In S. Africa, 2 percent of population is behind bars
January 17, 1998
Web posted at: 1:03 p.m. EDT (1303 GMT)
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- More than 34,000 South
African prisoners have escaped in the last four years while
awaiting trial, police said Friday.
The news highlights the difficulties that the newly
democratic country is having in combatting some of the
world's highest levels of violent crime -- and in fighting
perceptions that crime is on the rise.
South Africa's murder rate is seven times higher than that of
the United States. The rate of other crimes, including armed
robbery and hijacking, is also high, and anecdotal evidence
of the problems are easy to find.
Simon Nash, who was forced out of his car at gunpoint and
made to lie down on the ground, recalled that the next day
when he went to work, his friends called him "and
congratulated me for not being shot and not being killed.
Which seems ridiculous, that you must be congratulated for an
event like that."
His attackers were not caught. But even in cases where
criminals are arrested and sent to jail, there is little
confidence that they will remain imprisoned.
Prison escapes common
Most of South Africa's prisons are overcrowded; 2 percent of
the nation's 41 million people are behind bars. Headlines
are filled with stories of prisoners who escape, some simply
walking out of poorly guarded or poorly secured
Compounding the problem, the justice system is also
overloaded, and bound to become more so. Prosecutors in
magistrates' courts this week went on what amounts to a
go-slow strike, refusing to work overtime if they are not
What it all means for one young Soweto girl is a delay in the
trial of her uncle Brian, the man she says raped her. "I'm
still not feeling OK," she said, "because Brian is still
alive. I'm scared he will come back and kill me."
Brian has already escaped twice from prison while awaiting
trial on previous charges. His own brother turned him in to
the police, but says he should have killed him.
"The police, they are not doing their job very well," said
Jerry Mokgatle. "A person like Brian ... maybe we shouldn't
give Brian to the police. It was better to bring Brian to
the graveyard, not the police."
'Whoever is cheaper, you can buy'
If law-abiding citizens have little confidence in the law,
gangsters like David have little respect for it. "Whoever is
cheaper, you can buy," he told CNN in an on-camera interview,
clearly unconcerned that his identity would be revealed. He
has never been convicted of a crime, despite being arrested
"Sometimes you can buy the investigating officer to, like,
disrupt the evidence. Sometimes not to call the witness to
the court, and he claims they are not responding to him.
Sometimes you buy the clerk of court and he can steal the
charge sheet," David said. "If I'm arrested, I pay, I go
Residents such as hairdresser Joanna Mkubu suffer the consequences. Like so many others in Soweto, she is the
victim of an armed robbery. And like many others, she firmly
believes the police "are doing nothing" to stop crime.
The economy may be affected as well, Nash said. "I know
(crime) affects my thinking and it affects other associates'
thinking, and it certainly affects foreigners' thinking," he
said. "There is absolutely no doubt about it, it is costing
the country billions."
Mandela disputes rise in crime
The African National Congress government says crime is rooted
in poverty, and insists it is doing everything it can to
create more jobs.
South African President Nelson Mandela says the claim that criminal activity has increased under a democratic system is
nothing more than propaganda put out by political opponents.
A memorial wall dedicated to crime victims
He maintains that incidents of murder, attempted murder and
culpable homicide in Johannesburg have declined since his
government came to power.
"Facts and figures actually disprove the notion that there
has been a rapid escalation of these crimes, and confirm that
we inherited the high levels of these crimes from the
apartheid system," Mandela said.
Like South Africa's new democratic constitution, crime
recognizes no class, race or religion. All are touched by it
and many live in a state of constant unease. People who
struggled so long for liberty still have their freedom
curtailed, fearing those who respect no law or order.
Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.