Violent Crime in South Africa: Deputy Minister & Police Secretariat report on Centre for Study of Violence & Reconciliation findings

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08 November 2010
Chairperson: Ms L Chikunga (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee welcomed the new Deputy Minister to the meeting. The Civilian Secretariat for the Police Service (the Secretariat) outlined the content of six reports that had been commissioned from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) on the nature of crime in South Africa, and that were submitted between 2007 and 2009. A shortened version of the report was submitted to the Committee, and was outlined by the Secretariat. 

The report had emphasised that violence must be understood in terms of the forms that it took. It isolated that violence tended to take the forms of arguments and anger linked to domestic violence, or rape and sexual assault, or robbery and other violent property crimes. Data from the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System and South African Police Service were used to reflect differences in violence in metropolitan and other areas, with aggravated robbery concentrated in the former, and tending o be linked to organised crime groups, and to isolate the weapons used. However, the report noted that most violent crime was committed individually or by gangs, and arose through a general culture of violence and criminality rather than organised crime. Most violent crime other than robbery, was perpetrated by acquaintances. Male to male disputes accounted for 45% of murders while street robberies accounted for 13% of murders. Specific socio-economic factors, social exclusion and marginalisation, as well as the ready availability of firearms, weaknesses in the criminal justice system, attitudes of male sexual entitlement and alcohol sustained the violence. Recommendations in the report included that armed crime must be addressed in metropolitan and surrounding areas, including development of policing strategies and strengthening evidence-based crime investigation and prosecution, and strengthening police integrity, whilst also creating safety through weapon free zones in public and other areas and by improving safety in correctional centres. The report also recommended the need to support positive and healthy child and youth development and sustainable family support programmes, and empowering children to manage conflict and aggression. It recommended that political leaders should play a role in promoting non-violent culture, and more work was needed on public education initiatives. Recommendations were made to address the needs of poorer communities specifically, as well as recommendations in relation to data collection and the need for the State, civil society and academic research agencies to work together.

The Secretariat noted that this report had both strengths and weaknesses. Whilst it did collate information from a wide range of resources, and produced useful suggestions for social mobilisation against violence, further research was still needed on some issues, and there should in particular be clarity on the concepts of “culture of violence”. There were some concerns about the reliability of data, and a need to clarify why other countries with histories of violence differed from South Africa. Some recommendations had already been adopted by the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster.

Several Members were unhappy with the use of the term “culture of violence”, indicating firstly that it was not clear, secondly that it could be seen as justifying the violence, and thirdly questioning whether this was supposed to suggest that the society was, by its nature, violent. The CSVR conceded that it was not the best term to use and perhaps further discussion was needed on the points raised. Members welcomed the emphasis on the availability of weapons, and the suggestions for weapon-free zones,  but asked what further remedial actions were recommended and questioned whether this was implementable. They questioned the methodology, the correctness of the data, and the samples that were used. Members asked if the role of the family structure had been examined, as well as the reasons why those from supportive backgrounds still became violent. Members also wanted to know when the “culture of violence” was introduced, whether it was directly linked to apartheid, and from whom violent behaviour was learnt. Members held differing views whether crime was politicised and some asked what impact violent speeches by political leaders would have. Members generally sought comparative analyses to other countries and questioned why the nature of crime and the level of violence differed, and also noted that the report had not addressed senseless crime and gratuitous violence or cruelty. Some Members questioned whether the reports really provided value for money, noting that many of the issues were not new, and that only some suggestions had been made, whereas they had expected all recommendations to be placed before the Committee, whether or not they may be regarded as immediately capable of implementation. The Secretariat also outlined that its main concerns were that the report did not  explain why crime was violent in South Africa, did not contain a comparative analysis between crime in South Africa and crime in other countries, and did not really contain anything new. The CSVR asked that Members should study the full set of reports, which addressed some of the issues raised, and confirmed that South Africa was not the most violent country in the world, and it did not display the highest levels, worldwide, of violent crimes. Both the CSVR and the Committee confirmed that the responsibility of addressing violent crime must rest with government as a whole, with inclusion of society structures.

