SA crime stats: hope amid alarming trends

To curb SA's escalating murder and organised crime rates, improvements in policing must be matched by other interventions.

Pretoria, South Africa – The South African Police Service (SAPS) released the annual crime statistics for 2015/2016 today, which revealed stubbornly high murder, violence and organised crime problems.

Representing the 12 months between April 2015 and March 2016, these numbers do not yet reflect the extensive positive change that has been happening in the SAPS. It will take time to see noticeable improvements in policing. But policing is only part of the solution.

Most violence takes place between people who know each other or live in the same communities, and there is little the police can do about this until the crime has already been committed. The best the police can do is respond after a crime has taken place – by which time it is too late.

‘It is important to understand that violence – whether it's murder, rape or assault – is not something that the police can prevent or reduce on their own,’ says Gareth Newham, Head of the Governance, Crime and Justice Division at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

The statistics released today point to two key concerning trends related to public safety in South Africa: namely the increase in the murder rate, and a rise in organised crime – including carjacking. The murder rate has increased by 3.2% in the last year. This is almost a 20% increase in murder over the past four years.

‘The murder rate is a key measure of violence in society. The increase in this category means we must rethink our approach to improving public safety,’ says Dr Chandré Gould, ISS researcher and author of the Beaten Bad study, which investigates causes of extreme violence among South African men.

We have to start doing things differently: most importantly by intervening in the factors that contribute to the risk of violence. These include investing in at-risk youth; keeping children safe and supporting parents; and addressing the role of alcohol, guns and drugs.

‘Much is being done, but greater attention must be given to interventions that are proven to reduce violent behaviour. For example, programmes that assist parents to deal with stress and nurture their children can be very effective in reducing aggression and other behavioural problems. This requires cooperation among NGOs, government departments such as Social Development and high-risk communities,’ says Gould. It is in this context that steps need to be taken to address the current shortfall of over 50 000 social workers in South Africa.

Where the police need to play a leading role is in tackling crimes committed by repeat offenders and violence linked to organised syndicates or groups. The ongoing increases in aggravated robbery should therefore also be of concern to all. Many robberies are committed repeatedly by the same small groups and are supported by those who trade in stolen goods.

While overall robberies may have stabilised, with a relatively small 2.7% increase compared to last year, hijackings – which are highly organised – have seen a 14% increase for the third year in a row. Dr Johan Burger at the ISS says this suggests that we are losing the war against organised crime and greater attention should be given to why this is the case.

‘Better use of crime intelligence, with support from experienced detectives and forensic capacity will go far in reducing these crimes. A good example is the success in tackling truck hijacking following the appointment of a dedicated task team,’ says Burger.

The appointment of acting national commissioner Khomotso Phahlane in October 2016 has resulted in a new ‘back to basics’ approach. An intensive analysis of policing resulted in a restructuring of the SAPS National HQ, the appointment of 18 experienced officers to key positions and the establishment of a new national police research unit. Efforts to improve the detective services are also very heartening. Without good investigations, it is not possible to bring criminals before the courts to be convicted and sentenced.

‘General Phahlane has injected positive and professional energy into the SAPS at a national level and that can be seen in the confident and clear manner in which the crime statistics were presented to the Police Portfolio Committee in Parliament today. He has done well in a short amount of time, but we will need to be patient to enable this new approach to have the desired impact,’ says Newham. ‘We also welcome cabinet’s decision to release crime stats more regularly – something the ISS and other civil society organisations have been calling for, for six years.’

For more information or media inquiries contact: 

Anzet du Plessis, Proof Communication Africa: +27 83 557 2322, [email protected]

Picture: ©Jacqueline Cochrane/ISS

Development partners
The ISS is grateful for support from the following members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.
Related content