The 2018-19 crime statistics paint a horrific picture of South Africa. Over two million crimes are reported every year to more than 1 000 police stations across the country. The numbers are colossal and with every crime there is a victim — Most South Africans have been victims. The M&G Data Desk travelled to three corners of the country to uncover the reasons behind this violence and speak to those left in the aftermath.
We analysed the past decade of South African Police Service (SAPS) crime statistics to find out where rape, murder, and drug-related crimes were reported the most. The data paints a very violent picture in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. But the data also points to small, quiet areas in Limpopo with a serious problem in violating women and children.
"Save me from my brothers,” pleaded a 15-year-old from Inanda, about 25km east of the Durban city centre.
The teenager, speaking in the presence of his guardian, detailed how his older brothers rob and kill people.
“I know how a person is robbed and killed because I’ve seen my older brothers doing it. Their job is to rob and kill people for a living. They carry long sharp knives which they use to stab people with.
He said that they knew most of the victims, which was why they were killed.
“I’m already learning the tricks of the trade and I know it’s not right but I have no choice,” he said. “My wish is to grow up and become a lawyer but I also know that this is impossible because I’ve already started doing the wrong things.”
Another perpetrator, who asked not to be named for his safety, said the township is a place where only the fittest survive.
As he describes what they do he uses common words that have a different meaning. “Ikhethini” (curtain) means stabbing someone on the forehead so that the blood oozes and cover the victim’s eyes. “Roll-on” means the victim must be stabbed in the armpits so that he drops whatever he’s carrying. Ukudala (to create) means stabbing the victim.
“Our job is not a secret. Everyone, including our own families, know what is going on here,” says the perpetrator. “We’ve been accustomed to this kind of life. I am not saying it’s good but we do this for survival. You kill or get killed, you are never in between.
“I didn’t want to be a victim so I joined them — I stab to kill.
He explains that the victims are carefully chosen.
“We either follow the victim or we wait at a certain spot. If it’s someone we know, or we are met with resistance, then we kill that person.”
He says their busiest days are Fridays and Saturdays in the evenings. “We also work during the daytime but we prefer late evenings till the early hours of the mornings.”
Getting arrested was the least of their problems. “The reason we kill our victims is so that they don’t avenge themselves.”
Murdering someone has another advantage. “If you stab or kill someone you become a hero and everyone in the community respects you. Then it means you are safe, no one will take you for granted. It’s similar to prison life except that it's happening in an open society.
The disadvantage, however, is it “creates a cycle and you have to watch your back all the time”. According to the 2018-19 crime stats released by SAPS, there were 209 murders reported in Inanda while the average since 2009 is 179. These statistics show that Inanda is the fourth biggest murder hot spot in the country.
Almost every household in Inanda is, in one way or another, affected by crime. Among them are Majodini and Luthuli families and they may never know what happened to their loved ones just before they died.
Monica Majodini is still grieving for her two sons, Nkosinathi Emmanuel (25) and Sizwe David (22), who were killed by unknown people. Nkosinathi was shot and Sizwe was beaten to death.
“Both of them were killed in 2015. Nkosinathi died in June and Sizwe died in July but, four years later, I have not received justice for them. I am still waiting for answers from the authorities but it seems I’ll never get them,” their mother says. “I want to know the killers of my children and why they were killed. Cases were opened at Inanda police station but the cases were withdrawn. The police have dismally failed me.”
Their father, Mongezi Majodini, says he finds it difficult to forget about his two sons. “Nkosinathi had left with one of his friends. A few hours later the same friend phoned us telling us that Nkosinathi had been shot. We rushed to the crime scene only to find our son’s body with the police. His friend had already disappeared. We still don’t know why he was killed but we would appreciate an explanation.”
When Nkosinathi was killed his younger brother decided to leave Inanda area.
“Sizwe was very traumatised by Nkosinathi’s death and, as a result, he decided to leave for a few weeks. He only came back in July and that is also when they killed him,” says Mongezi. “Again, no one was arrested, the police told us that they cannot find the witnesses. We are still hurting and there is nothing we can do.”
Last month, Mphathi Luthuli’s son, Mnqobi Soni, was killed and hung by the neck from a tree not far from his home.
“I know he didn’t hang himself because his hands were clamped together and his knees were bent. I’ll never rest until I know who killed my son,” says Mphathi. “Mnqobi will never be brought back but I want to know what happened that night. My suspicion is that he was drugged or poisoned. I say this because there were no injuries or bruises on his body.
“Crime in this area has affected me a lot because in 2013 my daughter, Sphumelele Ngcongo, was also shot and killed. Again, no one was arrested,” he says.
Zandile Luthuli, Mnqobi’s grandmother, says the family is traumatised by his death. “Mnqobi went out with his friends at night and he never came back. The following day, we found him hanging from a tree. The pain is too much, we still have flashbacks.”
