SA's murder rate remains frighteningly high - Post

Oct 28, 2020
28 October 2020 - The case for immediate, practical reforms in policing is inescapably clear from the frighteningly high levels of serious and violent crime facing South Africans.

Duwayne Esau

The case for immediate, practical reforms in policing is inescapably clear from the frighteningly high levels of serious and violent crime facing South Africans.

The murder rate – which might be considered the key performance indicator of South Africa’s fight against crime – is shockingly high by international standards.

At a rate of 36 per 100 000 – which equates to 58 murders a day – the scale of murder, per capita, in South Africa rivals the numbers seen in war-torn countries.

Data in the 2020 edition of the Institute of Race Relations’ (IRR) South Africa Survey shows the country’s homicide rate is well over the international average of 7 per 100 000.

It is no exaggeration, as the IRR has indicated before, to say that the crisis of crime in South Africa is akin to a low-intensity civil war.

The IRR noted in 2018 that South Africa’s murder rate was more than 30 times higher than in Australia (with a rate of 1.1); almost 30 times higher than in France (1.2); 8 times higher than in the United States (3.8); twice the rate of Mexico (18.9); and closer to countries such as Colombia (31.8) and El Salvador (39.8).

Two years later, our murder rate remains frighteningly high.

After the horrific peak of the 1990s – the worst year for murder was 1995/96, when the rate climbed to 68 for every 100 000 people – the country succeeded for a decade and a half in bringing murders down. The rate had dropped to 29.8 by 2011/12, the lowest rate recorded since 1994.

Thereafter, however, it began increasing again, and has been at its present high for several years.

The sheer scale of the cost of crime in South Africa is borne out by the fact that, since the end of apartheid, about 500 000 South Africans have been murdered and about one million people have been raped.

For all South Africans, whatever their race, class or gender, crime is an ever-present daily risk.

Different crimes affect certain categories of people in different ways.

One of the standout data points in the figures for 2018/19 is that 17 251 of the 21 036 murder victims (the highest number since 2002/03) were male.

While men make up a large proportion of the perpetrators of violent crime, they are also the most likely victims of violence.

Women and children account for the overwhelming majority of sexual offences – 36 597 committed against women, and 24 387 against children.

It is clear that, for all the lip-service paid to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) by politicians, not enough is being done to address the tragically high incidence of such crimes.

More than 40 000 rapes were reported in 2018/19, almost double the number of murders. Given that a large number of rapes typically go unreported, the true figure could be even higher.

Fighting crime – and the scourge of drug abuse – have consistently ranked high among key concerns of South Africans in opinion surveys commissioned by the IRR over the years. These issues have been ranked by all South Africans as a government priority far above race-based affirmative action and land reform.

Yet, political attention and the damaging rhetoric that goes with it has been disproportionately focused on race-based empowerment measures that fail to help the poor, and on such things as expropriation without compensation, which is a red flag to the investment the country desperately needs.

Far too little attention has been devoted to crime and better ways to fight it.

It is telling that while data from Stats SA reveals worryingly low levels of faith in policing, the private security industry has flourished, as citizens in their millions turn to finding their own solutions to securing their lives and their property, and paying for it themselves.

In 2018/19, there were 9 000 private security businesses operating in South Africa.

There is no doubt South Africans can be thankful for the many South African Police Service officers who are devoted, hard-working and effective, and who succeed in arresting suspects and helping to secure convictions.

But the figures suggest they are being failed by a police management that is too often lacklustre, ineffective in addressing criminality and corruption in police ranks and unwilling or unable to meet the public demand for protection from criminals.

The IRR is convinced that the old way of doing things is not working, and that reforms are called for to ensure better accountability and much more effective police work.

Crime is destroying South African lives and communities, and we cannot allow that to continue to happen.

This is the inspiration of the IRR’s Community Safety Charter, which sets out a range of solutions geared to winning the fight against crime, and which we urge South Africans to endorse at

It proposes

•        Giving communities the power to elect station commanders;

•        Making all police and prosecutorial appointments on merit alone –no more positions for political cronies;

•        Holding independent investigations and public hearings into criminality within the police;

•        Hastening the process of applying for and being granted firearm licences for self-defence;

•        Using private sector expertise in policing;

•        Fast-tracking former police and army members as police reservists; and

•        Increasing staffing and resources for Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units, and appointing expert prosecutors.

With enough public support, it will be possible to turn the tide in the fight for South African lives.

Duwayne Esau is the Strategic Communications Officer at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.

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