'I know I'm doing wrong, but it's for my kids' - Hunger and poverty drive high rates of shoplifting in South Africa

‘I know I’m doing wrong, but it’s for my kids’ – Hunger and poverty drive high rates of shoplifting in South Africa

A typical day for Krista used to start at 6.30am when she made bread for two of her three children to eat at school.

Between 9 and 10 a.m., she’d go to Shoprite or Pick n Pay to find out what she could steal for her kids’ lunch when they got home. This may include eggs, cheese, tuna or pasta.

She would also keep an eye on anything she could steal to sell, to earn money to buy other necessities including diapers.

Her shoplifting didn’t end there. Around 4 p.m., she’d come back to steal something for the pot and make sure there was enough to eat for the next morning—usually frozen chicken, meat, or baked goods and rice.

There is nothing to eat

Christiana is one of 6,001 shoplifters arrested across South Africa between 2021 and 27 June 2023 who have been referred, via court proceedings, to the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro) to be placed in intervention programmes. Nearco’s goal is to reduce the growing number of shoplifters in South Africa and rehabilitate them back into society. But it proves to be a battle against inflation and poverty.


“Christina” (not her real name) said the shoplifter before she goes to any store to steal food for her children, she prays: “Oh my God, I know what I’m doing is wrong, but I’m stealing to feed my kids.” (Photo: Vincent Croyagne)

Using Nicro data and SAPS statistics, Daily Maverick Track down the thieves and interview them. Those we spoke to are typically backyard dwellers who live in extreme poverty.

Daily Maverick They ventured into poor communities, which included Bishop Lavis, Hanover Park, and Atlantis.

Another single mom of two, ages 2 and 14, *Mandy, of Hanover Park, is also unemployed and lives at Wendy’s house, in a friend’s backyard. She’s been shoplifting for nearly two years and has been caught three times, but that hasn’t stopped her.

There is a strong desire in our region to steal food, diapers and meat. We are a group of fifteen shoplifters. Food and diapers are the most important items for all of us but if we can’t get them then we take anything and sell it and then buy diapers and food.

“I stole from the store because there was nothing to eat in my house. Isn’t it nice to wake up in the morning and hear your kids say ‘Mommy, what’s that cos?'” (Mom, where’s our food)? Mandy says Daily Maverick.

crimes of necessity

“Most things that thieves steal are food, and I would definitely say unemployment and poverty play a role in that,” said Magda Reynolds, Nykro’s Western Cape area manager.

Lisette Lancaster, Director of the Crime Center at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, stated that shoplifting often goes unreported, and SAPS only responds to registered cases and open cases. She added that the drivers behind the increase in shoplifting could be structural poverty and equity, general food security, and double-digit food price inflation.

Read more at The Daily Maverick: Cost of Living Crisis – CPI accelerates to 7.1% in March, food inflation at 14-year high

In agreement with Lancaster, Mervyn Abrahams, coordinator of the Pietermaritzburg Group’s Economic Justice and Dignity Program, reiterated:When people have no other means of putting food on the table, they will resort to crime to do so. So it is actually a direct result of the dire economic situation that South Africa is facing.

The NIKRO statistics for the said period and SAPS for the period January 1, 2023 to March 31, 2023 show the following:

  • According to Niekro, 68% of the 6,001 theft cases filed in South African courts between 2021 and 27 June 2023 involved individuals under the age of 35 carrying out the incidents.
  • Of the 6,001 reported incidents, 3,387 (56.44%) perpetrators were unemployed.
  • Niekro’s Internal Offenders Statistics (excluding SAPS) revealed that the number of shoplifting cases nationwide in 2021 was 1,915, increased to 2,718 in 2022, and as of June 27, 2023, was 1,368.
  • Food theft ranked first in Nycro’s data, with 791 women, 788 men, and three LGBTIQA members accounting for a total of 1,582 arrests.
  • SAPS crime statistics From January 1, 2023 to March 31, 2023, it reveals that shoplifting increased from 10,292 to 12,379 (20.3%). The SAPS numbers do not distinguish between burglars sentenced in court and those referred to Nicro for intervention.
  • former crime statistics It showed in 2012/2013 that the number of shoplifting was 71,267 in a year. Before 2010-2011 the highest was at 78,326. For 2017/2018 a total of 62,180 shoplifting incidents were reported, in 2018/2019 a total of 60,167 and 2019/2020 a total of 58,883.

