How has the lockdown affected experiences of crime in Cape Town? Statistics released by the Cape Town Central City Improvement District’s (CCID) Safety and Security department show that there has been a 73% drop in all reported crime during Level 4 Lockdown. Are these statistics representative of actual crime levels or only reported crime? Has crime dropped across the city or has it simply been displaced from the CBD? We asked our diarists whether the lockdown has had an impact on crime in their respective communities. Here is what they had to say:
‘No crime in my community’
In line with reports of declining crime within the CBD, a large number of our diarists write that they have indeed seen a drop in the level of crime within their own communities.
“I haven’t heard any complaining… from community members being robbed and also we haven’t experienced any kind of house break-ins so I think crime has dropped.” – Esethu, Khayelitsa
“Yes indeed it has a positive impact [there] are few cases of robberies and less crime “- Kungo, Shukushukuma
“Yes big time. Because there is less crime now people like my mother walks freely to the bus/taxi stop. “ – Taila, Khayelitsha
‘People are at home’
Participants noted several reasons for the decline in crime levels. One being that people are home more during the lockdown.
“There’s been less home break-ins during lockdown (which used to be very common in my area) since more people are at home.” – Nessie, Elsies River
“…everyone is indoors and afraid to be in contact with other people because no one wants to die especially with cost being so high just to test for the virus.” – Ash, Delft
‘Police are always visible’
A second reason our diarists offered to explain the reduction of crime amongst is the heightened presence of the police, deterring would be criminals.
Nicole from Lavender Hill notes how her community, which “had several crimes pertaining to gang rivalry” before the lockdown, has now seen those kinds of criminal activities lowered within the area. She attributes this to the presence of law enforcement in her community. “The police patrolling and army presence at the beginning of the lock down, has placed criminals on edge in their criminal dealings”, she writes. Many others agree that the presence of law enforcement has reduced crime in their communities.
“[W]e don’t hear cases where people get robbed or house breaking because the thugs know police are always visible.” – Thembisile, Imizamo Yethu
“So far in my area there’s visibility of officer’s securities and army so it’s totally safe “- Mpho, Seapoint
While this is indeed true for many of our participants, it is important to note that some had lived in areas that had low crime levels even before the lockdown. Mpho explains, “We have civilian cameras around the area so crime is not really affecting us that much before and during lockdown”. Helen from Oranjezicht who says that “[t]here has been almost no crime” in her area also notes that she “can’t say it’s because of an increased police presence or security presence because that has probably stayed the same.”
‘The liquor has an impact on crime reduction’
In addition to the factors above, many of the respondents have attributed lowering crime levels in their communities to restrictions on alcohol. Samkelo from Imizamo Yethu notes that “now that people are sober most of the time [they] are behaving”. This opinion is shared by several of our diarists.
“Because the[ere] is no alcohol no cigarettes now everybody is normal”- Neziswa, Shukushukuma
“I think crime has somehow decreased because taverns and shebeens are closed and there are few cases of people been robbed or assaulted whilst under the influence” – Bonga, Khayelitsha
Lockdown has increased crime
While many of our respondents report declining crime within their respective communities, this view is not universal. Some diarists find that being indoors does not guarantee their safety and has in fact spurred a growth in different kinds of crimes.
“… now that the lockdown has took place the criminals cannot rob many people in the streets because the majority of the people are at home so now what they do is break into our homes while people are in the house and gun point them and collect whatever they want. So now it has become more dangerous because we are at a danger of getting hurt or rather raped by these criminals.” – Nomaxabiso, Khayelitsha
“[There] has been an increase in crime within the IY community, where a lot of robberies are happening mostly at night where many individuals have claimed that they were held at knife point. I think with what is going on has made it easier for criminals to operate and this is why [there] has been an increase in crime.”- Lwando, Imizamo Yethu
Some also note the impact of the alcohol and cigarette ban on provision, with local liquor stores being looted and the alcohol sold to the community for a profit.
“Most of the people are not working because of this lockdown so they ended up doing the break ins and theft especially the youngster and then the businesses nearby are the targets for example the liquor stores” – Mavis, Block Six
‘Crime and theft for the sake of survival’
Some conclude with Gassie, from Woodstock, that “criminals will always look for an opportunity to commit crime” and what we are seeing here is a change in tactics. But others, like Mysterious M, emphasise the changing drivers of crime. That is to say, lockdown has not just changed opportunities for crime, it has changed who feels that they need to commit crime and why. Mysterious M notes that crime in her area is on the rise because of a need to ‘survive’. “I do think that the lockdown increased the rate of crime and theft for the sake of survival. People are going to extreme lengths to provide food for their families.”, she writes. Fellow diarists also note a similar phenomena.
“Yes it is very bad…two weeks before two bakery security in my street were shot and died in our street…they took their guns and bread in the bakery.” – Patsie, Khayelitsha
“Lockdown has really impacted on all of us crime as in stealing to make end meet” – Fadwah, Hangberg
“There are guys always asking for food or money on our street on Monday someone robbed her cell phone and always there are […] people outside the gate and you feel not protected and scared” – Zama, Seapoint
Unemployment is seen as a contributor to the growing levels of crime in some communities. Petty crimes, home robberies and looting, according to our diarists, have been ways in which people combat their hunger during lockdown. As Nathi from Disa states, “Since the start of the lockdown, crime has increased in my area. The unemployed find it very hard to survive during this lockdown”.
While the report from the CCID’s Safety and Security department coincides with many experiences from our diarists, it does not account for the crimes occurring in communities outside of the CBD. In addition it does not take into account the many cases that go unreported. As noted by Bonga from Khayelitsha, “…with GBV cases it’s hard to say because most of these cases occur inside the household”.
If crime is being displaced by the Lockdown, how should policing provision best adapt to these shifts?
In what ways are the new patterns of crime shifting the risk of crime? Will this change the profile of victims for certain categories of crime?
Will crime patterns revert back when lockdown ends or are we seeing emerging forms of crime that may have longer legacies?