Meeting report

The Chairperson noted an apology from the Minister of Police, who had to attend a conference in Dakar.  However she welcomed the new Deputy Minister of Police, stressing the Committee’s appreciation firstly for having a female in this position, and secondly because she was well versed in all issues relating to policing.

The chairperson noted hat the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) had been contracted to undertake a study on the violent nature of crime in South Africa. This report first needed to go to Cabinet. She noted that a specific feature of crime in South Africa was said to be the violent nature of this crime. She quoted a passage from a book that alleged that apartheid was responsible for the subsequent behaviour of the people in South Africa, that the extraordinary violence of this crime was unique and that the current police strategies would not solve or reduce the crimes. Crime often happened in places where it was least expected, and she cited the gang rape of a 15 year old school girl on the school premises. It was most important to address these issues.

Hon Maggie Sotyu, Deputy Minister of Police, thanked the Chairperson for her warm welcome, and agreed that she had first-hand knowledge of what was happening in the police sector. She pointed out that the Portfolio Committee on Police had one goal, common to all parties, to fight crime, and crime did not recognise colour or party lines. She had been asked by the Minister of Police to report to the Committee and the public. She noted that the new National Civilian Secretariat for the Police Service was said to be doing a good job.

Report on the Violent Nature of Crime in South Africa: Civilian Secretariat for the Police Service report-back..
Mr Irvine Kinnes, Chief Director: Policy and Research, Civilian Secretariat for the Police Service, presented a report on the violent nature of crime in South Africa. He stated that in February 2007, the then-Minister of Safety and Security had contracted the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) to conduct investigations on and produce a six part report for the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster. That report was divided into six components, as follows:

Component 1: A concept paper on the violent nature of crime in South Africa (submitted in June 2007).
Component 2: A study of murder entitled “Streets of pain, Streets of sorrow: The circumstances of the occurrence of murder in six areas with high rates of murder” (submitted in June 2008).
Component 3: A study on sexual violence entitled: “A state of sexual tyranny: The prevalence, nature and causes of sexual violence in South Africa” (submitted in December 2008).
Component 4: An analysis of the socio-economic factors that contribute to violence, entitled: “Adding injury to insult: How exclusion and inequality drive South Africa’s problem of violence” (submitted in October 2008).
Component 5: entitled “Case studies on perpetrators of violent crime” (submitted in December 2008).
Component 6: A summary report on key findings and recommendations (submitted on 31 January 2009).

A further supplementary report, which was requested by Hon Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Police, examining why South Africa had such high rates of violent crime, was submitted in April 2009.

The report emphasized that violence must be understood in terms of the forms that it took. In relation to violence, three main characteristics were apparent. Firstly, there were many assaults linked to arguments, anger and domestic violence. Secondly, the violence often took the form of rape and sexual assault. Thirdly, it could take the form of robbery and other violent property crimes.

The report used the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) and South African Police Service (SAPS) data to reflect the differences in violence in metropolitan areas and other parts of South Africa. Aggravated robbery was said to be concentrated in the metropolitan areas. The profile of weapons used was also different, with firearms being more concentrated in metropolitan areas. It was noted that Cape Town differed from other metropolitan areas because here there was a much higher use of knives. Aggravated robberies had escalated dramatically in the previous year, in the middle class suburban areas and in formal businesses. Organised groups were said to be responsible and this trend was also said to be growing. However, the report emphasised that the root of violent crime was a general culture of violence and criminality, rather than a connection to organised crime.

The next subheading was the violent nature of crime. The problem was said to remain that individual acts of robbery were more likely to occur in townships and were not part of organised crime. Young men with a criminal identity perpetrated the crimes as individuals, or as part of broader gangs. The culture of violence and criminality were said to be the principal factors that underpinned armed violence in South Africa. Non-metropolitan areas showed more diverse findings in respect of violent crime. Limpopo and Northern Cape had the lowest rates of violent crime and were more likely to use knives as opposed to firearms as the weapons of choice for murders in these provinces. The NIMSS data showed that women comprised 13% of homicide victims. Furthermore, most violent crime, with the exception of robbery, was perpetrated by acquaintances. Other aspects of crime within the metropolitan areas were given prominence by civil society groups and the media.

