Safety and Security Planning for Durban 2022 Commonwealth Games: A Great Opportunity for a Safer Durban – by Giovanni Pisapia

Every year, in September, the South African Police Service (SAPS) releases the official crime statistics for South Africa. The statistics reflect the total numbers of crimes for various categories recorded by the police for the previous financial year – from the 1st April of the previous year to the 31st March of the release year (Institute for Security Studies, 2016a).

This year, the annual crime statistics for 2015/2016, which were released on the 2nd September 2016, revealed persistent high murder, violence and organised crime problems. By international comparison, what characterises South African crime data is the impressive level of violence, which is on the increase. The statistics point to two key concerning trends related to public safety in South Africa: namely the increase in the murder rate and a rise in organised crime-related crimes – including carjacking: Nationally, the murder rate has increased by 3.2% in the last year, with a 20% increase over the past four years (Institute for Security Studies, 2016b). In addition, attempted murders have increased substantially in the last years, totalling 18127 in the analysed financial year, with an increase of approximately 23% if compared with 2011/2012. Robbery with aggravating circumstances, which consists, among other actions, of the wielding of a fire-arm or any other dangerous weapon during the commission of the crime (Library of Congress, 2013), has increased, if compared with the 2010/2011 financial year, of more than 30%. Including in this category, there are three specific sub-categories of crimes, named trio crimes, which are perceived by households the most feared crimes in South Africa: carjacking, robbery at residential premises and robbery at business premises (South African Police Service, 2016). If compared with the 2011/2012 financial year, carjacking have increased of 55%, while robberies at residential premises have increased of nearly 25%. Robberies at business premises have increased, from the 2010/2011 financial year, of nearly 35%. Robberies, and the violence that goes with them, have the biggest psychological impact on the ordinary person: Whether it is robbery at one’s home, a hijacking, or robbery at places of entertainment (e.g. shopping malls, restaurants), the indisputable fact is that such crimes create a psychosis of fear (Burger, 2007).

Murder rate is a key measure of violence in society. In South Africa, crime data for the 2015/16 financial year shows that the total murders have been 18673, more than 51 daily homicides (South African Police Service, 2016). In addition, hijackings – which are highly organised – have seen a 14% increase for the third year in a row, raising some questions on the capacity of the Government to address organized crime in the country (Institute for Security Studies, 2016b).

The stark particularity of the official crime stats consists in the fact that the overall number of violent contact crimes in South Africa (623223 in the analysed financial year, or 1114,8 per 100000 inhabitants) is higher than property crimes (543524, or 972,3 per 100000 inhabitants) (Statistics South Africa, 2016). Acknowledging the complexity related to the comparison of official crime statistics between different countries (Kriegler and Shaw, 2016), to have an idea of the seriousness of the problem, we could compare such data with the official crime statistics in the USA for 2015, published just recently (Federal Bureau of Investigations, 2016). The USA are known for having stubborn violence problems, in particular in its most deprived areas, if compared with other developed countries: The total number of violent crimes in 2015 was 1197704, with an estimated 372,6 violent crimes per 100000 inhabitants. Instead, the total number of property crimes was 7993631, with a rate of 2487 per 100000 inhabitants. We find that in South Africa there is approximately a 1:1 ratio between violent and property crimes, while in the USA the ratio is approximately 1:7 (for every seven property crimes, we have one violent crime). The conclusion is straightforward: what makes South Africa stem out is not the volume of crime but its extraordinary violence (Altbeker, 2010).

Even though most violent crimes in South Africa take place between people who know each other or live in the same communities (Institute for Security Studies, 2016b), the level of violence is a legitimate concern for the organization of the forthcoming XXII Commonwealth Games. Durban, located on the eastern coast of South Africa, was awarded the right to host the 2022 Games by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) General Assembly meeting in Auckland, New Zealand on the 2nd September 2015. It would be the first time the Games are held in Africa. However, media reports have already started to question the readiness of the Host City from an organizational perspective (Bambani, 2016).