Reynolds further stressed that the nikro theft statistics only include cases that have been referred to courts for intervention.

“Once the offender has successfully completed it — meaning they participated in the process, demonstrated learning and so on — they are considered compliant and a completion report is sent to the court. The court then withdraws the case against them and they no longer have a criminal record,” Reynolds explains.

face the problem

Daily Maverick I interviewed at least three shoplifters: one has already appeared in court and been referred to Necro, and two have yet to be caught. Through these interviews, the robbers claim to have told the judges “they shoplifted to feed their hungry children and were out of a job.”

This was also confirmed by the Catelhong police in February of this year, when they noticed a rise in shoplifting among young men and women. According to SAPS, the majority of unemployed women were mothers and housewives between the ages of 21 and 35.

Catelhong Police spokeswoman Constable Sivenkosi Mtwa noted that SAPS believed the food theft incidents were a result of Poverty and unemployment.

At least three spokespeople for the retailers have been reluctant to release recorded information on shoplifting. One of them stated informally: “Most things stolen are not food.” They are things that can be resold. Infant formula is huge, she explained.

The unemployment

Unemployment, high inflation, food prices, and poverty are some of the main reasons that influence people’s desire to shoplift to feed hungry bellies at home.

South Africa The unemployment rate rose to 32.9%. in the first quarter of 2023 from 32.7% in the fourth quarter of 2022. One worrying trend is the loss of 85,000 jobs in private homes, which would include household staff and gardeners.

Things get worse. aaccording to SA StatisticsAnd 43.4% of people between the ages of 15 and 34 are unemployed. This is a serious cause for concern, given that this age group makes up a huge proportion of the country’s employable workforce.

The latest Household Affordability Index revealed that the average price of a household food basket was R5,071.59 in May.

Read more at The Daily Maverick: Activists are calling for the waiver of profit margins for 10 nutrients after the rise in the prices of rice, flour and sugar

Impact of theft on business

High theft numbers released by both Nicro and SAPS are nothing new.

Food price inflation will exacerbate this crime. We’ve seen how groups have organized robberies and expanded shoplifting syndicates, for example. Lancaster added that crime statistics did not provide us with this information and do not indicate whether it was organized or random.

Jack Mollman, President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, noted that while the Cape Chamber does not have its own data on the prevalence of shoplifting, the results of a recent survey of their business environment indicate growing frustration with the negative effects this has. a crime.

“While violent crime trends grab headlines, we know that so-called petty theft is causing business ‘shrinkage’, and this includes employee theft and outside theft.

“The reported increase in shoplifting coincides with continued widespread unemployment and other serious economic pressures, all exacerbated by load shedding. It is really sobering to note the items on the list of the most common items that are shoplifted—which indicates People are struggling to afford basic necessities.”

He stated that under current circumstances, it is difficult not to conclude that this rise in shoplifting is a measure of suffering and despair among the poor – and a stark reminder that the best weapon against crime is economic growth and access to jobs.

Meanwhile, Mervyn Abrahams of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group points out that there is It is an international link when household food insecurity increases – we see an increase in certain types of crime, such as shoplifting, particularly where food is involved.

It’s not just about the inflation rate and food price inflation. Yes, it is a global and complex problem. Because food has become a commodity. We trade in the futures market. We trade corn that we have not yet planted. So corn has become almost like gold and other foods, it has become a commodity and it has become almost separate from the right to life.”

crime targeting

National Police spokeswoman Athlinda Mathey said that in response to the increase in shoplifting, SAPS is working closely with private securities to nip the problem in the bud.

Mathi added that while there will be regular police visibility and checks, SAPS cannot be in retail stores every day and retail security must respond to shoplifting.

Necro’s anti-shoplifting efforts don’t end once the offender completes a rehabilitation program. They follow up with offenders every three, six, or 12 months to assess where they are in the rehabilitation process, what is going on, and What else could Necro do for them. Last year, 90% of the 2,718 referrals who attended Nycro programs were not re-arrested. DM

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


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