Other findings in relation to violent crime were that male-to-male disputes accounted for 45% of all murders. Street robberies and robberies in other public spaces accounted for the majority of aggravated robberies, and for 13% of murder. The report claimed that specific factors sustained the culture of violence, such as inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation. Other issues were the vulnerability of young people, linked to inadequate child rearing and inappropriate youth socialisation. Other factors were the weaknesses of the criminal justice system, the availability of firearms and the widespread use of other weapons, whilst the role of alcohol, attitudes of male sexual entitlement and the domestic regional and local criminal economy also played their part.

Mr Kinnes noted that recommendations were also given in the report. The first recommendation was to address armed violent crimes in metropolitan and surrounding areas. Policing strategies should be developed in order to address armed violence, and it was recommended that there should be investment into research aimed at identifying and publicising good practice in local level policing, and addressing armed violence. There was also a need to strengthen evidence-based crime investigation and prosecution, and to  strengthen measures to ensure police integrity. An armed child justice strategy was likely to lead to the apprehension of more young people involved in armed violence.

The report further recommended that attention be given to creating safety in public and other areas. Public areas should be designated as “gun-free zones”. There was also a need to discourage violence and bullying at school, to create weapon free zones in drinking establishments, and to improve safety in correctional centres, so that they become violence free.

The third recommendation concerned the need to support positive and healthy child and youth development. A coherent and sustainable family support programme that focused on single parent households, particularly those headed by teenage mothers, was needed. There was also a need for a dedicated and comprehensive Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme that provided support to children who came from dysfunctional households. Furthermore, there had to be a focus on developing interpersonal and emotional pro-social skills, including enabling primary and adolescent school children to manage conflict and aggression, and the need to reduce the use of alcohol by pregnant women.

The fourth recommendation focused on the need to address the culture of violence. It said that political leaders should play a role in promoting non-violent culture. Working with communities was another way to address the problems of violence. There was also a need to develop public education initiatives providing information about acquaintance-violence, and how to intervene in or prevent it.

The last recommendation was focused on addressing violence in poorer communities. The report noted that South Africa continued to adopt policies that favoured the well to do over the poor. Other recommendations were suggested, such as data collection and reporting, the need to use police stations as the basic unit for releasing crime statistics, and the need to understand violence better through working with the State, civil society and academic research agencies.

Mr Kinnes then highlighted the strengths of the report. It did provide an overview of the big picture of violence in South Africa. It also provided a large amount of material that would be helpful to anyone who wanted to understand violence. It was generally considered that the proposal that there be social mobilisation against violence, by focusing on violence broadly, was worth considering. There were some new elements in the framework of the recommendations, and the report recognised that a lot had already been done.

However, Mr Kinnes also said that there were some limitations to the report, and there was potential that further research was needed on some issues. The concepts of ‘culture of violence and criminality’ and of ‘culture of violence’ needed to be unpacked and better understood. Furthermore, the report had not fully engaged with the implications of the post-1994 policing environment, there were some concerns as to the reliability of the available data, and further clarification was needed on why other countries with histories of violence did not have as apparently violent crime as did South Africa.

Mr Kinnes concluded that the report was extensive, since its different components had addressed the different forms of crime. He noted that the report opened the debate on the nature of crime in the country, which was useful, and it raised questions about the most serious forms of violence and the manner in which they were addressed. The report also opened up issues around the differences in violence between wealthy and poorer communities, and the need to respond effectively to violence in both types of communities.

Mr Kinnes proposed that the recommendations should be seen as the building blocks of the approach that could be taken to fighting crime, Some of the recommendations had already been addressed in the JCPS cluster. The Civilian Secretariat for Police Service (the Secretariat) was currently engaging with academics and other institutions who were assisting and providing more clarity on the area of violence. The re-establishment of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units (FCS) units in the SAPS would help to address aspects if acquaintance violence.

The Chairperson stated that the CSVR report placed a lot of emphasis on the culture of violent crime, and a central distinguishing feature was the prominence of weapons. She questioned the origin of that culture. She agreed that more clarity was needed on the terms “culture of violence” and indeed the word “violence” itself. She wondered what methodology the CSVR had used in conducting the research.

