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Crime -South African style

Posted by Iain on Oct. 9, 2015, 3:25 p.m. in Crime

Sitting on our deck up the beach house on Sunday enjoying some early summer sun my wife and I were jolted from our dozing by a car pulling into the driveway. Not expecting visitors we hauled ourselves off our loungers to see who it was. A good friend had clambered out of his car and was cussing and cursing. Turns out he and his wife had been at an ‘open (show) home’  that was for sale an hour or so further up the coast. Having poked their noses into all corners of the property they had set off for a walk along the sheltered and picturesque beach.

When they got back to their car my friend realised that he had lost his wallet. Mildly concerned but not too worried because there weren’t many people about he retraced his steps feeling confident he’d find it. Given however there had been some leaping over rocks on an incoming tide when he couldn’t find it he assumed it had been washed away. Credit cards, cash, driver’s license – the whole caboodle.

I asked him if he had been in touch with the credit card companies and cancelled his cards.

‘Nah’ he said ‘I’m pretty sure someone will find it and hand it in’.

‘Yeah’ I replied, ‘You are probably right’ (not really believing it).

A cup of coffee later and a wander around our property with us we all returned to the sun drenched deck to catch up.

Within ten minutes of sitting down his cellphone rang.

Is that Grant? asked the caller.

Yes it is, he replied.

Lost your wallet?


I’ve got it. You still in the area?

No, I’m halfway back to Auckland.

No problem, I’m the local Constable. I’ll courier it down to your local police station in the morning and it’ll be there by lunch time…..

Thanks mate…

Wallet and all it contained now back in Auckland.

Now this could happen anywhere. I know that. It just seems these things have a much higher chance of happening here in New Zealand.

It would have been very tempting for someone to have held on to that wallet or taken the cash and credit card and dumped it. But they didn’t. They did the right thing.

I reflected on this while scanning the latest crime statistics out of South Africa earlier this week kindly sent to me by a client just before I pack a bag and fly back there.  I leave tomorrow morning to give another series of seminars in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban – the aim of which is to try and help people understand what sort of country New Zealand is if they are allowed to come and live here and spend time with those that want it to assess their eligibility to do so.

Crime is sometimes  high on South Africans reasons for wanting to emigrate but it isn’t usually number one which beggars belief for me as a Kiwi.

I always talk about crime in New Zealand when I present seminars in South Africa as part of a desire to paint a realistic picture of life here – it ain’t all peaches and cream if it isn't obvious.

When I talk about crime I am quick to remind audiences we are not crime free. I have been burgled. Recently one of my sons had a car window smashed (he wasn’t in it) to gain entry to steal whatever he had in the car (which was nothing). So we have crime but overwhelmingly it is crime against property and not people.

Crime in New Zealand across every category has been falling for over a decade – fewer murders, fewer robberies, fewer burglaries and less violent crime. Safer streets. The one exception is sexual assaults which are statistically increasing – explained however by those that analyse these things to be less of an increase in actual criminal offending and more a willingness to report it by victims. Nothing to be proud of to be sure, one is too many – but if the rate of actual offending isn’t going up, simply more people are willing to report it, it is not a situation getting worse.

South Africa on the other hand is off the charts. The population of South Africa is estimated to be around 55 million (no one really knows). The population of New Zealand has just gone through 4.6 million (we do know). So in rough numbers their population is maybe 11 times our own.

In the past 12 months South Africa reported:

·         Murders – 17,500 (up 4.6%). That is no typo.  New Zealand had 38.

·         Attempted murder – 17,500.

·         Sexual offences -   53,000 (down 5.4% - less reporting?)

·         Total assaults  - 340,000

·         Robbery – 55,000

·         Carjacking – 12,700 (up 14%). I don’t think NZ had one.

·         Robbery of premises 20,000 (up 5%)

To put that murder figure into some perspective, if New Zealanders murdered one another on a similar per capita rate to South Africans we would kill about 1,500 Kiwis a year. A bad year here is 50. A typical year is 35-40.

Got to paint a picture about your odds of being a victim of serious crime here.

Or to put it, another way in the decade the US had troops in Iraq fighting a war they lost about 4400 servicemen and women killed in battle. That people, was a war. And over almost a decade. South Africa (not a war apparently) kills around four times as many of its own citizens on their streets and in their homes as the US lost in a decade long war, every single year.

Quite horrifying numbers, yet there are still plenty of South Africans who live in their houses on the golf estates (protected by armed security) looking out of their windows (burglar guarded and barred) to their lovely gardens (surrounded by 2 metre concrete plastered walls topped with electrified razor wire) wondering why anyone leaves.

My advice is to get out more . Out of the country.

I am amazed how many people tell me that they lead great lives and they aren’t really affected by crime. Where I live we describe such living conditions as a ‘prison’. A guilded cage perhaps, but a cage nonetheless.

