SA enters ‘unprecedented’ state of prohibition during lockdown

Date: 28 Mar 2020

FOR a long time, law enforcement has tried its best to bring this crime kingpin to book.

But as hard as they have tried, he has continued to have a hand in crimes committed across the nation.

This kingpin is alcohol, and for the first time in South African history, it won’t be around for a while, at least.

South Africa has entered a temporary state of prohibition as the sale of alcohol was banned for the three-week nationwide shutdown.

Police and criminologists will be eyeing this three-week period with interest as they assess what impact it will have on crime.

“This is unprecedented,” says criminologist Dr Johan Burger.

“We have no idea what lies ahead, of how criminals will act during this time, and if they will find creative ways of exploiting the situation.”

Across the globe, measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus have resulted in decreases in crime.

In New York, explained Burger, the first week of its lockdown saw crime decrease by 17%. US states have also noticed decreases as their citizens have been instructed to stay off the street.

When restrictions were first announced on the opening times of restaurants and taverns, Police Minister Bheki Cele welcomed the decision.

“Also, we pick up a lot of dead bodies around three in the morning coming from shebeens, so if we shut down at 6pm, it will have a positive impact,” Cele told the media.
“There is a good relationship between crime and the coronavirus. You must remember, alcohol is causing a lot of crime.”

A case docket analysis has shown that shebeens and taverns are hot spots where murders are most likely to take place.

“Most of our murders that happen as a result of social economic conditions happen in and around places where alcohol is used.

“So with this clampdown, I’m certain we are either going to see a stabilisation or a decline, keeping in mind that our murder rate has increased over the last seven years,” said Burger.

Already there have been signs in Johannesburg that crime has declined.

Andre Snyman, the founder of Eblockwatch, the community crime-fighting organisation, said that over the past couple of days he had noticed a remarkable decline in crime in Bryanston.

“It went very quiet and then last night (Wednesday), all of a sudden, the guys were at it again. I’ve got video footage of them breaking into a house. and it’s quite scary footage,” he said. “But besides that, nothing.

“I think it is going to get worse for them because when an alarm goes off now, the security guards won’t have any traffic to navigate; they can get there quickly.”

However, as time progresses, Burger is concerned criminals will find ways of taking advantage of the lockdown.

When restrictions were first announced, there were reports of criminals trying to gain access to houses by claiming to be members of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and claiming they were coming to test resident’s temperatures to see if they had contracted the virus.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime also admitted that at the moment it was difficult to fully understand the impact the pandemic would have.

“What seems clear, however, is that the pandemic has reduced some organised-criminal activities while simultaneously providing opportunities for new ones, and these changes in the organised-criminal economy could have long-term consequences”, the body said in a statement.

“Vulnerable groups such as people who use drugs or victims of human trafficking may be particularly hard hit by the impact of the virus.”

So it will be a matter of time to see just how creative criminals actually are.

By Shaun SMillie

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