South Africa has a notably high rate of murders, assaults, rapes and other violent crimes, compared with most countries. The popularity of gated communities and increasing dependence on private security indicates a view that the situation may be beyond control of the police. The causes of the crime, the calculating of the statistics and the formulating of law enforcement policies are all matters of ongoing debate in government and at the United Nations.
In February 2007, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation was contracted by the South African government to carry out a study on the nature of crime in South Africa. The study concluded that the country is exposed to high levels of violence as a result of different factors.
- The normalisation of violence. Violence comes to be seen as a necessary and justified means of resolving conflict, and males believe that coercive sexual behaviour against women is legitimate.
- The reliance on a criminal justice system that is mired in many issues, including inefficiency and corruption.
- A subculture of violence and criminality, ranging from individual criminals who rape or rob to informal groups or more formalised gangs. Those involved in the subculture are engaged in criminal careers and commonly use firearms, with the exception of Cape Town where knife violence is more prevalent. Credibility within this subculture is related to the readiness to resort to extreme violence.
- The vulnerability of young people linked to inadequate child rearing and poor youth socialisation. As a result of poverty, unstable living arrangements and being brought up with inconsistent and uncaring parenting, some South African children are exposed to risk factors which enhance the chances that they will become involved in criminality and violence.
- The high levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation.
A survey for the period 1990–2000 compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranked South Africa second for assault and murder (by all means) per capita and first for rapes per capita in a data set of 60 countries. Total crime per capita was 10th out of the 60 countries in the dataset.
The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute have conducted research on the victims of crime which shows the picture of South African crime as more typical of a developing country.
Recently released statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Statistics South Africa (SSA) saw a slight decline of 1.4% in violent crimes committed in South Africa.
Most emigrants from South Africa state that crime was a big factor in their decision to leave.
Around 49 people are murdered in South Africa every day. The murder rate increased rapidly in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Between 1994 -2009, the murder rate halved from 67 to 34 murders per 100,000 people. Between 2011-2015, it stabilised to around 32 homicides per 100,000 people although the total number of lives lost has increased due to the increase in population. There have been numerous press reports on the manipulation of crime statistics that have highlighted the existence of incentives not to record violent crime. Nonetheless, murder statistics are considered accurate. In the 2016/17 year, the rate of murders increased to 52 a day, with 19,016 murders recorded between April 2016 to March 2017. 
Homicides per 100,000 from April to March:
Main article: Sexual violence in South Africa
The country has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, with some 65,000 rapes and other sexual assaults reported for the year ending in March 2012, or 127.6 per 100,000 people in the country. The incidence of rape has led to the country being referred to as the "rape capital of the world". One in three of the 4,000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year. More than 25% of South African men questioned in a survey published by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in June 2009 admitted to rape; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person. Three out of four of those who had admitted rape indicated that they had attacked for the first time during their teenage years. South Africa has amongst the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world.
South Africa has a high record of carjacking when compared with other industrialised countries. Insurance company Hollard Insurance stated in 2007 that they would no longer insure Volkswagen Citi Golfs, as they were one of the country's most frequently carjacked vehicles. Certain high-risk areas are marked with road signs indicating a high incidence of carjackings within the locality.
Murder of farmers
Crime against white commercial farmers in the country have gained notable press given the country's past racial tensions, but statistics substantiating claims that White farmers are murdered at a higher rate than the national homicide average haven't actually been discovered.
Kidnapping in South Africa is common in the country, with over 4,100 occurring in the 2013/2014 period, and a child going missing every five hours.
Main article: Corruption in South Africa
PricewaterhouseCoopers's fourth biennial Global Economic Crime Survey reported a 110% increase in fraud reports from South African companies in 2005. 83% of South African companies reported being affected by white collar crime in 2005, and 72% of South African companies reported being affected in 2007. 64% of the South African companies surveyed stated that they pressed forward with criminal charges upon detection of fraud. 3% of companies said that they each lost more than 10,000,000 South African rand in two years due to fraud.
Louis Strydom, the head of PricewaterhouseCooper's forensic auditing division, said that the increase in fraud reports originates from "an increased focus on fraud risk management and embedding a culture of whistle-blowing." According to the survey 45% of cases involved a perpetrator between the ages of 31 and 40: 64% of con men held a high school education or less.