Mr G Schneemann (ANC) asked whether the study had taken into account the fact that throughout the world crime was generally becoming more violent. He added that South African society, in general, was violent. He asked whether this impacted on crime. He also noted that increased road rage was also causing a rise in violence. He wondered if the study had looked at the role of the family structure, and especially the reasons why someone from a loving family could turn violent.

Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) noted that the Child Justice Act had been passed in 2009 and came into operation in 2010. He asked what impact that may have had. He commented, in respect of the suggestion that “weapon free” zones be created, that some shebeens were located beside schools. He asked whether any study had been done in relation to that issue. Mr Ndlovu asked what impact gang-groups such as the “28s” and the “26s” had on crime.

Rev K Meshoe (ACDP) also asked when and how the culture of violence was introduced. He asked whether other countries also talked about the “culture of violence”. He also asked how CSVR reached its conclusion that crime was being politicised in the post 1994 era. He asked whether the strengthening of social controls would decrease crime.

Mr M George (COPE) said that he had received the document late, and consequently had not had a chance to study it fully. However, he asked how the use of police stations to release crime statistics would help in the curbing of violence. He asked how the weaknesses of the criminal justice system should be addressed. He added that the recommendation that related to gun free zones was easier said than done, and asked who was supposed to police the gun free zones. He asked how much it would cost to improve family values. He too asked what was meant by the term “culture of violence”, and he also wanted to know why other countries did not have the same levels of violence such as South Africa.

Mr M Swathe (DA) also asked what the term “culture of violence” meant. He asked what the root cause was of violent crimes. He questioned whether crime was not being politicised in the post 1994 era. Mr Swathe noted that police used to search people for guns. He asked if CSVR was recommending that this search be intensified, or whether it had some other solutions. He noted the comment about the taverns situated close to schools and asked for clarity whether there was a suggestion that these should be closed.

Mr G Lekgetho (ANC) stated that he agreed with the idea that weapon-free zones should be established. He added that there was a need for support from the community to fight crime.

Ms A Van Wyk (ANC) disagreed with the idea that there was a “culture of crime”. She added that she believed that South Africa, by nature, was not violent. There was also the issue that senseless crimes were being committed. She said that the report had failed to mention anything about the abuse of drugs and alcohol. She asked what role the current criminal justice system was playing. Lastly she asked whether there was successful rehabilitation of criminals.

Ms D Kohler-Barnard (DA) stated that she was interested in the total cost of producing all the documents. She noted that the Ministries worked in silos, and wondered if there was a “golden thread” to addressing these problems that ran between all the Ministries concerned. She asked how soon Members could receive the full report. She also mentioned that she thought that violent songs by political leaders needed also to be raised.

The Chairperson stated that the report was silent on the relationship between the violence of the past and the violence that currently was prevalent. She asked how the CSVR had ensured that the instruments that it had used were reliable. Lastly she asked whether there was anything in South African crime unique, noting that in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), people were openly and freely trading currency on the streets, but were never attacked.

Mr P Groenewald (FF+) welcomed the report. He asked why it had taken so long for the Minister to release it. He asked whether the report that the Committee had received was the full report. He further said that the report did not refer to reasons of cruelty. He further noted that there was reference to politics of violent crimes, but no solution to the problem had been suggested. Mr Groenewald thought that there was indeed a culture of violence in South Africa. Lastly he said that he did not accept the reason that poverty was one of the reasons that caused violent crimes.

The Chairperson said that the report was supposed to have been presented to the Committee earlier in the year but it had to be tabled before Parliament. She had been under the impression that the report would produce something unique, and would not repeat the same issues that the Committee already knew.

Ms Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane, Secretary of Police, stressed that the report had been prepared by the CSVR, and it was that body that would need to respond to the questions. She said that the Secretariat also had some concerns with the report, as outlined earlier. The report was useful in the sense that it had gathered together information that had previously been scattered across various studies and groups. However, there were three main concerns; namely that the report did not explain why crime was violent in South Africa, did not contain a comparative analysis between crime in South Africa and crime in other countries, and did not contain anything new, since most of the issues in the report were already being discussed at the government level.

