JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The FBI keeps a list of its 10 most wanted criminals.
In South Africa, police have their 247,000 most wanted, according to a local media report.
The country's top police chief, Bheki Cele, has a plan to hunt down these 247,000 fugitives: publish their photos on billboards erected along South African highways.
“With their names and faces displayed on the billboards, their wives, girlfriends, relatives and even community members will be able to identify them and there will be no place for them to hide,” Cele told the African Eye news service.
“We will ensure these billboards are found on every freeway or street corner in the country," he said.
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Cele said the billboard project is already underway. But one observer warned of the potential trauma these billboards may pose to victims of crime.
The billboard may show "someone who broke into my house and stole a whole lot of stuff. It’s even worse for survivors of more serious crimes like rape, robberies, hijackings and attempted murder who may have to see the faces of their tormentors every time they drive past these billboards," wrote a columnist in The New Age, a South African newspaper.
South Africa has a notoriously high crime rate, in particular violent crime, with an average of 46 murders a day in a country with a population of 49 million.
But the latest annual crime statistics, released last month, show the crime rate in South Africa to be declining, with attempted murders down more than 12 percent. The murder rate has dropped to just below 16,000 people killed a year, down from 18,000 in past years.
The billboard plan may yet be stymied by the possible suspension of Cele, who is being investigated by President Jacob Zuma over property deals.
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In July, a South African corruption investigator ruled that Cele and a government minister were involved in “maladministration” of "unlawful" property deals, involving the leasing of old buildings for the police at prices far above the market rate.
South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper recently reported that Cele may be suspended while a board of inquiry deliberates on his role in the allegedly fraudulent property leases.
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