Advance fee fraud
Advance fee fraud scammers based in South Africa have in past years reportedly conned people from various parts of the world out of millions of rands. South African police sources stated that Nigerians living in Johannesburg suburbs operate advance fee fraud (419) schemes.
In 2002, the South African Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, wanted to make a call centre for businesses to check reputations of businesses due to proliferation of scams such as advance fee fraud, pyramid schemes and fly-by-night operators. In response, the South African Police Service has established a project which has identified 419 scams, closing websites and bank accounts where possible.
Gated communities are popular with the South African middle-class, Black as much as White. Gated communities are usually protected by high perimeter walls topped with electric fencing, guard dogs, barred doors and windows and alarm systems linked to private security forces. The Gauteng Rationalisation of Local Government Affairs Act 10 of 1998, allows communities to "restrict" access to public roads under the supervision of the municipalities. The law requires that entry control measures within these communities should not deny anyone access. The Tshwane municipality failed to process many of the applications it has received, leaving many suburbs exposed to high levels of crime. Several communities successfully sued, won and are now legally restricting access. These measures are generally considered effective in reducing crime (within those areas). Consequently, the number of enclosed neighbourhoods (existing neighbourhoods that have controlled access across existing roads) in Gauteng has continued to grow.
Private security companies
Main article: Private security industry in South Africa
The South African Police Service is responsible for managing 1,115 police stations across South Africa.
To protect themselves and their assets, many businesses and middle-to-high-income households make use of privately owned security companies with armed security guards. The South African Police Service employ private security companies to patrol and safeguard certain police stations, thereby freeing fully trained police officers to perform their core function of preventing and combating crime. A December 2008 BBC documentary, Law and Disorder in Johannesburg, examined such firms in the Johannesburg area, including the Bad Boyz security company.
It is argued that the police response is generally too slow and unreliable, thus private security companies offer a popular form of protection. Private security firms promise response times of two to three minutes. Many levels of protection are offered, from suburban foot patrols to complete security checkpoints at the entry points to homes.
The government has been criticised for doing too little to stop crime. Provincial legislators have stated that a lack of sufficient equipment has resulted in an ineffective and demoralised South African Police Service. The Government was subject to particular criticism at the time of the Minister of Safety and Security visit to Burundi, for the purpose of promoting peace and democracy, at a time of heightened crime in Gauteng. This spate included the murder of a significant number of people, including members of the South African Police Service, killed while on duty. The criticism was followed by a ministerial announcement that the government would focus its efforts on mitigating the causes for the increase in crime by 30 December 2006. In one province alone, nineteen police officers lost their lives in the first seven months of 2006.
Recently,[when?] the government had a widely publicised gun amnesty program to reduce the number of weapons in private hands. In 1996 or 1997, the government has tried and failed to adopt the National Crime Prevention Strategy, which aimed to prevent crime through reinforcing community structures and assisting individuals to get back into work.
A previous Minister of Safety and Security, Charles Nqakula, evoked public outcry among South Africans in June 2006 when he responded to opposition MPs in parliament who were not satisfied that enough was being done to counter crime, suggesting that MPs who complain about the country's crime rate should stop complaining and leave the country.
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On the day of their release, these statistics were already at least six months out of date. That means that the current crime situation, particularly at local level, could be very different to that described by the statistics below. For a guide on how to interpret crime statistics see the Africa Check Guide and Crime Facts and Analysis from the ISS Crime Hub.
Murder – the most reliable crime statistic
For the first time in 20 years the number of murders and the murder rate has increased for a second consecutive year.
Murder is an important crime to monitor because unlike other crimes, the number of reported murders is likely to be very close to the actual number of murders committed. The murder rate is regarded as one indicator of a country’s stability – the higher it is, the less stable a country is regarded to be.
The murder rate refers to the number of people who are murdered per 100,000 of the population. Rates allow for comparisons between areas of high and low population density.
Facts about murder in South Africa:
- Incidents of murder increased from 16,259 murders in 2012/13 to 17,068 in 2013/14.
- This means that there were 809 more people murdered than in the previous year.
- This comes on the back of a similar increase in 2012/13 when 650 more murders were recorded compared to 2011/12.
- The average number of murders committed each day increased from 45 in 2012/13 to 47 in 2013/14.
- Using Statistics South Africa’s 2013 midyear estimates, the murder rate in 2013/14 was 32.2 per 100,000, up from 31.1 in 2012/13.