As crime is all about precipitating (opportunity) and predisposing (inclination) factors coming together at the same time, the event could be a facilitator for criminal activities, keeping in mind the large number of visitors and spectators expected, making it an attractive opportunity for criminal acts. The biggest crime threats to visitors and spectators during the forthcoming Durban 2022 include violent crimes, in particular aggravated robberies, property crimes (e.g. theft) and possible terrorist attacks. Concerning the latter threat, South Africa does not face any direct threat of terrorism, but with the diversity of countries that will participate in the Commonwealth Games, some representing opposing political and religious beliefs, there is the need to ensure plans and preparations are carried out for such a contingency (Burger and Omar, 2009). South Africa is expected to provide high-level security for participating teams and management as well as for the thousands of spectators who are expected to flood South Africa for the duration of the event (Burger, 2006).


From a spatial perspective, the past is still visible in Durban today: the current highly fragmented, sprawling and poorly integrated urban area is the direct outcome of the spatial racial segregation policies implemented in South Africa from 1948. Since the end of Apartheid in the early 90’s, Durban has gone through a dramatic transformation, in particular from a local government perspective, from the fragmented and racially based systems of the Apartheid era to the current democratic system focused on issues of equality and economic growth. Formal systems of government amalgamated into a single municipal institution: the eThekwini Municipality. From 2000, there is one democratically elected council responsible for the overall planning and management of the broader Durban’s metropolitan area (Marx and Charlton, 2003). In spite of these positive changes, Durban is currently facing multiple challenges: its poverty rate is very high, although it has declined slowly but steadily since its 2004 peak. It is also an extremely unequal city, with a Gini index of 0.61, almost as high as that of the world’s least equal country. Durban’s unemployment rate, although down from 43 % in 2001, at 30.2 percent was still immense in 2011 (Hentschel, 2015).

The official crime data for eThekwini Municipality can be ascertained by analysing the crime data pertaining the 44 police precincts included in the municipality’s boundary. However, before doing such exercise, it needs to be remembered that the area is highly complex and heterogeneous, which makes it difficult to deduct clear indications from such aggregated data. Instead, crime incidents should be analysed based on the actual events’ spatial and temporal characteristics to be able to understand both environmental and also socio-economic root causes, which would indicate avenues for dealing effectively with such challenges. However, based on SAPS official data (South African Police Service, 2016), the current murder rate for the eThekwini Municipality between April 2015 and March 2016 is 44 per 100000 people. Acknowledging the challenges stemming out from comparing international official crime data, Durban crime rate is much higher if related with other Commonwealth Games’ host cities (for example, in 2012 there were 2.7 homicides per 100000 people in Glasgow, with rates declining steadily) or other metropolis in general (for example, the murder rate in New York City in 2014 was about 4 per 100000 people) (Kriegler and Shaw, 2016).

When analysing the ability of the local, provincial and national government to safeguard the Games, it is useful to detail briefly the previous major events held in South Africa (Burger, 2007). Since the advent of democracy South Africa has hosted a number of major events, notably the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 1999 All Africa Games, the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and a number of international conferences such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and the World Conference on Racism (WCR). During these events, the responsible departments were able to draft effective security concepts to support the operations, which have proven to be very successful. No serious incidents occurred at any of these events. Based on the recent past, there is no doubt that Durban will be able to host a safe, peaceful and incident-free Commonwealth Games. However, the question is whether securing the event for its duration, paying particular attention to the visiting client groups and spectators, is enough.

As per other major events, South Africa has an efficient planning concept to ensure the peacefulness of the Games. This concept requires a comprehensive integrated approach between the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS), responsible for national security (including crime combating and law enforcement operations) and the event’s Local Organising Committee (LOC), responsible for event-specific security with the aid of private contract security companies (Burger and Omar, 2009). Within this approach, the overall responsibility to secure the event falls within the South African Police Service (SAPS), as the leading agency. However, a multi-venue, multi-day event’s complexity requires the development of integrated operations in conjunction with various role-players, in primis the Host City and its various departments. The South African approach to integrate and coordinate the work of various government departments through the JOINTS (Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure) system has been successful in ensuring integrated operations are planned and carried out during the event.