And so I return tomorrow to the South African 'war zone' for the last trip for me of 2015.

Packing my Kevlar when I finish writing this. Not really but I do sometimes wonder….

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Safe as houses? Safe as NZ.

Posted by Iain on July 3, 2015, 5:06 p.m. in Crime

I always tell people that whatever New Zealand might not be, one thing it certainly is, is safe.

I can trot out the statistics at seminars or consultations, watch potential clients’ surprise when they learn our police don’t carry guns, that as citizens we are banned from carrying guns and you can walk up and knock on most people’s front doors here without anything or anyone stopping you but I tend to find offering personal experience holds greater weight. As a measure of just how safe New Zealand is my wife often walks to the gym on her own when I am away; without taser, pepper spray, knuckle dusters or a gun for protection.

It’s about 4km from home to the gym and it doesn’t much bother her if it is night time or day time; she has her bottle of water and cellphone, neither of which would be much good if anyone decided to attack her (although I guess she could squirt them with filtered water and if that didn’t work savage them with her iPhone 6S).

I share the reality of raising a family in central Auckland down the years at my seminars and safety is one aspect that seems to strike a chord no matter where I go.

New Zealand is an overwhelmingly safe place to live. 

I often remind prospective New Zealanders that when my own sons were younger and aged around 12 and 14 they would catch a bus to downtown Auckland from our home and play at a some ‘swanky’ internet café for a few hours during their school holidays. We insisted one or both had phones handy, that they looked out for one another and their friends and that they had to be home for dinner (and eat their veges when they did).

We never seriously considered anything would happen to them (we just worried what terror they might inflict upon others). We always had a slight concern that boys being boys they’d get into mischief and do something foolish but the thought of them being harmed or abducted never actually crossed my mind.

I often say, especially to South Africans, this is part of what the trials and tribulations of the visa process is going to deliver your children – the life you had when you were children. New Zealand is not perfect, far from it, but everything is relative. Migration is full of compromises but one thing we can offer is improved personal and property safety.

Nice to be vindicated then (for the unbelievers) last week when in a new international survey New Zealand was ranked the fourth safest country in the word in which to live. It came in behind Iceland, Denmark and Austria.

The study looked at 162 countries and assessed factors like violent crime, involvement in conflicts and the degree of militarism. 

Apparently we were down from fourth last year which is a bit weird – I don’t recall us invading anyone of late and the crime rate does keep falling. Maybe Iceland invaded even fewer countries than us. And the Danes, well, they don’t invade too many people and the Austrians – well they learned their lesson after you know who came back and annexed them in the late 1930s and they then went and invaded the whole of Europe….

Australia for what it is worth came in at 9th (but then they invade everyone America invades…..’Pick us Uncle Sam, pick us, we want to come and invade with you!”).

Syria, not surprisingly came in at 162. I wonder which country came in at 161?

We rank extremely highly for social and political stability, geographical isolation (she’s a long way to come if you want to invade us or us you – last time we did that was WWI when we added Samoa to our empire), low levels of corruption and relatively low levels of crime.

We are quoted as being “a remarkably un-corrupt, honest and decent society, and compared to other countries, this country is incredibly safe" according to a local lecturer from Otago University.

And he is right. This has long been my message taken to wannabe Kiwis around the world.

Statistically you are around half as likely to be murdered in New Zealand today as 20 years ago. Despite the population nearly doubling in that time you are now, if it is possible, safer than ever before. Not that you weren’t in 1980 – you are just even more safe. Ridiculously so.

Interestingly most of the safest countries had small populations and operate strong socialist democracies with strong social welfare principles.

"If you ever get sick or are in a car accident, you won't be asked to produce a credit card before you get treatment. That also helps build a stable society."

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I can’t see my wife squirting an attacker in the eye with that bottled water any time soon.

Until next week


Iain MacLeod

Southern Man – Letters from New Zealand

Crime Rates Continue To Fall

Posted by Iain on April 5, 2013, 11:56 a.m. in Crime


About a year ago I wrote a blog reflecting on national crime statistics for the year ending December 2011. In that year crime was down by around 10% on the previous year.  I didn’t think it could improve beyond that especially at a time of relative economic quiet (traditionally with higher unemployment so too crime rates). However, it hasn’t happened – our safe little country just got even safer.

A snapshot of the December 2012 year shows that murder bucked the trend and was up from 39 deaths in 2011 to 42 in 2012 (46 in 2010); assaults were down by 3.4%; sexual assault rose by 1.3%; robbery was down by 10.1%; unlawful entry/ burglary down by 11% (not at my place – see below), Fraud and Deception was unchanged, illicit drugs up 0.3%, public order down 1% and I could go on.

The overall picture is steadily declining crime rates.

How strange it is then that the media still headlines crime on the Six O’clock news bulletins and splashed across the front pages of the daily rags that pass for newspapers in this country. 

