SA sells anti-crime war to Europe

Rowan Philp and Julian Rademeyer

The South African government has launched an aggressive campaign to change the world’s perception that the country is losing the war against crime.

The campaign kicked off with Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula undertaking an unprecedented trip to Britain last week to reassure jittery foreign investors that South Africa is serious about tackling crime.

The visit – the first by a South African police minister – was widely hailed as a success by British investment companies. Nqakula is considering similar trips to Italy and Austria.

The charm offensive also included an address to expatriate South Africans, during which Nqakula uncharacteristically acknowledged that many had left because of personal experience of violent crime.

“I empathise with them,” he said. “It is clear that they have not just run away, but want to make a contribution to South Africa … They are saying that they are still available as South Africans.”

His comments were in contrast to his controversial assertion earlier this year that people who “whinged” about crime should leave the country.

Addressing more than two dozen investment firms, which included powerhouses such as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan, in London, Nqakula said South Africa had a plan to tackle crime.

The 20% of violent crime that made headlines – mostly daylight robberies and attacks on the “upper classes” – was being targeted with new manpower and technology, he said.

Admitting that “we can’t have [peace and stability] with the current levels of crime”, Nqakula told investors that:

  • There had been a change in management at 101 underperforming police stations in violent-crime hot spots since August last year, while a further 239 under-performing station commissioners and 317 station commanders had been replaced;
  • 15 000 new police reservists would soon increase the reserve strength to 100 000 as the core of a community policing programme; and
  • The police budget would increase to more than R43-billion by 2010, with the police force having 193 000 employees.

Nqakula was told by one investment firm that success in dealing with crime would see South Africa rewarded with “billions” of investment dollars. A consultant also predicted that “tens of thousands” of skilled expatriates would return to South Africa.

The visit by Nqakula – who was said to have been subjected to a “grilling” by the investors – was welcomed by Lord Robin Renwick, vice-chairman for investment at JP Morgan, who said it represented an “important” coup for future investment.

“Usually, you have foreign ministers and finance ministers coming across and appealing for confidence in government policies, so to have an interior minister, responsible for security, speaking directly to fund managers on the issue is very rare, very smart and very welcome,” said Renwick.

“What was clearly evident was that the government understands that crime is of major concern to investors, and that they are tackling the problem as an absolute priority.”

Renwick said much-publicised murders, such as that of the renowned historian David Rattray, had been damaging for South Africa’s image and investment prospects.

“The minister’s plan made sense; he made a very good impression.”

Other investment bankers told the Sunday Times that Nqakula had salvaged confidence after a year of headline-grabbing murders.

President Thabo Mbeki also addressed crime in a Freedom Day speech last week, urging all South Africans to fight it and corruption.

“There is a minority in our country who have made crime their business, who terrorise our communities, robbing our people … raping women and children … using unimaginable violence on law-abiding citizens of our country,” Mbeki said at Bhisho Stadium in the Eastern Cape.

He called on all South Africans “to join community police forums, to create street and area committees so that together we can effectively fight crime”.

Lord Anthony St John, who hosted the Merrill Lynch meeting, told the Sunday Times that Nqakula’s plan to target “headline crimes” represented a “key emphasis” in his message.

Leslie Xingwa, advisor to Nqakula said the response of investors was considered to have been “generally positive”. The meeting with the expatriates was the “most positive” of all.

Brian Hosking, chairman of the South African Business Club in London, who attended the briefing, agreed, saying Nqakula had presented a “convincing crime plan” and had “put to rest any thoughts that he was in any way anti-white or anti-expat”.

“The background against which he came over here was, of course, those remarks [that crime whingers should leave] and the impression that crime was not being taken seriously enough,” said Hosking. “But a number of [expats] were listening to see if this was really his line, and it clearly wasn’t.

“Look, the proof will be in the pudding, but he came across as a credible minister with a clear sense of what needs to be done.”

This article was first published in the Sunday Times, 29 April 2007. Republished here with kind permission.