Each year there is a brief, but intense period during which South Africans very publicly assess the state of crime in the country. This period of reflection is brought about by the annual release of the police crime statistics. In 2012 the SAPS and the Minister of Police faced intense criticism. There were allegations (as there have been in the past) that the statistics are an inaccurate reflection of the state of crime; but, more importantly, the Minister was criticised for the infrequency of the availability of police crime data. By the time the statistics for the financial year are announced in September of the following year, the figures are, at best, six months out of date. This means that it is not possible to rely on the police statistics for accurate, up-to-date information about crime. As political pressure mounts in South Africa in the face of rising prices, dissatisfaction with local government service and public service corruption, it will be important for civil society to be able monitor levels of public violence. For this, and a range of other reasons, the Minister of Police should reconsider the existing policy and make the statistics available on a more frequent basis. The first article in this edition makes the case for changes in the reporting practices of the crime statistics.
While SACQ focuses predominantly on crime and criminal justice-related matters in South Africa we have carried articles from other parts of the continent in the recent past, and hope to increase our regional content in future. In this edition we feature an assessment of prison reform in Mozambique. The author, Tina Lorizzo, conducted her MSc research in two prisons in Maputo and assessed the legal framework for prison reform in that country. Her article reflects the limits of law reform as a means to effect real, positive change for inmates. On a slightly more positive note, Martin Schönteich provides an assessment of the positive effect that paralegals are having in accessing justice for pre-trial detainees in a number of countries in Africa.
Hema Hargovan’s article brings us back to the enormous challenges of implementing sustainable alternatives to court-based justice. She shares the findings of an evaluation of a restorative justice programme in KwaZulu-Natal and how prosecutors have found restorative justice practices a handy tool to reduce pressure on court rolls.
Also in this edition of SACQ we continue the ‘hate debate’ started in December 2011 (SACQ 38) by Juan Nel and Duncan Breen. Nel and Breen made the case for new legislation to increase the penalty for crimes motivated by prejudice. They argued that not only do crimes of prejudice have a more severe emotional effect on the victims; but that it is necessary for the state to demonstrate its objection to these types of crimes through the imposition of harsh sentences for offenders. In response, Bill Dixon and David Gadd (SACQ 40, June 2012) drew on international experience to argue that the law is a blunt instrument for countering prejudice; and that laws of this kind have been shown to have negative unintended consequences. In this edition, Kerry Williams, a partner at the law firm Webber Wentzel, draws on her experience in representing a non-governmental organisation that acted as a ‘friend of the court’ during the sentencing phase of a criminal case against a group of young men convicted of seriously assaulting a gay man. This article is written from the perspective of a practitioner in the criminal justice system and seeks to draw out some of the key issues for consideration in relation to the role of civil society and the state in countering prejudice.
We end this final edition of 2012 with a review by Elrena van der Spuy of Monique Marks and David Sklansky’s edited volume: Police reform from the bottom up.
Chandré Gould (Editor)