Ms Adele Kirsten, Executive Director, CSVR, said that a concept paper addressed some of the issues that had been raised, such as a comparative analysis and historical inheritance of violence. She added that there was a supplementary report, dated April 2009, which tried to address in detail why South Africa had violent crime. One of the key features of the society was that it was a post-colonial and post-apartheid society, and thus there were hundreds of years of structural violence and violence of other types. This was made clear in the concept paper and the supplementary report. Ms Kirsten then said that it was necessary to look at why South Africa was unique. Despite the fact that the country shared some common traits with other countries, such as history and geographic situations, there were also exceptions and individual traits. The focus of the report was on what was happening in South Africa. CSVR was of the opinion that violence was a learned behaviour, and that it was socialised, rather than people being innately violent. It was not the intention of the CSVR to suggest that individual South Africans were, by nature, violent. Violence was never senseless, and there were always reasons why violence took place. It was not possible to isolate one single cause of violence, since violence was complex and there were a range of factors that contributed to it. She also noted that so-called protective factors mitigated against the use of violence. She acknowledged that there were direct links between abuse of alcohol and drugs, and violence. The effects of alcohol were mostly seen in accidents. She agreed that it was necessary also to provide specific support to teenage mothers, firstly because if she continued to abuse alcohol her parenting skills would be diminished and the child would grow up in an environment where alcohol was seen as normal, and secondly because children who had foetal alcohol syndrome generally performed poorly at school. She added that it was necessary to understand the nature and causes of violence in South Africa both at the macro and micro-levels.

Ms Kirsten admitted that the term “culture of violence” perhaps might not be the best term, but CSVR was not sure that there was a better way of referring to this. She explained that it was intended to convey the sense that there was a norm of violence and that violence was also viewed, in South Africa, as an acceptable and legitimate way to deal with differences. That was the reason why the CSVR had referred to it becoming a “culture”. She stressed that this was not linked to any particular grouping but referred to a particular practice that spread across many groupings. The migrant labour system of apartheid had been unique to South Africa, and had resulted in the destruction of families. Apartheid had been present in day to day interactions and dictated where people lived.

Ms Kirsten said that South Africa was not the most violent country in the world, and it did not display the highest levels, worldwide, of violent crimes. South Africa was the most unequal society in the world. The report was asking government to pay attention to street robberies, which affected the working class people, and this was the new aspect that the report added. The responsibility of addressing violent crime was placed on the whole of the government, and not just the SAPS.

Mr David Bruce, principal author and Senior Specialist Researcher, CSVR, reiterated some of the aspects set out by Ms Kirsten. Nothing in the report had actually said that South Africans were by nature violent. He said that the CSVR was paid R3.5 million for this report, and it was unrealistic to expect that it could have developed totally new explanations for violence. He noted that the politics of violence in South Africa were an important contribution, and by “politics of violence” he meant that certain groups or constituencies had contributed to giving a profile to certain aspects of the problem of violence. Victim constituencies had called upon government to help. Business and middle class constituencies were given priority by government because they were politically powerful, as opposed to these victim constituencies.

Mr Bruce said that CSVR had been quite selective in what solutions it had proposed, because it was conscious of the fact that South Africa was a developing country with problems of human resources and capacity. In relation to the question of cruelty, he said that this expressed as gratuitous violence, and the report had tried to engage with these issues, but had not successfully resolved either gratuitous violence or cruelty.

The Chairperson noted that only some recommendations had been selected and put forward, and asked if there was an objective selection process isolating these recommendations. She said that the CSVR should have presented all its recommendations to the Committee, whether or not it believed that they were implementable. She asked again what methodology had been used in compiling the report. She added that she was worried whether the report was offering value for money.

Mr Schneemann was glad that the CSVR had acknowledged that the use of the term “culture of violence” was not the best. Violence was a societal issue and could not be pinned on different racial groups. He pointed out that there had been no mention of the role of the media in promoting violence. He also noted that the solutions that had been put forward were directed at the government, yet government could not fight crime alone, and it was recognised that society as a whole must bear the responsibility. He said that the CSVR was also supposed to look at changing the mindset of people.

Ms Kohler-Barnard said that she wanted responses on the questions that she had raised earlier, in connection with who would bear the responsibility for implementing the recommendations, and whether there had been research on speeches by political leaders causing violence.

