OPINIONISTA

Matthew Garrun: Information is power in the fight against crime

Data is proving to be an extremely valuable commodity in recent years, and it should not be withheld when there is an opportunity to empower our communities.

The recently released annual Stats SA Victims of Crime Survey clearly captures the perception that crime in South Africa is not only increasing, but that public confidence in the South African Police is decreasing. Our business and residential communities are opening fewer cases with the police but continue to live in fear of crime – which have untold consequences and is only exacerbated by a deepening crime information vacuum.

But it’s possible to fill this gap, grow opportunities to establish and develop businesses, and improve the everyday existence of millions of our people. If the wealth of information that the insurance industry collates and analyses is responsibly shared with all South Africans, we have a fighting chance to safely and sustainably grow our country.

Out of the households surveyed in terms of how crime in their area was preventing them from engaging in daily activities, 14% are inhibited from using public transport – an essential service to access jobs. President Cyril Ramaphosa is placing increasing emphasis on the importance of growing small businesses and the need to ease operations by cutting red tape, but it is no wonder that our economy continues to flounder – the survey also shows that 10% of those looking to start a new business feel they are unable to do so due to the high levels of crime in their area.

Business robberies rank sixth in the crimes perceived by households to be the most common (higher than car-jacking and murder) and tenth as the most feared in South Africa. It is staggering to think that, not only are so many prevented from starting and operating a business, but of those that are employed, so many people live in fear of crime while at their place of work. Our place of work is a place where crime should not even be a consideration – how is this distracted mindset affecting productivity?

Just last week, the potential in boosting employment in our informal sectors was under focus at Harambee’s youth employment conference. Dr Kate Philip, one of the speakers at the conference, is quoted in the media this week as saying: “We have vast unemployment and yet there is a huge amount of work to be done to improve the lives of people in township communities. There is an opportunity for supporting social entrepreneurship among unemployed township youth and to assist them in getting 'work ready' in the process.”

The simple, practical changes that can be made with the information at the insurance industry’s disposal will only enhance the potential of programmes like these to thrive.

Imagine if the thousands of aspirant entrepreneurs too scared to open a business had current, accurate and easily digestible crime-related information at hand. Business operations and areas of trade could be specifically tailored, firstly, to identify market needs but also allow businesses to make strategic decisions regarding opening hours or implement necessary safety measures based on their areas’ crime realities.

Our economy is in trouble, and we simply must move beyond merely talking about solutions to delivering solutions. Crime clearly has a bigger impact on job creation than people realise. If we can’t get our people to work and keep them safe while they’re there then South Africa has more work to do than we might want to acknowledge. 

Global trends and case studies show that it is possible to release regular, location-specific and up to date crime data. London, New York and many other cities release their stats on a weekly and monthly basis, and even plot the crimes by neighbourhood on interactive maps. South Africa currently gets an outdated spreadsheet once a year telling us how bad crime has become on a general level. Why do we continue to accept this? Business has stepped in to fill the gaps left by government in so many other areas, and one merely has to look at how the security industry has grown to such a size that it dwarfs the number of police in our country. There’s a missing piece in our puzzle that can be filled.


Data is proving to be an extremely valuable commodity in recent years, and it should not be withheld when there is an opportunity to empower our communities.

The insurance industry has this information. Claims are captured for the crimes that have affected you – car-jacking, car break-ins, house robberies, business robberies, assault and common theft – all of which are logged and cross referenced to align risk profiles with premiums. This information can be put to better use and released to the public to increase safety rather than a means to just monitor declining safety levels.

The initial engagements I’ve had with some of South Africa’s largest insurers have been heartening, but to make a real impact we’re going to need the macro consolidation, and fundamentally, responsible sharing of data – now. DM

Matthew Garrun is Director: Garrun Group

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