Taking action for a safe South Africa

1 September 2008

A coalition of public and private organisations have launched Action for a Safe South Africa, a civil society initiative to address the context and factors that feed the cycle of crime in the country and to encourage South Africans to become part of the solution.

The initiative hosted the first Action for a Safe South Africa convention at Vodaworld in Johannesburg last week. The four-day conference saw over 300 representatives of the country’s business community, civil society and government coming together to produce a manifesto and start working towards a practical implementation plan for a safe South Africa.

The conference was attended by prominent leaders such as African National Congress (ANC) heavyweight Cyril Ramaphosa, Graça Machel, wife of former president Nelson Mandela, businesswomen Cheryl Carolus and Wendy Luhabe, SA Human Rights Commission chairman Jody Kollapen, and Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya.

From enforcement to prevention

According to Roelf Meyer, project leader for Action for a Safe South Africa, the country’s thinking, spending and action on crime needs to shift from security and enforcement to preventative strategies.

Meyer, a former Cabinet minister who emerged as a key figure in the negotiations that led to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, says Action for a Safe South Africa “chooses the route of significant reduction of demand on the criminal justice system.”

Addressing last week’s conference, Barbara Holtmann, a crime researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), said a safer society was one that worked primarily on prevention, tackling the issues that gave rise to aberrant behaviour of all types. While enforcement was important, it was limited to dealing with the consequences, not the causes, of aberrant behaviour.

Graça Machel told told the conference that Action for a Safe SA was the first movement she knew of that was focusing on safety, not crime.

“If we are focused on crime, we can only be reactive to elements that are perpetrating crime,” Machel said. “But if we are focused on safety, we are proactive and we develop profound, holistic, comprehensive, and more importantly, constructive ways of addressing our problems.

“This movement brings to the core that issues of safety are not only for police, or government and courts. But mostly for us and how we relate to each other, in our families, in our schools, in our communities and in our society.”

‘We did it before – we can do it again’

Cyril Ramaphosa echoed Machel, calling for a return to the strong community leadership of the early 1990s to tackle crime in the country.

“‘There is no problem without a solution’ was what underpinned the negotiations around our constitution during the early 1990s,” he told the conference. “Today, 14 years later, we are called upon again to demonstrate that determination to overcome obstacles that are in our way.

“We succeeded in 1994 because we had discovered the best in one another, because we were able to overcome evil,” Ramaphosa said. “We can do that again, to respond to the call to make South Africa safer, to struggle once again, to rediscover our leadership strengths, to stand up and be counted.”

Breaking the cycle of crime

According to Barbara Holtmann, who is also vice-president of the International Centre for Prevention of Crime (headquartered in Canada), a combination of research and expert opinion helps to contextualise the cycle of crime and identify factors that trigger this cycle.

“Interventions at any point in the cycle, such as ensuring all children attend school, thereby lowering the truancy rate, will positively affect the cycle outcome.”

Each and every South African, she says, is going to have to stand up and play an active role in making the country safer. “It can start with something as small as deciding to not bribe the traffic officer when you get pulled over.”

Action for a Safe South Africa is a collaborative effort of a range of organisations, including the CSIR, the Institute for Democracy in SA (Idasa), the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the Institute for Security Studies, the Gordon Institute of Business Science, and the International Marketing Council of South Africa.

Safe South Africa charter

The Safe South Africa charter drawn up at the conference reads as follows:

“Over the past four days, Action for a Safe South Africa (AFSSA) has grown from being a collaborative effort of a small group of organisations to being an explosive, organic and dynamic coalition of individual and collective activists who share a vision of a safe South Africa.

“Crime and violence has already caused untold hardship, disruption and loss of life in our country. It jeopardises the foundations of our Democracy and undermines the principles that formed the basis of our transition to Democracy as embodied in our Constitution. Millions of our citizens live in continuous fear as a result of the climate of crime and violence.

“We recognise that the social and economic transformation of the country is not nearly complete and that South Africans are still suffering economic deprivation. Whilst the correction of the said imbalances should be a common objective, crime and violence remain obstacles in the way of rectifying the socio-economic climate essential for allowing a better life for all.

“Fixing the Criminal Justice System (CJS) is obviously an important goal for any society, yet we realise that it alone will not make us a safe society and unless we significantly reduce the demand on the CJS it will never be able to deliver justice for all.

“We recognise the need for a practical and an achievable vision of a safe South Africa – a vision that encapsulates an ideal safe society. We know that realising this ideal will be lengthy process and we commit to working innovatively, cleverly and with resilience to realise the capacity, funding and structures to achieve this.

“We aim to enable every South African to contribute to making South Africa safe through sustained science-based, inclusive partnerships and actions. We will not duplicate nor compete with any other initiative with similar or complementary objectives. We will strengthen each other through co-operation and the development of a critical mass of those who respect the rule of law and work constructively to build a safe society.

“We commit ourselves to the practical implementation of a plan comprising of the specific outcomes of this Convention as outlined during the report-back session, by representatives of the eight working groups. These plans will be articulated in a book produced with ‘South Africa – The Good News’ and will be widely circulated to all those who so generously contributed over the last few days and to all those in South Africa who wish to participate and contribute in the future.

“We have consulted and will continue to consult those whose contribution to this civil society initiative is essential. We mandate the organisers of this Convention to continue this consultation with those not represented at this Convention and in particular the Department of Social Development, the faith-based community, organised labour and other key sectors.

“We ask the organisers to ensure that the required mechanism and capacity are in place to implement the plans we have developed, to secure the necessary funding and to report in writing to us and by reconvening an expanded Leadership Forum within a period of 75 days from this Convention.”

SAinfo reporter

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