Residents blamed drugs and high levels of unemployment for the crime in the Inanda area.
“We also don’t have any recreational centres but every corner has a tavern. Children as young as eight are exposed to drugs and alcohol,” one resident explains. “They become unruly and eventually drop out of school. Crime is the way of life for our young boys, they want to see blood in their hands.”
He adds: “We are worried about the future our kids but we’ve also lost hope. I can also tell you that in most cases we know the perpetrators but reporting them does not help because they don’t get arrested. Instead you end up being the next victim.
“We are not safe and there’s nothing we can do.”
By Zama Chutshela
He covered her with a black cloak, painted a cross on her forehead and told her to kneel while a chorus of people murmured in a language she could not understand. Then she passed out — waking up the next day in her rapist’s bed.
This is the story of Angel Modao*, who says she was raped in August last year by her pastor and then forced to partake in what she thinks was a satanic ritual. Hers is one of the hundreds of cases opened at the Thohoyandou police station in Limpopo.
She was 16 at the time.
Recounting her experience, she says: “The pastor contacted me on Facebook and said I should join the all-night prayer that Friday. I told him I had no money to go. He said I should tell the taxi driver he would pay when we arrived.”
She went, the pastor paid and they walked to his house. Angel says the alleged rapist left her in the house for four hours. She watched television.
“He came back with a woman I thought was his wife then we all left together to a place I did not recognise. The pastor told the lady to go inside the church and he asked me to move from the back seat of the car to the front seat. He touched my thighs. I pulled away. He told me he would kill me if I screamed. I was so scared. He raped me.
“Then, as if nothing had happened, he told me to get dressed and never tell a soul about what happened. We walked into the church.”
Angel was greeted with the sight of a room full of people wearing black cloaks. She says the pastor covered her head and body with a cloak, and then painted a crucifix on her forehead.
“I blame myself. I should not have gone to a place and not tell my aunts. He told me not to tell them. He told me I had problems and he was going to help me fix them and I believed him,” Angel says. “I believed him when he said he would kill me if I told anyone and I tried to hide it from my aunt as well.”
About 2 000 rapes in the past five years have been reported in Thohoyandou, which has a population of 69 453 according to the 2011 census statistics, making it one of the top five rape hot spots in the country.
The police station with the highest number of reported rapes in the past 10 years is Inanda in KwaZulu-Natal with 3 276. Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape holds the third-highest position, with more than 1 500 cases reported in the past 10 years.
Manthada Fhatuwani, the justice project manager at the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme, says there is a “deep problem” in the area and, given the size of the population, the statistics are alarming.
Fhatuwani explains that alcohol abuse, patriarchy, the objectification of women and a shortage of good male role models contribute to the high number of rapes in the area.
“We do believe that a lot more people are reporting rape because they are better educated and we offer holistic support in terms of trauma counselling, following up on cases with the police and ensuring the victim is prepared for a trial,” he says.
The centre is the go-to place for women and children who have been abused, assaulted and raped. The two biggest hospitals in the area work closely with the centre.
Mashudu Singo (23) is one of the women who was hospitalised after she was raped in February this year. She was walking home from the library when she was attacked by two men who wanted her phone. She handed it over. “They dragged me to the bushes where they debated whether to rape me from behind. All I could do was pray. I prayed through the whole ordeal,” she says.
They took off her clothes, blindfolded her and told her they would kill her, before cutting open her hand to show her they were serious.
Her ordeal is not over, she says — she has seen one of the alleged perpetrators in town at least twice. She’s now battling at school, while dealing with the side-effects of the antiretrovirals, creeping depression and the fact that her case went nowhere.
It took her father conducting his own investigation to force the police to find and arrest one of the alleged perpetrators.
“Last week Friday, my father went back to the police station to ask about my case. The investigating officer told him it was not the only one,” Singo says. “My father had received a tip-off about the whereabouts of the perpetrator and the IO [investigating officer] followed us to where we thought he was.”
They took off her clothes, blindfolded her and told her they would kill her, before cutting open her hand to show her they were serious.
According to Singo, however, it was not the police who arrested the 19-year-old suspect — it was her father. “The back-up this lady [the investigating officer] was calling was not arriving and she had no handcuffs. So my father grabbed this boy and put him in the car.”
On further investigation, the Mail & Guardian found out that the case had been closed in March and Singo had not been informed. The case was reopened the day the suspect was arrested.
When the Thohoyandou police station spokesperson, Sergeant Vuledzani Dathi, was asked if there were negligence, in this case, he transferred the inquiry to the provincial office.
There has been no response as to the claim that Singo’s father had to apprehend his daughter’s alleged rapist.
Singo and Angel believe the residents of Thohoyandou are not ready to talk about rape. Angel says even her mother blames her for having been raped.
