Mbeki admits more needs to be done on crime in South Africa

Thabo Mbeki, the South African President, today acknowledged that rising violent crime rates had left thousands of people in communities all over the country in fear of their lives

Seeking to calm public criticism that the government had done little to tackle crime, the President, in a distinct shift from recent comments, pledged in a speech at the state opening of parliament to increase police numbers, improve the private security industry and reduce court backlogs.

Recently he has said that crime was not a major issue, seeking instead to identify with the siege mentality felt by many South Africans. “We … cannot claim the happiness that comes with freedom if communities live in fear, closeted behind walls and barbed wire, ever anxious in their houses, on the streets and on our roads, unable freely to enjoy our public spaces,” he said. “We must continue and further intensify the struggle against crime.”

The change in tone follows heavy criticism of Mr Mbeki after he insisted that most citizens did not feel crime was out of control, even though half a million burglaries or robberies were reported last year alone.

With some 50 people murdered every day, the country has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world and its image has been rocked by a series of widely-publicised incidents, including the murder of a prominent South African historian.

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