While these statistics are, I suspect, a true reflection of the rates of crime in this country is this a case of everything being rosy in paradise?

The Police are quick to point out that they are more focussed on crime prevention rather than crime charging and solving. One of their tools is earlier intervention and in particular in cases of domestic violence (which dominates our crime against persons stats) using what are known as Personal Safety Orders which allows the Police, without anyone being charged, to remove a person from a domestic situation whether they usually live at that address or even if they own the property. The individual can be asked to leave for up to 5 days. A cooling down period which appears pretty effective. Assaults are significantly down in the past three years as Safety Orders increase. It appears to be working.

Naturally there are critics and those that would argue that ‘real’ crime isn’t getting better, the Police are simply charging people less. And in that there may be some truth.

Take drug offences. The Police have been focussing heavily on prosecuting drug supply and dealing harshly with that through the Courts. They are less concerned with charging users of say, cannabis/marijuana but giving verbal warnings (not to be confused with a formal warming which is recorded as an offence).

I continue to be astounded at how blasé my own sons and all their friends are about recreational drugs (cannabis only I desperately hope) and underage drinking. Not helped as a parent I might add when these young men and women watch those (inane) reality Police shows which show young New Zealanders being stopped by the police who from time to time find a ‘joint’ and who do not press charges but destroy the offending item by crushing it under their feet.

It raises an interesting point of discussion between my friends and me.

On the one hand we live in a society that increasingly does not view the use of recreational drugs as a crime. The fact is cannabis is freely available and used by many people of different age groups and backgrounds means that it is commonly found in many social situations.

Its use and possession however remains unlawful.

When the Police themselves are not taking a hard line on its use it certainly makes it more difficult for we as parents to ‘police’ its use and make our teenagers understand it is a crime when those tasked with enforcing laws see it as low priority.

Maybe the Police approach is right. If Society accepts the use of (relatively harmless) drugs, the Police are perhaps just reflecting the values of that Society. Maybe it is time for a law change.

Burglary of course remains the most common of crime.

I live in Mount Eden, a suburb of Auckland that lies on the fringe of downtown Auckland. One of Auckland’s oldest it is full of hundred plus year old villas with no off-street garaging for cars, low levels of security, generally no gates to prevent people coming onto our properties and houses that have old wooden sash windows that are not hard to jimmy open. An area of relative wealth meaning good pickings for those that might be so inclined to help themselves. Mount Eden is apparently the burglary capital of New Zealand. My family have had a number of brushes with burglars in our 20 years in the suburb.

Only last Tuesday morning my eldest son was watching TV at 2.15am (as you do it seems when you are a University student) and thought he could hear people talking outside the lounge on our driveway. We don’t have garages for our cars but a driveway that sits beside our house (and TV room). He turned the TV off and went to the front door. Two men ran down the driveway and jumped into a car and sped off. My son waited outside to see if they would come back (having noted the type and colour of the car – too dark for a registration plate) and sure enough about five minutes later these guys cruised past once again. He thought little more of it and went to bed.

At 8.00am my neighbour knocked on the front door to tell me that my son’s car (parked on the road) had been broken into. Given they live in a state of near perpetual poverty (or so they tell us) I assumed they would have left nothing of value in it. However, it turns out my youngest son left his GoPro Video camera that I had given him three days earlier for his 17th birtthday in the glove compartment. It was gone. As was his school bag with his year’s books and notes along with his iTouch. The thieves left his uneaten lunch of sandwiches that had been in his schoolbag (and may have been there some days knowing Tom).

Suffice it to say I was furious. Not only at the thugs that think they have the right to break windows and help themselves but to silly 17 year olds who despite their father’s plea to never leave anything of real value in the car, especially when it is parked on the road, one son did.

We duly reported this to the Police and my eldest son gave them a good description of the vehicle they were driving. They were genuinely interested. They have a good track record in our suburb of finding thieves like these. Goodness knows they get enough practise.

If there is a good side to crime here it is that it tends to be against property rather than people. If someone breaks into your house they aren’t going to hang around just to harm you. Violent crime against people is overwhelmingly domestic violence. That doesn’t excuse it but should reassure anyone thinking of moving here that crime is real but it is low level and generally not personal. If you get bashed, chances are you will know the person who did it. It might not make you feel better if it happens to you but reinforces our streets are generally very safe.

My wife often walks around 4km to the gym, before and after dark, summer and winter, rain or shine. She thinks nothing of it. She carries no protection and is armed only with a cellphone. That is the reality of ‘crime’ in this city and this country.

When I consider that if we murdered people at the same per capita rate as a country like South Africa we would murder around 1000 people a year it brings home just how safe New Zealand is (and how unsafe places like South Africa really are).

It remains pleasing though to see the crime rate continues to fall and a very safe country is becoming even safer.

Until next week

Southern Man - Iain MacLeod

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