|Habitat Debate - Vol. 4 - No. 1 - 1998 - Towards Safer Cities (HABITAT, 1998, 66 p.)|
by Rory Robertshaw
Rising levels of crime have characterized the transition to democracy in South African cities1
As a pre-requisite for equitable social development, the transition to democracy in South Africa has been praised throughout the world. However, the complexities of transforming the State, its institutions and forms of social control could not have been over-estimated. Both the positive and negative connotations of reconstruction and development have been profound.
Crime in South Africa has increased since the 1980s. While the Apartheid State prior to the 1990s concentrated more on the suppression of political opposition than on the control of lawlessness, since the 1990s urban crime and violence has increased. Crime is rapidly rising in relation to the social, economic and political trends which defined the South African environment before and through the transition. Evidence suggests that currently crime in South Africa has stabilized at high levels for certain crime categories.
The ineffectual response by the South African criminal justice system to the increasing crime problem is manifesting itself in growing public discontent and disillusionment with the perceived apathy of the new Government. Self-policing initiatives, vigilantism and other forms of citizen-led control form part of the new social landscape of South African cities and towns.
Despite this growth in alternatives to the criminal justice system, recent survey results2 suggest that people still look to the police and government for the maintenance of law and order. These trends place tremendous pressure on the new democracy; the maintenance of order at city level is rapidly becoming the most critical issue in the post-apartheid debate. It is within this context that Safer Cities: Greater Johannesburg was established.
Crime Prevention at the Local Level
Safer Cities: Greater Johannesburg is an urban crime prevention project established in 1997, following a collaborative agreement between the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) and the Public Safety and Emergency Services cluster at the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council (GJMC). (See also box)
The project co-ordinates crime prevention initiatives at Metropolitan (City) level, within the framework of the National Crime Prevention Strategy. Crime prevention in the context of Safer Cities: Greater Johannesburg refers to activities intended to reduce or prevent the occurrence of crime (or fear of it), either by altering the environment in which it occurs, or by intervening more broadly to alter the social (or other) conditions which are thought to cause crime. Safer Cities aims to reduce crime as well as lessen the fear of crime, creating a safer urban environment where economic enterprise and community life can flourish.
Crime prevention conceived and implemented at the local level is significant advancement in a country whose crime prevention response has been, until recently, formulated and implemented at the national level. Survey results confirm that the nature, extent and effect of crime manifest themselves differently on a geographic basis. As such, this questions the appropriateness of some centrally driven and implemented prevention initiatives and validates the need for local crime prevention programmes.
Safer Cities aims to stimulate the development of local crime prevention capacity and competency. This focus has two central currents: the first looks inwardly at the local authority itself, the second looks at the other role players within the local environment.
Traditionally, South African local authorities have limited their crime prevention function to the services provided by traffic enforcement officers and the provision of security guards to protect council property. There has been little cognisance of the broad possibilities of local authority-led crime prevention initiatives and interventions. Even though the three-tier hierarchy of government in South Africa reduces the range of competencies devolved to the local level, local government still has considerable resources and functional expertise which can be directed and mobilized into crime prevention initiatives.
The restructuring of the South African State provides an ideal opportunity to explore and develop new forms of local governance. But it is a window of opportunity which will only last as long as the new structures and policies of the democratic state do not restrict the potential for significant change, or until the pervasiveness of crime itself does not undermine the somewhat precarious balance of the new government.
The broader City environment has several key agencies that have critical roles to play in crime prevention. These include a vibrant non-governmental sector (NGOs), provincial government departments (housing, education, welfare) and the South African Police Services (SAPS), to mention a few. Each of these agencies have histories which, to greater or lesser extent, restrict their current ability to play a decisive role in the crime prevention arena. The possibilities and levels of the interaction of Safer Cities with each of these departments and agencies are in part determined by this context.
The NGO sector, for example, has not had an emphasis on crime prevention, with perhaps the exception of victim support agencies. NGOs are currently negotiating the transition from fulfilling a facilitating role in political transition, moving toward a greater engagement in social development programmes. NGOs also face reductions in funding and skill drainage as they move into closer competition with a legitimately sanctioned government.
The South African Police Services, on the other hand, has the principal role, as well as mandate, for crime prevention in South Africa. The fulfillment of this vital role has not to date effectively materialized. The Services are struggling with the realities of transformation from being a centralized, authoritarian force geared towards political control and oppression. The newpolicing order still needs to take concrete form, and will continue to struggle to this end if issues of inequitable resource allocation, absenteeism, dependency on interrogation-based conviction, detachment from a mistrusting public and corruption persist.
Safer Cities sees its role to harness, develop and, where appropriate, direct the totality of local crime prevention potential. This broad and perhaps nebulous task is being pragmatically realized through specific and targeted project interventions.
The Project Process
Since its inception, Safer Cities has been following a systematic process designed to nurture the local crime prevention capacity. This process started by way of a formal period of diagnosis, investigating the nature, prevalence, effect and nuances of crime in Johannesburg. Conducting a crime victim survey3, which interviewed over 1200 people regarding their experiences of criminal victimisation, was an innovating and principal tool used in this regard.
Information and understanding gained through the diagnosis stage has subsequently been used to develop, through a broad consultative process, a local crime prevention strategy. The strategy will be implemented through the coordination of the local authority in partnership with other local role players. To this extent, Safer Cities is currently implementing a range of long- and short-term crime prevention projects, detailed in the strategy, which focus on the victim, offender and the city environment, targeting both specific crimes as well as specific geographical areas where crimes are concentrated.
It is through this practical experience that insight into the opportunities and effectiveness of local crime prevention are being explored, whilst simultaneously developing local capacity through the formulation and implementation of crime prevention initiatives. The successes achieved to date in Johannesburg are being watched closely by other African cities, to the point where more local authorities are currently planning their own initiatives. As the momentum increases we may start to move towards a continent-wide network of cities actively shaping the local environment response to crime problems.
Rory Robertshaw is Coordinator of the Safer Cities: Greater Johannesburg project in Johannesburg, South Africa.
1. Shaw M. A Towards Safer Cities?: Crime, Political Transition and Changing Forms of Policing Control in South Africa, Institute for Security
2. Studies (Institute for Defence Policy), 1996
3. Shaw M. Louw A. Camerer L. Robertshaw R. A The Johannesburg Victim Survey, Institute for Security Studies, 1998 (Monograph Series)
4. See Note 2.
Safer Cities Programme
Testing Community-wide Planning Strategies and Developing Regional Capacity for Technical Assistance
The Safer Cities Programme was launched in 1996 with the support of the Dutch Directorate for International Cooperation. In a joint venture between the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) and UNCHS (Habitat) the Programme assists two selected cities in Africa - Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam - to develop a community-wide planning process to reduce delinquency and violent crime and to disseminate lessons of experience in other African cities.
The Programmes main objective is to provide municipal authorities and the community sector with technical assistance with a view to developing sustainable ways of preventing violence and crime. In particular, it concentrates on:
(i) the formulation and implementation of long-term crime prevention programmes and policies at the city level;
The Safer Cities Programme is currently working on joint programmes with other UN agencies as well, expanding its technical assistance scheme to cities in other regions, Africa, Asia and Latin America in particular.
For more information, please contact:
SAFER CITIES PROGRAMME