Pietermaritzburg’s robbery rates soar

There has been a major surge in robberies in Pietermaritzburg this year, according to the national crime statistics released on Tuesday.

This, as police sources say a lack of resources and low morale has made fighting crime challenging.

The South African Police Service’s annual crime statistics were released on Tuesday morning with Pieter­maritzburg station coming in at number 18 on the national top 30 list for common robbery cases.

Pietermaritzburg police across all stations except Hilton and Howick have experienced a large increase in home robberies. 

There was also an increase in business robberies and burglaries as well as house burglaries in most of the police precincts.

Drug-related crimes also showed a massive jump, except at Hilton police station.

Police sources who spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity as they are unauthorised to speak to the press said their biggest challenge in fighting crime was a lack of resources, such as vehicles and equipment, and a lack of manpower leading to low morale.

One police source said that their station’s biggest problem was police vehicles. He said there were not enough roadworthy cars available. “Property crime at Scottsville, Bisley and Pelham is also a major issue, especially houses near the varsity because you do not know who is a student and who isn’t.”

Townhill Community Policing Forum vice chairperson James Martin said there had been a problem with break-ins, however, the offenders had been arrested and “things have quietened down”.

He said he felt the crime in the area was down because of their proactive WhatsApp security groups and their close relationship with police. “Our biggest challenge is that we are surrounded by bush that makes access through it almost uncontrollable.”

Another police source said that on average, their members worked about 100 hours overtime every month because they were short-staffed, under-resourced and had very few vehicles. He said they did not get paid for their overtime. 

A business owner in the CBD, Fahim Naby, said there was an incident in town every day, adding that the whoonga addicts living in town contributed almost entirely to these crimes. He said shop owners were constantly having to repair their ceilings after break-ins and that life had become very difficult for the business owners in the city.

While a Witness journalist was interviewing Naby on the phone, there was screaming and shouting in the background.

“Someone has just stolen a cellphone from a car. The community is chasing him now,” he said. “I think more of a police presence would make such a big difference.”

Safe City urges clampdown on illegal taverns

Msunduzi Safe City’s Lucas Holtzhausen said their biggest challenge in the city when it came to crime, especially murder, was liquor.

Holtzhausen said there had been a few murders the last few weeks due to what appeared to be tavern brawls.

He said local authorities and the liquor board needed to do regular check-ups and clamp down on illegal taverns.

He added that people generally needed to be more aware of their surroundings while walking in town to avoid being robbed.

“Crime happens all the time and people are just not aware enough.

“So much can be prevented if people were more aware,” he said.

Plan to grow police force

THE police service has a deficit of 62 000 officers, national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole said on Tuesday as he and Police Minister Bheki Cele presented the crime statistics for 2017/18. 

Cele, addressing the media after a presentation to the portfolio committee on police, described the statistics as “scary figures” and with candour unusual for a politician admitted: “We’ve dropped the ball.” 

Cele said he was not going to bother with the question of who dropped the ball, the important thing now was to pick the ball up and come up with a new game plan.  After the statistics were presented to the portfolio committee, several MPs raised the matter of understaffing in the service. 

Cele said in 2010 there were 200 000 police officers. There are currently about 190 000, and the population had since grown. He said the South African population was about 54 million in 2010, it was now about 57,3 million. 

Sitole added that the figure didn’t include the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. 

He told the committee that according to the United Nations’ best policing practice, there should be one police officer for every 220 citizens. “South African police are looking after double the figure,” he said, as in South Africa there is a police officer for every 383 people. 

Sitole said according to the business case they have developed for the police, there is a “deficit” of 62 000 officers. 

Sitole said the intake of officers had been increased from the planned 3 000 in this financial year to 5 000 after some consultation with Cele. 

He said the country’s police colleges could take up to 7 000 entrants, and that that was what the service would consistently aim for until the gap was closed. 

At the media briefing, Cele said government’s security cluster, “for some reason”, hadn’t been meeting for the past two years. “Maybe that is part of dropping the ball,” he said.  He said the cluster was now meeting regularly.

 “It looks like somebody made sure the Hawks are not hawks,” he said, without identifying anyone. “Somebody with big scissors clipped their wings.” 

He said they were now working on putting those wings back.


Calls for stricter gun control

Gun Free South Africa released a statement on Tuesday saying the latest national crime statistics show guns are the weapon of choice to kill, injure, threaten and intimidate others.

“A shocking 41,3% of murders and 59,5% of aggravated robberies in 2017/18 were gun-related,” said the statement.

“Between 1999/2000 and 2013/14, handguns were used in 94% of murders and 97% of aggravated robberies.

“Violent crime has not been this high since the late 1990s, when the number of guns in South Africa peaked. Government’s response to the 1990s crime wave focused on reducing the availability of guns in communities through police operations and stricter controls to regulate legal gun ownership.”

The statement said the majority of illegal guns were once legal before being leaked into the illegal pool.

Gun Free South Africa has called for Minister of Police Bheki Cele to begin operations to recover and destroy unwanted, and illegally held guns, including holding a national firearms amnesty and vigorously undertaking crime-intelligence operations.

They also asked him to review and upgrade weapons storage and destruction facilities to prevent loss and theft and ensure weapons earmarked for destruction are destroyed.

Lastly, they called for the amendment of the Firearms Control Act (2000) to simplify the administration thereof and “rigorously restrict access to handguns, which are highly prized by those who cannot get access through legal channels”.


‘Addiction is a disease’

A local man from Narcotics Anonymous who is recovering from drug addiction and asked not to be named, said the only way to curb the high and rising number of drug-related crimes was to deal with the issue of addiction first. “People are ignorant to the fact that addiction is a disease … Drug addiction has an influence in crime rates as addicts would do anything to get their next fix, even if it means stealing from friends and family. Resorting to crime doesn’t mean we as addicts don’t feel remorseful or don’t have a conscience. We are not blatant criminals; it’s just that the addiction is so powerful and it demands more drugs.”

The man, who has been clean for the past 21 months now, said whoonga is one of the worst drugs, and once someone becomes addicted to whoonga, they suffer excruciating pain and would do anything to get drugs to stop the pain. — WR.