Crime rates in South Africa are expected to continue their upward climb as economic and social conditions deteriorate – a trend that is already being evidenced in the sharp climb in truck and car hijackings. As economic growth contracts, unemployment figures grow and regard for the rule of law deteriorates, vehicle tracking and recovery provider Cartrack says this will drive up theft and hijackings of vehicles, trucks and cargos for sale into the illicit local and cross-border markets.
Approximately 50% of stolen and hijacked vehicles are disposed of within South Africa, 30% are exported to other countries while 20% find their way into chop shops and the second hand parts market. And as long as cash-strapped consumers are prepared to look the other way to save a buck and fuel demand, criminal syndicates will continue to operate and flourish.
The economics of crime
“Official crime statistics show a 12.3% increase in carjacking to 11 221 reported cases, while our own truck hijackings stats increased by 16% in the last financial year to Feb 2015, which aligns with similar figures released by the Road Freight Association. The association reported 1 150 truck hijackings across the industry during the same reporting period. The escalation is rapid and significant. Anecdotally, we have always seen a trend whereby vehicle crimes increase during times of economic stress, but now more reports are showing a direct correlation between crime rates and economic and social conditions. Both car and truck hijackings are generally perpetrated by organised crime syndicates, thus the hijacking increases also suggest that organised crime is on the rise in South Africa,” explains John Edmeston, Global CFO of Cartrack Holdings Ltd.
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Monitoring the Impact of Economic Crisis on Crime, crime peaks during economic crises. The incidence of robbery may double, and homicide and motor vehicle theft also increase, according to the report. Using data recorded by police in 15 countries on the incidence of robbery, homicide and car theft, the report focuses on the possible effects of economic stress. In 8 of 11 countries undergoing economic upheavals, a link between economic factors and crime could be clearly established.
“Our own experience and the findings of the report are consistent with criminal motivation theory, which suggests that economic stress causes an increase in criminal behaviour. In fact, past experience shows that during the financial crisis of 2008/9, truck hijackings in SA soared by 61% when compared with SAPS stats for 2006/7. During the recovery years of 2011/12, the incidents fell by 42%. Nevertheless, I think we have to come to terms with the fact that crime, particularly organised crime, is an industry in itself and will thrive regardless of economics in an environment where controls and consequences are inadequate, ” adds John.
Beyond the economic link to crime rates, various studies also state that there are many extenuating factors that drive this trend, including the presence of youth gangs, drugs, alcohol consumption and the availability of firearms. Gangs operating drug and vehicle theft syndicates are rife across South Africa, particularly in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Exacerbating this, the perceived or real high levels of corruption, instability in our law enforcement agencies along with perceived low criminal prosecution rates also play a role in bolstering crime levels as criminals believe they can act with impunity.
The World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2015 report puts South Africa as the country with the 8th highest unemployment rate in the world. The country ranks even more poorly in terms of youth unemployment (6th, globally), with a shocking rate of 52.5%.
“Tackling youth unemployment has to be our single most important focus going forward. The situation poses a high risk to social stability in South Africa – if a growing population of youth is unemployed and in poverty with huge gaps between their aspirations and realities, there is a very high likelihood of them getting drawn into gangs, drugs, alcohol and criminal activities. Business and government must find common ground if we are to prevent the ticking time bomb of a forecast of 10 million not economically active young people by 2020 – large numbers of unemployed youth have been at the centre of the unrests, service delivery protests and rebellions across the continent,” adds John.
Studies have also shown that where there is widespread unemployment, there is the potential to cause an increase in the proportion of the population with an arguably higher motivation to identify illicit solutions to their immediate problems. These studies do find statistically significant correlations between unemployment and crime rates, which tend to hold true more often for property crime than for violent crime types.