Based on previous experience, it is claimed that the targeted security operations (e.g. high density policing) implemented during major events have the ability to “dramatically” decrease crimes such as murder, attempted murder, aggravated robbery, car theft and sexual assaults in the areas surrounding the event venues if compared with the same period in previous years (Burger and Omar, 2009). However, the risk is that these public safety gains are ephemeral and short-lived, with little long-term benefits for the citizens and the city’s economic activities.

During the last decade, a substantial international body of research has been focused on sport mega-events, which has drawn attention to problems related to surveillance, security and control, Olympic-driven spatial implications and the creation of spaces of exceptions typified by socio-spatial purifications (Fonio and Pisapia, 2015). In particular, mega-event securization has led to a reinforcement of the “visions of order” which already exists in major urban areas in developed countries, due to standardized approaches to policing, security and surveillance (Fussey at al, 2012). Within this context, the symbolic relevance of the Commonwealth Games in post-Apartheid Durban raise issues that go beyond the mere practical issues related to the security of the Games’ clients, spectators and the event’s sites and infrastructure. National identity, social cohesion, reconciliation (Human Sciences Research Council, 2010) and poverty reduction (Pillary and Bass 2008), which were relevant for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, are still, even more relevant, for Durban 2022.

Within this context, not only is the event a catalyst for urban transformation but it can also be an incentive for fostering inclusion and integration within Durban. Current security practices, visible in urban post-Apartheid South Africa, consist in “patchwork of self-defence” that aggravate the cities unequal spatial and social fabric, emphasizing the old racial segregation with the new class segregation (Hentshel, 2015). Instead, investments in infrastructures and public space for the Games could go hand-in-hand with opportunities of bringing people together rather than ‘keeping them apart’ (Asmal, 2012).

Clearly, Durban would need to move away from exclusionary security practices, usually implemented in major sport events (Fussey at al, 2012), which would only exacerbate the spatial racial/social divisions inherited from the Apartheid regime. Such practices could be defined what critical criminologists have termed as the “cosmetic fallacy”:

The cosmetic fallacy conceives of crime as a superficial problem of society, skin deep, which can be dealt with using the appropriate ointment, rather than as any chronic ailment of society as a whole. It engenders a cosmetic criminology, which views crime as a blemish which suitable treatment can remove from a body, which is, itself, otherwise healthy and in little need of reconstruction (Young, 1999).

A new, creative approach is thus necessary to ensure the Games bring a positive long-lasting legacy to Durban, with the aim of tackling some of the serious public safety concerns stemming from its history of racial segregation, current rampant inequalities and a general sense of physical insecurity (Hentshel, 2015). The forthcoming Commonwealth Games could be the window of opportunity to actually invest in long-term infrastructural projects that can make a difference for the city’s citizens, by attrachting people, drawing them in. Such infrastructural elements are an enabler that allows for a conviviality that the current security landscape of both major event’s securization and post-apartheid urban security practices do not offer (Hentshel, 2015).

In a nutshell, in spite of legitimate few concerns, in particular the worrying levels of violence, South Africa and Durban in particular have the will and capacity to provide high quality safety and security for the XXII Commonwealth Games. In general, the South African’s security concept to plan major events is comprehensive and adequately resourced and, with the experience accumulated and lessons learnt over the last events, in particular the 2010 FIFA World Cup, law enforcement agencies and other government departments will be able to deliver a successful and peaceful event.

It is auspicated that the safety and security planning for the event will not consist exclusively on the “cleansing and purifying” social order that have “leaked out” from the hyper-securitized “sterilized environment” of other major sport event (Fussey at all, 2012). Instead, alongside exclusionary measures reminiscent of Apartheid (Cornelissen 2011), it is of outmost importance that the event is used as a window of opportunity to build creatively more inclusionary features within the current urban environment.

The author: Giovanni Pisapia,

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