Address by President Nelson Mandela at the NEDLAC Conference on crime and violence

21 November 1996

Minister of Safety and Security;
Chairperson of NEDLAC
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen

When NEDLAC was founded, not quite two years ago, the moment was everywhere recognised as an historical one in our transformation. Great hopes for the future were awakened by this forum in which the principal forces of our society, together with government, could work together to address strategic issues of economic development.

In tackling the problem of crime and violence, as you are doing today, and by seeking to help mobilise our society in pursuit of safety and security, NEDLAC is proving true to the expectations which its birth aroused.

So I feel honoured to be part of this conference, and I welcome the opportunity to share ideas with you on something so important for our future.

The current unacceptable levels of crime and violence are amongst the principal challenges facing us as we transform our society. A climate of safety, security and stability is not only the right of every citizen. We need it to maximise the economic growth that will create more jobs and produce more resources for building a better life for all.

Having freed themselves from an oppressive system, South Africans are justifiably angry that their freedom, and their efforts to build our country anew, are diminished by those who prey on our society through criminal activity.

On an occasion which I believe will make a major contribution to the fight against crime and violence, it is right to revisit some basic principles.

Firstly, the rule of law and the human rights culture that has taken root in our country are amongst the most precious fruits of democracy. We will not allow criminals to induce us to diminish our own rights.

But within that framework we will ensure that any loopholes in our criminal justice system are closed. That is why we have tightened conditions on parole, bail and sentencing. That is why recent legislation has been passed to strengthen the hands of police and judicial officers, and to enhance international co-operation against crime.

These legislative improvements also promote our second principle, that of transforming the criminal justice system we inherited into one that is professional, efficient and effective as well as fair. The answer to the crime problem is not the death penalty, but rather ending the culture of impunity. Committing a crime must bring the certain prospect of arrest, prosecution and punishment.

One obstacle we have met is corruption within the criminal justice system,. While the vast majority of those in the police, justice and prisons services are dedicated men and women often working under difficult circumstances, their efforts and those of government are undermined by corrupt elements, some in senior positions. Government is resolutely committed to rooting out these elements. In the past two years more police have been arrested on corruption charges than during the whole history of the apartheid regime which itself bred this scourge.

The third basic principle is that community development and improvement of socio-economic conditions are central to our strategy of preventing crimes rather than only reacting after they have taken place.

Finally, we cannot prevent crime without effective partnerships between government, including the police, and the communities they serve.

Our nation's achievements in the first two and a half years of democratic government have all depended on a partnership of government and society. Victory against crime will also be achieved through communities, business, organised labour and every other sector of society joining hands with government in decisive action against crime and against the conditions that feed crime.

Government is fully committed to doing whatever is necessary on its part. Events like this conference reflect the gathering mobilisation of our social partners. The challenge we face, one in which your involvement will be critical, is to combine national commitment with effective action in every locality.

In the National Crime Prevention Strategy the government has provided a framework in which all can work together to create an environment in which local initiatives can thrive. The strategy is being put into operation, with the full weight of government behind it. Co-operation and co-ordination between the different government departments will be one of the keys to making crime prevention a reality, especially at local level.

Your presence here today reflects the commitment of the main sectors of organised civil society to sharing responsibility for combating crime and violence: organised labour, organised business and the array of non-governmental bodies dedicated to the growth and development of South Africa.

You have gathered to translate those various commitments into an overall campaign plan. As national organisations your task is to go back to your communities and work through your own local structures, in co-operation with the local authorities and the SAPS, to make things happen.

We do know that many organisations are already doing a great deal. The renovation of sports fields; the establishment of one-stop community centres; rape counselling programmes and similar initiatives which address the desperate needs in our cities and towns - all these things and many more are happening. They provide examples of how organisations can be put to work in helping establish a foundation for development and security within every community.

Of the 1,100 police stations more than 900 have community police forums. The police are no longer a force whose primary function is to control communities rather than protect them. The active involvement of communities in these forums will strengthen the hand of the police in the service of communities. It will help ensure that the police act in ways that gain them the confidence of the people.

The police need crime intelligence from communities. Criminal activities such as drug trafficking, chop shops that process hijacked or stolen cars, and child abuse are seldom secret from those in whose midst they try to hide.

But even more is needed that information. We also need grassroots involvement and imagination in creating an environment unfriendly to crime. Street cleanup campaigns, block watches and neighbourhood development programmes all narrow the space for crime. We need every South African to think how he or she might do a little more to fix a broken window in the street or make sure the street lights work. We need to protect our schools and public buildings vandals and thieves. We need local economic development, and life-skills training for our children who have dropped out of school.

Our new local authorities have a special responsibility to foster a climate of development and civic pride that will undermine the criminals.

Such are the initiatives that we must promote in every community to build on the momentum against crime.

The police and courts and prisons are making gains through their separate initiatives as well as through the interdepartmental programmes. Serious crime levels are in decline in most parts of the country.

International experience, such as that of New York, has shows that when all the small efforts against crime reach a certain level, their impact becomes dramatically greater. Our challenge is to reach this point as a result of every individual, community and organisation doing their bit.

The hard work of each one of us may not pay off in a few weeks or months. But once our many small contributions start to take hold then I am confident we will reach the point at which the decline in crime levels we are starting to see will accelerate.

That in turn will help unleash yet more growth and development. As crime spirals downward, our growth will spiral upward - and with it the value of our freedom will grow.

Ladies and gentlemen;

NEDLAC's initiative is exactly the kind of effort we need to feed this national campaign of local action. Congratulations on your initiative - and on insisting that the solution lies not only with government, but in the hands of all of us.

I wish you success as you put on your creative thinking caps and search for practical programmes to fuel the national campaign of crime prevention.

Let us all join hands for safety, security and stability.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation