JOHANNESBURG — Crime is threatening South Africa and is "balkanising" society, SA Human Rights Commission chairman Jody Kollapen told an anti-crime conference yesterday.
People are cutting themselves off from each other and even humanitarian instincts like stopping to help someone in distress are moderated by fear of crime, he said.
"That's not the kind of people we want to be," Kollapen said, addressing the Action for a Safe South Africa Convention in Midrand.
The convention hopes to explore ways of making the country safer and getting everyone to contribute to this in their daily lives.
Kollapen said even though government spending on crime went up 1 500% from 1990 to R68 billion at present, "we are no safer".
South Africa's legacy of dysfunctionality has to be recognised in finding a solution, but at the same time the country also has a history of overcoming formidable obstacles.
"We now stand as a nation where our self-determination stands in the balance," he said.
Everybody needs to ask themselves what they can do to bring the country in line with the Bill of Rights guidelines on security, he said.
At the conference, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) said poverty is one of the major factors in the surge in violent crimes.
Releasing the CSVR's preliminary report, David Bruce said poverty plays a role in the commission of serious offences such as murder, rape and aggravated robbery.
"High levels of inequality contribute to undermining self confidence and self respect," he said.
South Africa's economic structure, with high levels of poverty and unemployment, creates conditions for the proliferation of violent crimes.
Bruce said the study, commissioned by the Safety and Security Department, also highlighted a lack of parenting skills as one of the factors contributing to violent crimes, particularly in instances where children are victims.
The acceptance by many South Africans that crime and violence are normal also contributes to the rise in serious offences.
Bruce said there is a need for the country's criminal investigation capacity to be strengthened and the current culture of crime to be dismantled, if police are to win the war against violent crime.
Speaking at the briefing, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said the study will provide the government with a better understanding of the nature of violent crimes in the country.
Nqakula said it is particularly important for the government to understand reasons behind the current surge in crimes being committed by children.
By the end of May, there were 3 000 children in detention at various centres in the country.
Murder, rape and violent assault were some of the main crimes being committed by children, Nqakula said.
In The Witness