- SA’s murder rate is about five times higher than the 2013 global average of 6 murders per 100,000.
Which violent crimes decreased, and why that may not always be a good thing
Over the past financial year (2013/14) there has again been a reduction in the number of recorded cases of assault. The statistics on assault are however the least reliable because cases of assault are not routinely reported to the police and because the police do not always record all cases that are reported to them.
A reduction in reported assault does not necessarily mean that there are fewer assaults taking place. It may mean that the legitimacy of the police is decreasing in the eyes of the public. Similarly, an increase in reported cases of assault may indicate an increase in confidence in the police.
Since cases of domestic violence are likely to be recorded as cases of assault, it is particularly important that reporting is encouraged.
- Cases of assault with the intention to inflict grievous bodily harm (GBH) decreased by 1.5% between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
- Cases of common assault decreased by 3.3% between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
Arson and malicious damage to property, crimes that are often committed at the same time as an assault, also decreased.
- Cases of arson decreased by 4.2% between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
- Cases of malicious damage to property decreased by 1.1% between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
The Domestic Violence Act makes it a legal requirement for the police to keep a register of all cases of domestic violence reported to them at each station. Despite having this data the police do not make it available to the public.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 came into effect in December 2007 and created a number of “new” sexual offences and expanded the definition of rape. This makes it difficult to compare the rape statistics before December 2007 with more recent figures.
“Total sexual crimes” as reported by the police include 59 separate offences ranging from sex work to rape. Increases or decreases in such a broad category of crime cannot tell us much. The police should provide statistics for each of the crimes.
- Overall sexual offences have decreased by 11.2% since 2008/9 when 70,514 cases were recorded. In 2013/14, 62,649 cases were recorded.
- Reported cases of rape stabilised, with a slight decrease of 3%, since 2008/9 from 47,588 to 46,253 in 2013/14.
The true extent of rape is unknown as there has not been a recent, nationally representative study on reporting rates in South Africa. The most recent data estimated that one in 25 women raped in South Africa’s Gauteng reported it to the police.
Reporting of rape must be encouraged. This will however necessitate a change in how police performance is measured. Currently, the police are expected to reduce violent crime by between 4% and 7% per year. This creates a disincentive for police to record all violent crimes reported to them. If victims are encouraged to report rape, and the police indeed record all these reports, the number of recorded rapes will increase. This should not impact negatively on assessments of police performance.
There has been an increase in all categories of robbery over the past year. These crimes are referred to by the police as “violent property crimes”.
Robberies occur when armed perpetrators threaten or use violence against their victims in order to steal their belongings. When perpetrators use a weapon, it is recorded as “aggravated robbery”.
- The number of aggravated robberies increased from 105,888 cases in 2012/13 to 119,351 cases in 2013/14 (an increase of 13,463 cases, or 12.7%).
- The aggravated robbery rate increased from 202.6 per 100,000 people in 2012/13 to 225.3 per 100,000 people in 2013/14, which represents an increase of 11.2%.
Most sub-categories of aggravated robbery increased between 2012/13 and 2013/14:
- Street or public robberies increased by 8,598 cases to a total of 69,074 incidents. This is 14.2% higher than the 60,476 incidents recorded the previous year. It means that every day in 2013/14, on average, there were 189 cases of street robbery.
- House robberies occur when people are confronted by armed gangs while they are in their homes. This crime increased by 7.4% to 19,284 incidents representing an additional 1,334 households being attacked when compared to the previous year. On average 53 households were attacked each day in 2013/14.
- Business robberies increased by 13.7% to 18,615 incidents. This crime type has consistently increased in the past eight years. It is 461% higher now than it was in 2004/05. There were an additional 2,238 armed attacks on businesses in 2013/14 compared to the previous year.
- Vehicle hijacking increased by 12.3% to 11,221 incidents. This means that 31 motor vehicles were hijacked every day on average in 2013/14. This is of particular concern given that most of these cases are as a result of organised crime syndicates.
- Truck hijacking increased by 5.1% from 943 incidents in 2012/13 to 991 incidents in 2013/14. As with vehicle hijacking, this crime is generally perpetrated by organised crime syndicates and the increase in both types of hijacking suggests that organised crime is on the rise in South Africa.
Can better policing reduce street robbery?
Street-robbery primarily affects the poor and typically occurs as people travel to and from work, school or shops.
