Armed Robbery in Namibia

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By Rector Sandema Part 2 in the Series Violent crimes such as armed robberies are on the increase. Statistics in a recent police report (2001) reveal that the number of reported cases went up by 30% between 1999 and 2000 (The Namibian, 11, 01:2). The police annual report for 2000, shows that armed robbery went up by 23 %. This is in comparison to other types of crimes such as housebreaking (9 percent), vehicle theft (16 percent). In essence, 373 cases were reported in 1999 while in 2000, this figure rose to 458. Some of these cases have often involved huge sums of money. Examples of such cases dealt with by the police and handled by local courts are: The Karibib Robbery Case: A security company was contracted to carry N$5 million from Windhoek for distribution to several banks and financial institutions in the Erongo region in the western part of the country. A small aeroplane was used for the purpose. Upon arrival at the Karibib airstrip, a small and infrequently used landing strip located in a remote area, the crews were accosted by several armed men who robbed them of all the money. It emerged during investigations that one of the security guards on board was involved in organizing this robbery. Other people involved in the conspiracy to rob and the actual robbery included a retired policeman as well as a serving policeman. The robbers were mostly Namibians, but included South African nationals. When leaving the scene, the robbers left behind a marked belt belonging to one South African national. The robbers failed to find a mobile phone belonging to one of the victims and this helped the victims to immediately contact the police. With evidence from the belt and the calls made from the mobile phone, many of the robbers were arrested, convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. The Brakwater Robbery Case: Another incident of armed robbery took place in the same year between Brakwater (a small place situated 20 kilometres to the northwest of Windhoek). It emanated from cash in transit-armed robbery of the largest amount of money in Namibian criminal history (over N$ 6 million). Again, it appeared to have been an inside job involving Namibians and South African nationals. A security guard at the scene shot one of the alleged suspects. During follow-up investigations, some of the other suspects were arrested in Cape Town a few days later and a small amount of money and property were recovered. It is important to mention that these two are not only the major cases of armed robbery in the country. There have been previous reported cash-in-transit robberies, including robberies at business and residential premises. A common thread running through all is the collusion between employees of security companies or business companies and outsiders. In a number of instances, some of the outsiders have been criminals from South Africa. One might perhaps ask why these cases occurred and why locals colluded with foreign robbers. The answer to this could be that crimes such as armed robberies have become more sophisticated than before. Where robbers feel their mode of operation is being discovered by the police, there is always a tendency to ally themselves with foreign robbers and try to use that group’s mode of operation in order to achieve success. The other reason here could be the market for stolen goods. For example, if a vehicle has been robbed, it is difficult for the robbers to sell it locally and the only way to sell such a vehicle is to involve foreign nationals who will try to market such vehicle in their own country. PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS AND CRIME There have been enormous public perceptions at the level of criminality in the country. In response to this public outcry, President Sam Nujoma appointed a commission in March 1996, with a mandate to inquire into a wide range of issues related to crime and criminal justice in the country. In a parliamentary report on crime in the country, the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development, Helmut Angula urged the country’s leaders to work in close consultation with traditional leaders to combat crime. Speaking during debate on the report of the implications of crime on the Namibian economy, the Minister urged parliament to draw on the wisdom of traditional leaders in the present effort to reduce crime in the country (The Namibian, 07, 98:5). “The country is heading for an economic disaster if drastic measures are not taken now to combat the ever-increasing crime”. In a statement read on behalf of the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Dr Abraham Iyambo said: ” To be effective, there is also a need to amend the law to place more emphasis on protecting victims of the crime rather than protecting the rights and freedoms of the crime perpetrators. ” The Minister stressed that crime is a national problem, which requires concerted efforts from all of us to eliminate it from our society. The Minister concluded by stating that the Defence Force and Police Force should be seen as partners in combating crime and ensuring peace and stability in the country (The Namibian, 07,98:6). Another parliamentarian from the opposition echoed the Minister, who pointed out that “crime in itself is like cancer which destroys the foundation of the economy and the wellbeing of the nation”. The parliamentarian noted that criminal activities had increased dramatically in the past eight years, and that a proposed number of recruits into the Namibian Defence Force be diverted to the Namibian Police in order to address the problem of insufficient staff. The member of parliament concluded by stressing that the Ministry of Justice be upgraded to meet the challenges, and that members of the public should be encouraged to participate in what he called “neighbourhood watches. ” (The Namibian, 07/ 07/ 98). At a conference held to discuss the problem of crime in the country, the President further observed that “through public demonstrations, chat show programs on radios and television, letters to the editors in newspapers, as well as written presentations, many Namibians, acting either individually or jointly, through civic and religious organizations, have unrelentlessly petitioned the government to act firmly against crime.” (Bukurura, 2000:3). In November 1997, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economics held a public hearing focusing on the implications of crime on the economy of Namibia. Several presentations were made in which the nature of crime and its consequences to the economy were discussed. It was commonly discussed in all presentations that crime in Namibia was on the increase and that there was urgent need for action. In an effort to show the seriousness of crime and its impact on their lives, close to 300 residents of Katutura, a black township situated to the north west of Windhoek and where crime is believed to be on the increase, gathered together and declared war against criminals who infiltrated their premises (The Namibian, 04/ 06/96). At the same time, the Urban Trust of Namibia (an urban planning agency) stated that urban growth and violence in towns especially Windhoek sparked a call for action (The Namibian, 04/06/96). The Urban Trust of Namibia’s article further argued that the increase in violence and lawlessness in Namibian towns affected poor neighbourhoods, which experienced vulnerability to violence and loss of security. The article concluded that there was a clear breakdown of social cohesion in Namibia. Crime was one of the issues that were discussed by delegates at a meeting where President Sam Nujoma addressed German business leaders (The Namibian, 20/06/96). The Umbrella Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, which works to promote foreign investment, organized this meeting. Despite statements made by the minister of Trade and Industry that the country did not rank among countries listed as having high crime rates, one businessman contended that crime was being considered a big concern for investment. Many delegates at this conference generally argued that crime, especially armed robbery, is an issue that discouraged investment in the country. These general observations on the levels of criminality in the country, notwithstanding, certain indications, are clear that armed robbery, is one of the country’s serious crimes is on the increase. For example, in 1996 there were 195 cases of armed robbery. This figure rose to 249 in 1997 and 339 in 1998 respectively (NamPol, 2000). In the absence of a scientific and objective assessment of the real situation of crime in the country, some of these perceptions could be only mere unsubstantiated generalizations and difficult to use to guide policy formulation. Indeed, one government prevention policy cannot successfully combat all kinds of crime in all areas in the country. It is for this reason that the government of the day declared what can be described as war against criminals through the introduction of the Criminal Procedure Bill. This was a tactic of the government to combat crime and to improve the criminal justice system as a whole. It should be stated that during the writing of this study, the whole criminal justice system was based on South African law and as such operated within the framework of such laws. It was only as recently as 2004 that the new Criminal Procedure Bill was introduced by the Minister of Justice in parliament. “This bill, if passed will enable us to declare perpetual war against criminals. We should never think of cease-fire because this is one of those wars where a cease-fire is neither recognized nor allowed.” (Dr Albert Kawana, in New Era, 23/ 09/04). A Thesis Submitted In Fulfilment Of The Requirements For The Degree Masters of Arts At The University Of Namibia (This thesis will be serialized in the paper every Fri-day)