Crime in South Africa

Lorraine Kearney and Janine Erasmus

Crime hogs the headlines in South Africa, and the country’s reputation as a crime capital stretches far and wide. But according to the South African Police Service (SAPS), crime is on a downward trend. And South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS) backs this up.

On 9 September 2010 the SAPS released the national crime statistics for the year 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010. There were decreases in the three significant contact crime categories of murder, attampted murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances. For the first time since the establishment of the South African Police Service in 1995/1996, murder dropped to below 17 000 incidents.

Metro police staff a road block in
Johannesburg, Gauteng.
(Image: Chris Kirchhoff,
MediaClubSouthAfrica.com. For more
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In all but one of the SAPS’s seven contact crime categories, crime decreased over the previous year. Contact crime is defined as violent crime against the person. An increase of 1% was recorded in the incidence of common assault.

Of the categories that decreased, murder showed the greatest decline – dropping 8.6% – and assault with GBH the smallest – dropping 0.5%. Aggravated robbery dropped by 7.5%, while attempted murder dropped by 6.1% and common robbery by 4.1%. In total, contact crime dropped by 4.3% compared to 6.4% over the previous period.

Dr Johan Burger, a senior researcher in the crime and justice programme at the ISS, says the 2010 crime statistics were proof that something positive was happening, and that research should be conducted to identify other factors that had contributed to the improvement in the crime statistics.

The results of the ISS’s National Victims of Crime Survey 2003 seem to support the SAPS figures. It found that 23% of South Africans were victims of crime between September 2002 and August 2003, down almost 2% from 24.5% in 1998.

It did, however, find that people’s feelings of safety decreased. The number feeling unsafe at night had more than doubled from 25% in 1998 to 53% in 2003.

“It is an international experience that about 50% of all crimes are not reported,” Burger says. In its survey, the ISS found that 97% of car thefts were reported, for example. Cars are normally insured and to make a claim, an owner must have a police reference number. On the other hand, only 29% of ordinary robbery was reported.

It is estimated that 30% to 60% of rape is not reported, Burger says, adding that women simply do not want to go through the trauma of reporting it and facing a court case if the rapist is caught.

Joan van Niekerk, the director of Childline, also has no quibble with the reporting system of counting crimes committed, which looks at the dockets opened, but people are often turned away by the police, she says.

“People who know about organisations like us, and are sufficiently empowered, call us. According to research by the Medical Research Council, just one in nine rapes are reported, while Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention research found that one in nine children report crime.

These findings may not reflect the current situation, as the ISS has not conducted another Victims of Crime survey since 2003.