South Africans Feel Unsafe, Sense Crime Is Rising. But Is That True? Yes, It Is. Here's Why... - Weekend Argus

1 December 2018 - In 2017/18, the murder rate was over 20 000, with the trend over the past five years indicating an uptick in murders. The last time more than 20 000 murders were committed in South Africa was in the 2002/03 reporting year.

Marius Roodt

South Africans are a diverse bunch. Our ancestors come from different parts of the world, we follow different gods (or none at all), and we speak different languages. However, there are probably three things that unite us – our love of sports, braaing with friends and family, and, unfortunately, worries over crime. Many South Africans say they feel unsafe and sense that crime is on the increase. But is that true? Here are five things everyone needs to know about crime in South Africa:

1.    Do South Africans feel safe?

Over 40% of South Africans think that violent crime has increased over the past three years in the area in which they live. Less than a quarter think it has decreased with the remainder saying that there has been no change. This is according to the latest Victims of Crime Survey (VOCS), published by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA). But are they right to feel less safe? The answer is yes – South Africa’s crime rate is high, and is unlikely to change soon.

2.    The murder rate is on the increase

After the end of apartheid, South Africa’s murder rate was extraordinarily high. For the 1994/95 reporting year, there were over 25 000 murders, a rate of 67 people per 100 000. It increased the following year to nearly 27 000 murders, reflecting a rate of 68 per 100 000, its post-apartheid peak. For the next two decades, the murder rate declined steadily (although it remained high by global standards). Murders reached their lowest level in 2011/12 – some 15 500 murders and a rate of 31 per 100 000, less than half the peak of the mid-1990s. Worryingly, however, this trend has now reversed. In 2017/18, the murder rate was over 20 000, with the trend over the past five years indicating an uptick in murders. The last time more than 20 000 murders were committed in South Africa was in the 2002/03 reporting year.

3.    Aggravated robbery is also on the rise

Aggravated robbery – robbery with a weapon – is also on the increase. In 2016/17, the number of aggravated robberies – at nearly 141 000 – was the highest ever recorded. It declined slightly in the latest reporting year, to just over 138 000, reflecting a robbery rate of 244. Excluding the previous year, the last time the aggravated robbery rate was that high was in 2008/09. Like murder, this crime is once again on an upward trend after showing a decline.

4.    South Africa is one of the most violent countries in the world

According to the United Nations, South Africa has the tenth highest murder rate in the world. Using figures from 2016, South Africa’s murder rate was 34 per 100 000 people. The country with the highest murder rate on the planet, with nearly 100 murders for every 100 000 people, was El Salvador. However, of countries with populations of over 50 million people, South Africa was the top of this unfortunate leaderboard. Brazil is second, with a murder rate of just under 30.

5.    South Africans are losing faith in the police and the justice system

According to the latest VOCS, South Africans are also losing faith in the police and the broader criminal justice system. In 2013/14, nearly 60% of respondents said they were satisfied with the police, a figure that dropped to below 55% in 2017/18. The drop for levels of satisfaction that people had in the courts was even more precarious. People were asked how satisfied they were with the way in which courts dealt with the perpetrators of crime. In 2013/14, over 60% of people said they were satisfied. Five years later, this had declined to just under 45%. These numbers are concerning – people losing faith in state authority can have significant implications for issues such as social cohesion and government legitimacy.

These statistics are worrying, and as the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) revealed in our latest Broken Blue Line report, even the police are involved in serious and violent crime. It is unsurprising that the murder rate is on the increase or that ordinary citizens are losing faith in the men and women who are supposed to protect them. But we can turn things around. In our Broken Blue Line document, the IRR has put forward a number of policy proposals to build a safe South Africa.

First, we suggest giving South Africans tax rebates on what they spend on security – either upgrading their homes or what they pay in subscription fees for security companies. Second, we propose that South Africans elect their local station commander – or at the very least, have a much greater say in how their station commander is appointed. This will make station commanders beholden to the local community rather than an apparatchik in Pretoria. Finally, we are of the opinion that neighbourhood watches should be strengthened and work with security companies (in time this co-operation can include the police).

We believe that implementing these proposals (along with others made by the IRR in the past) will go a long way to building a strong and professional police service. This will, in turn, result in a safer country for all.

Marius Roodt is head of campaigns at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes economic and political freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).