The Chairperson noted that there had been no reference in the report provided to the Committee, about the past. She also asked how the gap between the rich and the poor would be closed.

Mr George said that he was disappointed in the report, and had also expected that solutions be proposed, whether or not the CSVR considered that they were immediately implementable.

Rev Meshoe asked what caused sexual violence. He added that answers should surely have been compiled from the case studies of perpetrators of violent crimes. He asked from whom violent behaviour was learnt, and added that many people whose lives had suffered from direct impact of apartheid violence had not themselves committed violent crimes.

Mr Lekgetho noted his approval of the fact that part of the findings dealt with the ready availability of firearms, but asked how it was proposed that this aspect be addressed.

The Chairperson asked whether the crime in South Africa was considered to be the most violent crime in the world.

Ms Irish-Qhobosheane said that some of the recommendations were already on the JCPS cluster agenda. She said that South Africa was not alone in having a problem with violent crimes, and that there were other countries that had more violent crimes.

Ms Kohler-Barnard thought that the Secretariat was perhaps being too critical of the report, and asked why the money had been paid for the report if it was not making any new recommendations.

The Chairperson did not think that the Secretariat was speaking harshly about the report. It was merely pointed out that this report had not mentioned why crime took a violent form in South Africa. However, the report seemed to suggest that South Africa was the most violent country in the world, and that there was a culture of violence. She asked again why these recommendations had been selected to be put forward.

Mr George asked whether the Secretariat had accepted or rejected the report from the CSVR.

Ms Irish-Qhobosheane responded that the report had been accepted, but there were some areas that were of concern to the Secretariat.

Ms Kirsten said that some of the questions that had been raised by the Committee Members were an indication that the report had not been fully studied by the Members. The report placed before the Committee was only part of the whole group of reports. Other recommendations were contained in the other reports. The recommendations that were presented today to the Committee outlined the key concerns.

Ms Kirsten clarified that international institutions gauged the violence of crime by using the statistics for murder. However, some other countries did not isolate murder statistics. South Africa did have data available, and it was one of the countries in the world who had this data, that showed the highest murder rate, but was probably about fourth or fifth in the listing of the most violent countries.

Ms Kirsten said that the question of where violence was learnt required a very lengthy discussion. She asked that the Committee be patient towards the concept of the “culture of violence”. The documents had not been altered, and the documents had become the property of the Minister of Police. There had not been sufficient engagement with government on the issues, and there was room for improvement. The issue of the availability of the firearms would be addressed by the strengthening of the Firearms Control Act and the recommendations were very practical.

Mr Bruce clarified that the CSVR had produced six reports and a supplementary report. He gave a brief explanation on each report.

The Chairperson said that attaching the term “culture” to violence was problematic. Rape, robbery and murder were by their very nature, violent. She feared that using the term “culture of violence” might be seen as legitimising violence. She noted that no document had been produced that defined the concepts. She questioned the number of case studies that had been used by the CSVR, pointing out that she had conducted 40 case studies of inmates in correctional centres, whereas the CSVR had apparently only conducted 20, and asked whether these were truly representative.

Mr Bruce said that the first paper was a concept paper, and the second paper had specifically studied murder. The CSVR tried to identify areas with the highest rates of murder by using census data and SAPS data. The areas that were selected covered a group of about 50 police stations that recorded the highest rate of murder in the country. Six of those 50 police stations were then selected and a random sample was selected of dockets from each police station. The murders were all based on closed dockets, although samples of both open and closed dockets were incorporated in the study. The study of sexual violence integrated a lot of existing information from other existing sexual violence studies. Rape was not completely represented by the numbers.

Deputy Minister Ms Sotyu said that there were still existing challenges. No specific solution had been suggested. She agreed that crime was being politicised. She further agreed that SAPS could not, on their own, deal with the problems, but all of society had to play a role. Several of the questions raised today had also been raised in Cabinet. She urged Members to read the full report.

The Chairperson thanked the CSVR, the Secretariat and the Ministry, and said that it was in the interests of the Committee to receive the full report. The Committee was in general agreement that “culture of violence” was not the best term to use. Some crimes were by their very nature violent, and elements that were unique to South Africa needed to be identified, as well as the reasons why crime was so violent in South Africa.

The meeting was adjourned.

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