Political parties urged to put crime on election agenda

Published Mar 2, 2024


Curbing the prevalence of crime in South Africa needs much more than a simple vow to enforce laws better, but a political party willing to put crime reform on their election agenda.

The Free Market Foundation (FMF) said with the upcoming general elections in the country, they were dismayed that many political parties were continuing to treat violent crime as a norm that simply required law enforcement authorities to “enforce the law better” instead of it being the exception.

The organisation's Head of Policy, Martin van Staden, said this was extremely disappointing, given that the crisis represented a far deeper problem in the logic of the country’s criminal justice system.

Van Staden said: “South African politics has become desensitised to our county’s internationally sky-high rates of violence. Simply ‘policing harder’ will not fundamentally solve the crisis of violence. Currently, no political party is offering a comprehensive criminal justice reform package as part of their electoral manifesto.

“The entire criminal justice system must be reformed for a safer South Africa. This includes widespread decriminalisation of those activities that South Africa cannot and should not waste precious resources criminalising, and significantly decentralising police powers away from the central government.”

According to the foundation it was for this reason they had initiated the Rule of Law Project, in order to place South Africa’s violent crime crisis at the centre of the national agenda in the run up to the May 29 general elections.

By assisting the police to focus their efforts on real crime would go a long way in helping South Africa to be a safer place. However its success would depend on ordinary South Africans making their voices heard by endorsing the initiative to their preferred political parties whilst pushing for the government to be held accountable.

Van Staden said that by pushing for police to decriminalise certain activities that caused no harm to liberty, and property, would be a positive step for society and for the economy.

“The decriminalisation of activities will yield more business activity in the decriminalised areas of commerce, and ultimately this will lead to economic growth and increased tax revenue, through the elimination of unnecessary prosecutions and law enforcement.”

He added: “Most importantly, such a significant reform will yield a safer South Africa by allowing the police and justice authorities to focus their time and resources on real crime.”

Over and above simply urging political parties to prioritise crime on their agenda, van Staden said the initiative would seek further clarity, through a Promotion of Access to Information Act to request Correctional Services, about who is presently filling South Africa’s very limited prison capacity.

This, as he highlighted how currently the government was criminalising peaceful and voluntary behaviour, which was likely why many prisoners who did not appropriately belong in prison were incarcerated in the first place.

“‘Most South Africans underestimate the degree of criminalisation that surrounds us. Various activities that might ordinarily be regarded as innocuous are viewed by politicians as criminal. This results in precious police, prosecutorial, and prison resources being wasted, when these could be directed at the very real violent crime crisis,” he said.

Saturday Star