1. In February 2007 the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation was contracted by government to carry out a study on the violent nature of crime in South Africa. The study involved the production of six reports over two years (a short seventh supplementary report was produced in April 2009). A substantial part of the work involved analysing, integrating and reflecting on a lot of the work that has been done on violence in South Africa up to this point.
In addition to this the study included two major pieces of new research – an in-depth study of 1200 murder dockets from six areas with high rates of murder and a study of perpetrators of violent crime based on cases studies of 20 incarcerated perpetrators of serious violent crime. New data that appears in the reports also includes data from a major study of rape on which further analysis was conducted for this study. In analysing this information we also did conceptual work of our own. The concept of 'major forms of violence' which is prominent in the study is part of this conceptual effort.
The need for a focus on armed violence:
2. Our key concern in carrying out this study has been to understand and describe the nature of violent crime in order to present a broad and impartial overview of the 'big picture' of violence. Underpinning this concern was the understanding that violent crime in South Africa has been a subject of contestation with different constituencies competing for recognition from government. These have included:
* The middle class and formal business sector whose concerns about violence have resulted in the 'trio robberies' being regarded as a priority concern.
* Another important constituency has been civil society organisations organising against violence against women.
* A third constituency has been organisations mobilising against gun violence.
3. All of these constituencies have helped to focus attention on, and strengthen the response of the state to, very important aspects of the problem of violence and the contribution which they have made therefore needs to be valued . But alongside this key dimensions of the problem of violence (such as aggravated street robberies, fatal male-male violence, and knife violence), which also call for priority attention, have been neglected.
4. The concept of armed violence (violence involving weapons such as guns and knives) is therefore put forward to remedy this problem. It is intended to serve as an overall concept for defining the violence which is most serious and contributes the most to deaths, serious injury and fear.
5. This opens up the issue of differences in violence between high-violence wealthy and poorer communities and the need to respond effectively to violence in both types of communities.
* A concern with trio robberies for instance accounts for a substantial part of the most serious violence which takes place in more affluent communities but takes account of much less of this violence in poorer communities.
* In poorer communities it would appear that there is little point in distinguishing 'trio robberies' from other aggravated (i.e. armed) robberies. There is no reason to believe that the perpetrators of business robberies – particularly if we are talking about robberies of businesses in the informal sector – are distinct as a group from those involved in aggravated street robberies.
* In addition to this the study indicates that the individuals involved in robberies with weapons often tend to be the same individuals implicated in acquaintance violence with the same weapons also being used. In communities where robberies with firearms are high other acquaintance violence with firearms is also high. Likewise in communities where knife violence is high this is manifested both in stranger and acquaintance violence. The involvement of many perpetrators of armed violence therefore cuts across boundaries between 'trio' and other crimes, and between 'stranger' and 'acquaintance' violence'.
6. Though the final report emphasises armed violence we think that it is appropriate that 'sexual violence' (which sometimes involves weapons but more often does not) be regarded as equivalent in seriousness. Alongside similar questions about sexual violence the questions "Is there a problem of armed violence in this community?" And "What form does this problem take?" are key questions which need to be asked in clarifying what aspects of the problem of violence in each community should be regarded as most serious. The final report emphasises that the response to violence needs to be aligned with the nature of violence in each community in turn highlighting the importance of reliable systems for gathering data about violence.
7. Though some of the solutions put forward are primarily relevant to government they are also intended to speak to other organisations and structures which are concerned with violence and development
8. The report deliberately tried to be restrained in terms of the recommendations which it puts forward. Rather than providing a list of everything that government should or could do the emphasis is on identifying the most important things that government (and society more generally) need to do well in order to address violence. Our belief is that if we do these things well we will profoundly reduce levels of violence in South Africa
9. The emphasis of the report is therefore on the fundamentals of a clear and coherent strategy for addressing violence. A key need on the part of government is a much more clearly defined response to violence. This is therefore a basic framework for a far more purposeful response by govt to the overall problem of violent crime.
a. In response to many of the recommendations which we have made government is likely to say that 'we are doing these things already'. In most cases our response to this would be – 'yes, but how well are you doing them?' Many aspects of the solutions which we have proposed are already in operation. But implementation often needs to be improved – an issue highlighted last week by Minister Mthethwa when announcing the outcome of the investigation into the current state of the Central Firearms Registry.
b. But there are recommendations which are not being addressed and we believe that, notwithstanding the fact that government has been in possession of the final report for 21 months, it has not as yet reflected properly on the report.
i. Firstly we have not seen an engagement with the argument for an overall focus on armed violence. Whilst it is clear that dealing with the problem of illegal firearms is a central pillar of government's efforts to address crime, the argument for a focus on armed violence goes beyond this. This is partly through the fact that it motivates that knife violence also become a focus of attention, but also because it challenges government to reconceptualise its approach to how it defines violent crime priorities.
ii. Related to this there has not been engagement around recommendations to:
1. Clarify police powers and explore potential police strategies for addressing knife violence
2. Invest in research aimed at identifying and publicising good practise in local level policing in addressing armed violence.
iii. Though government is obviously engaged in work around child and youth development the report calls for it to consolidate its work in this field.
iv. We also believe that the government has not reflected around the implications of the recommendation for mobilisation against the culture of violence.
c. The study is not intended as encouragement to government to merely go on doing what it is already doing. We therefore call on government to respond to these issues.