crime when a police van or uniformed police disappear around the corner. It is for this reason that even calls for the army to be involved in policing hot spots have consistently proven to be a futile exercise. The army is appropriately deployed in riotous situations. Undercover policing operations are what criminals hate precisely because they cannot distinguish between an undercover police operative and a neighbour or just about any other civilian going about their normal duties. Because this is dangerous work, this specialised sector of the SAPS should operate in at least pairs. As they actually work under the radar, they should also not be located at police stations nor should they be known by other sectors of the overall SAPS sectors.

- The proposals pertaining to SAPS (where appropriate) should cascade to the lowest tier of government (municipal police).

- The collaboration between private security firm and SAPS especially at municipal government level should be enhanced.

The question then looms large as to where the money will come from in order to cost-effectively impact on the galloping crime situation. First of all, there should be deep comprehension that democracy is an expensive project that requires vast resources. It is a question of readjusting priorities by the government. The government has been requisitioning a substantial amount of hard-earned taxes from SA’s beleaguered taxpayers and flushing them down the insatiable abyss into which State Owned Enterprises such as Eskom, South African Airways have impoverished the economy.

This has to come to an end by government getting out of the economic arena and leaving the private sector alone to pursue what it does best - creating wealth and employment as underscored by the rule of law.

The overall scenario would be a country that would become one of the paragons of being a relatively crime free, pro-investor and pro-business destination.

May the post-election government display the political and moral compass and integrity that is currently so conspicuously lacking.

Temba A Nolutshungu is a Director of Free Market Foundation and a contributing author of the FMF.