The high school pupil says she tried to kill herself. “I feel like I have no one and am no one.”
*Not her real name
By Athandiwe Saba
Green patches and trees are rare in suburbs on the Cape Flats, particularly in Eastridge in Mitchells Plain. At midday, the streets mirror the colour of the grey clouds hanging overhead. The parks are empty and neglected. Apart from the noise of the aeroplanes that fly over to land at Cape Town International Airport, the area is mostly quiet.
In a cul-de-sac, schoolchildren huddle around a smartphone, watching videos and playing games. A nine-year-old says he’s not in school because his uniform is dirty.
It’s a telling street. On the corner is the house of a Dixie Boys gang leader. Six houses away is the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre. Ashley Potts, who heads up the centre, says the previous Dixie Boys boss, John “Paulla” Paulse, was shot dead a couple of blocks away in December.
Potts says the Eastridge residents remember Paulla well. His name is sprayed in big black letters across the wall next to an open field.
A group of high school boys in their uniforms hang around a kiosk nearby, listening to house music. “They were shooting here yesterday from around that corner there,” one says, referring to a rival gang, the Americans.
He wants to study to become a boilermaker when he finishes matric and his friend wants to get into software engineering.
“It’s good that journalists cover this topic [gangs]. It’s important for you to come here,” he says, his eyes bloodshot. “The gangs are not scared of the army. It just gives them courage.”
On the weekend of August 10, in the month after the South African National Defence Force was sent to the Cape Flats to help police quell the escalating gang violence, 47 murders were recorded. This included 27 shootings and 13 stabbings.
Earlier in the year, the Western Cape’s minister of education, Debbie Schäfer, and Premier Alan Winde, who was the minister of community safety at the time, said gang violence threatened to spill over into schools in the Cape Flats.
According to the province’s Safe Schools Programme, there were 177 instances where drugs were found on learners in 2017. The following year, this number increased to 194. Similarly, the instances where schoolchildren were found to be carrying weapons on school premises increased from 56 in 2017 to 78 in 2018.
Over the years Mitchells Plain has consistently been the area with the most drug-related crimes recorded by the police precinct. The annual crime stats show that SAPS recorded an average of 5 373 incidents since 2009. In 2018-19, drug-related cases, however, decreased from 3 475 to 1 455.
There are more drug hotspots in other areas in the Cape Flats such as Manenberg, Delft and Bishop Lavis — all of which have an annual average of more than 2 000 drug-related incidents on record.
Lynn Phillips works for the department of local government and is secretary of the community policing forum in Mitchells Plain. She says that society and the government have failed the people in this Cape Town suburb.
“I have a son who’s on substances. He’s got matric and is really brilliant, but he chose that [drugs],” she says.
Phillips was in an abusive marriage in which her son also became a victim. But he only started doing heroin after he left school. “I couldn’t understand. He was a child in school who was a role model to others.”
Phillips says substance abuse is a health issue. “It only becomes a criminal activity once they need to sustain their habits.”
She believes the police should stop incarcerating addicts and focus on real crimes such as drug dealing, rape and murder.
“Most addicts have criminal records. Some are postgraduates who can’t find a job because they have criminal records. That is how bad it is,” Phillips says. “What do you leave the addict with? He will continue with drugs because his life is doomed.”
Back at the drug counselling centre — which provides therapy for addicts and holds lectures and workshops to help them cope with substance abuse and the lifestyle triggers that lead to it — schoolchildren wait in the lobby for their sessions to start.
Potts says trauma is the dominant theme among the addicts. People don’t deal with trauma adequately and when they reach breaking point, they turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain.
“Violence is often the most dominant cause of death that [patients] would be exposed to, because it happens so frequently — it’s become a norm in our society. Children don’t even shy away from going to look at a body lying under the blanket."
In 2017-2018, 66% of the centre’s patients were adolescents.
At the moment, the centre’s youngest patients are nine years old. Children sometimes get exposed to heroin and tik from their parents, Potts says. But dagga is generally the drug of choice and alcohol is almost always prevalent, he adds. “The number of [adolescent patients] is growing — this year we’re already sitting at about 70%.”
He says the effect of substance abuse in schools is huge. “Teachers are overloaded. They can’t cope any more. The only way for them to deal with it is to stay at home — take a sick day or go for stress medication.”
A vice-principal at one school in Mitchells Plain says substance abuse has become increasingly common. He prefers to stay anonymous for fear of giving the school a bad name.
“In the past, we only looked at the higher grades [for drugs]. But today we have to look at grades 8 and 9. It’s a massive problem,” he says. “As they walk to school, they buy the stuff. Dagga is the most prevalent. It’s available. The learners — and the parents most likely as well — see it as a cigarette.”
By Jacques Coetzee, an Adamela Trust data fellow who is funded by the Indigo Trust