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Riots, violence and crime risk South Africa’s shaky grip on safety and security: index


As South Africa reflects on the year passed since riots broke out in KwaZulu Natal and parts of Gauteng, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) continues to rank the country poorly in terms of safety and security.

According to the IEP’s latest Global Peace Index (GPI), published at the end of June 2022, South Africa ranks among the worst 25 countries in the world when it comes to safety and security.

The GPI ranks 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness.

The index covers 99.7% of the world’s population, using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, and measures the state of peace using three thematic domains:

  • The level of societal safety and security;
  • The extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict;
  • The degree of militarisation.

The safety and security domain tracks indicators such as violent crime, violent demonstrations, murders, displaced people, terrorism, the jailed population, and the number of police officers per 100,000 population.

In this domain, South Africa ranks 141st – or the 23rd worst – among countries like Honduras and El Salvador – nations that are also known for high levels of violent crime, which often rank as some of the most violent places on earth.

Contributing to South Africa’s reputation as being one of the unsafest countries in the world include:

  • Low levels of safety and security overall
  • High levels of violent crime
  • High levels of violent demonstrations
  • High levels of murder
  • High levels of perceived criminality in society

While South Africa still ranks poorly when it comes to safety and security, its position on the overall peace index showed a positive move, with the country gaining five positions in the ranking in 2022.

Out of the 163 countries and territories ranked in the index, South Africa ranks 118th overall.

In terms of local and domestic conflict involvements, it ranks in the middle, at 96th, and in the militarisation domain, it ranks 58th.

South Africa’s poor levels of safety and security are countered by low levels of armed conflict and relatively stable domestic conflict. Its higher position on the overall ranking was also due to other nations – such as Ukraine – falling down the rankings due to Russia’s invasion and the ongoing war in the region.

In fact, the IEP warned about the declining peacefulness in Sub-Saharan Africa, noting that the region’s violent demonstration score deteriorated by 54% since 2008. The region also saw a steady deterioration in the indicator throughout the 2010s, it said.

This has largely played out in countries outside of South Africa – such as the 2012 and 2013 clashes in Kenya, or civil uprisings in Nigeria between 2017 and 2020. However, July 2021 marked a turn in this perceived ‘exceptionalism’ in South Africa.

“In 2021, riots spread throughout South Africa, as looting and arson gripped cities such as Durban, Phoenix, Cape Town and others. Some estimates suggest this resulted in 350 deaths, 2,500 arrests and $3.3 billion in damages,” the IEP noted.

Despite this, South Africa’s internal conflict measures have been weighted on the “more peaceful” side of the IEP’s scale over the last year.

According to the IEP, the economic impact of violence in South Africa is costing the country around 14% of GDP every year – the 20th highest impact of all countries ranked. In terms of direct cost, the group says it has cost $135 billion, or $3,400 per capita (in PPP terms).

Riot warning

While the 2021 riots in South Africa are being seen by international bodies as an exception, for now, top business and government officials have warned that the country could face a repeat of the event, as very little has been done to address the issues facing the country over the last year.

Speaking to BusinessDay, Business Unity South Africa chief executive Cas Coovadia says the country’s law enforcement is a particular point of concern, with the ANC’s upcoming elective conference set to contribute to the violence.

“The factors leading to the July insurrection remain. The political infighting and factionalism persist and there is significant jockeying for power in the run-up to the ANC elective conference in December,” said Coovadia.

He added that the government seems to be making little progress in tackling this law and order weakness. “So, conditions are still ripe for disruption, if forces bent on this want to do so,” said Coovadia.

These concerns were echoed by the head of the Presidency’s investment and infrastructure office Kgosientso Ramokgopa, who described the situation as a ‘ticking time tomb’, TimesLive reports.

“The price of fuel and its relationship with where we are. Don’t watch TV and think people are bombing each other here, the bombing is in the fridge. The bomb is on the stove. And when it explodes, no one will be able to stop it. If food prices continue to rise it means the poor must have one meal. If it continues, it’s two meals every two days. That’s hunger. That’s anger. And that means the rich will never sleep.

“They will rise and topple an ANC government. We are seeing it in many parts of the world. The shortage of inventory has resulted in inflationary pressures. There aren’t enough cars in the US. That drove inflation and the federal reserve had to adjust the interest rates, and that’s followed by the South African Reserve Bank.”


Read: Top government and business leaders warn that South Africa is sitting on a ‘ticking time bomb’ 



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