- Street robbery decreased at an average rate of 7.2% per annum between 2004/05 and 2008/09. An even larger annual average decrease of 10.4% was recorded in 2009/10 and 2010/11. In 2011/12 street robbery only decreased by 2%.
- In the years when street robbery decreased, other more serious robberies namely carjacking, house robbery and business robbery (which the police call the “trio robberies”) increased substantially.
According to the SAPS, improved visible policing reduced street robberies. The increased visibility was the result of the approximately 10,000 additional police officers that were hired each year between 2002/03 and 2009/10. However, the police believe that this also pushed robbers to target houses, businesses and vehicles instead.
Yet when the police worked hard to improve security in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup, trio robberies stabilised. During 2010, these crimes decreased by a significant 11.8%. So these kinds of crimes can be reduced through a change in police focus and strategy.
Unfortunately, in 2011/12 the decrease in trio robberies was much smaller (1.3%), suggesting that the police were not able to sustain the gains made in previous years. The police will have to address problems in crime intelligence and implement the recommendations of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry in relation to improving the detective service.
The term “property crime” refers to crimes in which property is stolen without the use of violence or force (i.e. no direct confrontation between perpetrators and victims). Between 2012/13 and 2013/14:
- Residential burglary decreased by 0.6% (a reduction of 1,653 reported cases) to a total 260,460 incidents. This means that each day, on average, 714 households were burgled.
- Business burglary has remained largely unchanged (a reduction of 30 reported cases) to a total of 73,600 incidents. This means that each day, on average, 202 businesses were burgled.
- The number of cases of theft out of and from motor vehicles increased by 3% (an additional 4,154 cases) to a total of 143,812 incidents. This means that each day, on average, 394 vehicles were broken into and property was stolen.
- Commercial crime incidents (which include several crimes like fraud and corruption) decreased by 13.6% (a reduction of 12,460 cases) to a total of 79,109 incidents. A single incident can involve tens of millions of rand.
- The catch-all category called “all theft not mentioned elsewhere” increased by 1.6% to 368,664, an additional 5,848 reported cases.
Reliable crime intelligence is vital for the police to effectively reduce most of the robberies and burglaries. These crimes are typically caused by organised criminal groups (syndicates) and by repeat offenders who use networks to sell their stolen goods. Using intelligence techniques, the police can identify the networks and individuals involved in these types of crimes and target them for criminal investigation. Solid detective work can ensure that sufficient evidence is obtained to successfully prosecute those involved. Removing these individuals from society decreases the risks to others and ultimately reduces these types of crime.
However, the current ability of the SAPS’s Crime Intelligence Division is in question. According to the police’s 2012/13 annual report crime intelligence produced 60% fewer communication analysis reports than the previous year and 33% fewer intelligence analysis reports. With such a decrease in productivity the rest of the SAPS, who are dependent on good quality and timely intelligence, cannot perform optimally.
Other property crimes that decreased are:
- Theft of motor vehicle decreased by 2.6%
- Shoplifting decreased marginally by 1.1%
- Stock theft has decreased this year by 6.2%.
Stock theft has shown a steady decrease in the past three years. This could be because of the implementation of the Rural Safety Strategy. While this crime has only averaged around 30,000 cases per annum over the past five years, its impact on food security is significant. For traditional small farmers, especially those with cattle and goats, stock theft can cause serious tensions and even manifest in vigilantism and violent conflict which in turn results in murders, attempted murders and arson.
Why are these crime statistics important?
The 2013/14 crime statistics show that South Africa experienced two of the worst years in the last decade from a crime reduction point of view.
In the eight years between 2003 and 2011 there was a reduction in levels of crime overall. Since 2011 the rate of the annual reduction slowed and in the past two years there has been an increase in the most significant categories of crime.
The Institute for Security Studies aims to enhance human security by providing independent and authoritative research. Find them on Twitter: @issafrica. Africa Check is a non-partisan organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media. Find us on Twitter: @AfricaCheck.
FACTSHEET: South Africa’s crime statistics for April to December 2016
FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2015/16 crime statistics
FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2014/15 property crime statistics
FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2014/15 assault and sexual crime statistics
FACTSHEET: South Africa: official crime statistics for 2012/13
GUIDE: Understanding crime statistics in South Africa – what you need to know
COMMENT: The blurred crime picture – the impact of under-reporting
COMMENT: Why is crime and violence so high in South Africa?
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