South Africa is one of the most unsafe societies in the world

According to Q3 2023/24 (October – December 2023) crime statistics released by SAPS on 16 February 2024, on average 86 people are murdered every day in the country. Each day 136 rapes occur, or five every hour.

According to security expert, Gideon Joubert – of business group Sakeliga – the South African Police Service (SAPS) and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) only managed a 15% conviction rate for murder, 8% for rape, and barely 3% for the ‘trio crimes’ (hijackings, and house and business robberies).

‘But despite this crisis of violent crime, the government has not publicly acknowledged the need for a focused response to the problem, which is devastating lives, families and communities.’

The Institute for Security Studies

To top it off, South Africa’s prisons are some 43% overpopulated. This fact has not spurred the construction of any notable new prison capacity.

A final, sobering note, is that organised criminal groups have begun to masquerade as police officers, using indistinguishable police vehicles and uniforms to commit violent offences. Where this fails, they have bought the cooperation of the police through bribery and political connections. Bluntly, criminal justice in South Africa is not failing – it has already collapsed.

Criminal justice, in theory, is the state’s raison d’être. The social contract, stripped to its most basic, is that the absolutely free individual in nature sacrifices their absolute liberty to the state so that the state may monopolise the lawful use of coercion in an effort to maintain order. The return on investment for the individual – this maintenance of order – is manifested in the combating of violence against their person and property. Everything else the state does today is an ‘extra’ to its core directive in society: to combat criminality and minimise coercion.

In South Africa, the ‘extras’ have and continue to displace the core directive.

The South African government has not allowed its complete inability to maintain order and combat criminality to dissuade it from engaging in an ever-increasing range of activities, usually associated with a growing number of supposed ‘crimes.’ For example, despite South Africa’s prisons being overfull, and despite the state’s failure to combat violent crime, the 2022 Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill (Tobacco Bill) declares that individuals who work from home, and then smoke cigarettes or vaping devices in those homes, would be guilty of crimes and liable for imprisonment.

This is but one example among many, and commits more police resources to enforcing political imperatives rather than focusing on the huge violence problem plaguing South African communities.