The criminal justice system must be capacitated


By Zakhele Mthembu

South Africa has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world, which makes it imperative that the government focus more on the security and peace of South African citizens.

The violent crime rate in South Africa is well documented. According to the latest crime statistics published by the South African Police Service (SAPS), more than 86 murders are recorded per day in South Africa – with a conviction rate of only 8% for these murderers.

This is clearly a situation that should dominate all discussions about the essence of the state.

According to figures from the finance minister in the latest budget speech, a total of R244 billion of the state revenue for the coming financial year will be spent on the peace and security of South African citizens. Peace and security includes police services, the courts and prisons, internal affairs and also national defense in the form of the South African National Defense Force (SADF).

For background, the government spends R255.4 billion on economic development, R271.9 billion on health, R480.6 billion on education and culture and a whopping R382.2 billion on the repayment of debt plus interest. The R54.4 billion earmarked for spending on courts and prisons this year is less than the amount intended solely for child maintenance allowances, which stands at R85.8 billion.

These are spending areas that receive more money than peace and security, while one can still argue that the state’s primary role is to ensure the peace and security of its citizens, even more than health care and education. Why not spend more to increase the capacity of the security services when there are clearly problems?

South Africa is stuck because of its enormous public sector. The state is the largest employer. The problem is that our public sector taxpayers are costing a lot of money because of high salaries, but according to the Treasury still a low number of staff.

This means that a significant percentage of the money allocated to peace and security, for example the R125 billion for police services, goes to salaries rather than perhaps increasing the number of police officers and thus getting closer to the theoretical requirement for human resources.

According to revelations from the Khayelitsha Commission, police services will continue to suffer from staff shortages. This means there is a need for more officers, even according to the SAPS resource model. One of the ways in which such human resources can be obtained is by increasing the amount of money that the police receive.

The Khayelitsha Commission also revealed that there is a serious skill deficit among detectives or investigating officers in criminal law cases, or that there is a lack of insight into what a conviction in criminal prosecution requires. This means that detectives usually have too little knowledge of how evidence should be collected and handled.

To improve the capacity of a service such as policing, more money will have to be spent but far-reaching changes will also have to be made to things such as the training of both prospective police members and those already in service.

The problem of high wages and low staff numbers in the SAPS also affects the judiciary and the prison system. South Africa has a documented problem of overcrowded prisons. More prisons must be built to house all the violent criminals. How much of the R54.4 billion earmarked for courts and prisons will be spent on building new prisons or expanding the existing ones?

South African courts are notorious for their high workload and the slow pace of justice. This has recently been confirmed in research conducted by the University of Cape Town and is common knowledge among all who have ever dealt with the courts.

We need more courts and more judges to deal with the high caseload and general delays that characterize the South African judiciary. This will also necessitate that the R54.4 billion earmarked for the aforementioned courts and prisons must be increased, while the overall and general government problem of a high salary bill and low number of staff receives attention at the same time.

Policing, courts, and prisons play an essential role in the functioning of any civilization. They are a source of peace and security, one of the fundamental functions of the state. What use is education, health, and community development if the people for whom it is intended are slaughtered in a robbery or carjacking?

Government and wider society must focus on increasing the capacity of services that ensure the peace and security of South Africans, so that we do not continue to normalize levels of violence similar to those in a war zone, while we are almost too afraid to not to venture outside after dark in our own country.

  • Zakhele Mthembu, BA (Law) LLB (Wis), is a policy officer at the Free Market Foundation.

This article was originally published on March 27, 2024 Daily Friend published.