Holiday Hotspots: Where are the Most Dangerous South African Destinations?

National crime statistics only provide an indication of a country’s overall trends. However, local level analysis shows that places with the highest levels and rates of violent crime are not always obvious.

Lizette Lancaster, Project Manager – Crime and Justice Hub (Consultant), Crime and Justice Programme, ISS Pretoria Office

Every December, millions of South Africans travel to various holiday destinations - from modest rural family homesteads to posh beachfront resorts. The aim is to relax with relatives and friends. For many, particularly those who live in big cities such as Johannesburg, it is also an escape from the constant worry about personal safety. However, are our holiday destinations genuinely safer than our usual place of residence or work? The answer may be surprising when one considers the most reliable crime statistic, namely murder.

According to the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) survey of countries with reliable crime statistics,, South Africa  - with a murder rate of 31.9 per 100 000 people – has  the 14th highest murder rate in the world. Following an ongoing reduction of over 50% in the murder rate since the advent of democracy 1994, South Africa now ranks favourably when compared with countries such as Honduras (82.1 murders per 100 000 people), Jamaica (52.1 murders), United States Virgin Islands (39.2 murders) and a number of other Caribbean, South and Central American countries. The South African homicide rate is also lower than several other African countries namely Cote d`Ivoire (56.9), Zambia (38), Uganda (36.3) and Malawi (36) but almost twice that of the African continent average of 17.4. Although there have been substantial improvements in South Africa’s murder rate in recent years, it is still four and half times greater than the global average of 6.9 murders per 100 000 people.

A key problem with national crime statistics is that they only provide an indication of a country’s overall trend and do not provide an indication of the trend or risk faced in any specific locality or community. To illustrate this, although the USA’s national murder rate is five per 100 000 people, a visit to the USA’s of Washington DC in 2008, may have been more dangerous than a visit to South Africa’s capital city Tshwane. In this particular year the Washington DC murder rate was 31.5 per 100 000 people compared with Tshwane murder rate of 26.8.

Nevertheless, visiting a place with a high death rate does not necessarily increase the risk to visitor or visa versa. A case in point is Thailand with a low national murder rate of 5.3, unless it appears, you happen to be a European tourist. The 2011 British Behaviour Abroad Report published by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) noted that the death rate (including murder and natural causes) of Britons in Thailand was 41 per 100,000 tourists and for those visiting Germany was 24. Tourists from the UK are far safer visiting South Africa. The 2009/2010 FCO report revealed that the death rate amongst British tourists in South Africa was 14.6 per 100 000. In the 2011 report, South Africa did not feature in the top 20 country list of dangerous places to visit for British tourists.

Most South African holiday-makers, would be surprised to know that the murder rate for Gauteng (with 11.33 million people according to Statistics South Africa), is lower than that of many coastal provinces. In the 2010/2011 financial year, the murder rate for Gauteng was 29.1 per 100 000 people, compared to 47.3 for the Eastern Cape, 44.2 for the Western Cape, 35.2 for KwaZulu-Natal. The Free State also had a higher rate than Gauteng at 34.1. Only three provinces had a lower murder rate than Gauteng, namely North West (23.2), Mpumalanga (20) and Limpopo (12.2).

The 2011 murder rates for South African metropolitan areas also present a few surprises. Buffalo City in the Eastern Cape had the highest murder rate of 56.1 per 100 000 people. Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan area, in the same province, had a rate of 49.4.  One of South Africa’s favourite holiday destinations, Cape Town recorded a murder rate of 45.9 while Mangaung (Bloemfontein) had a murder rate of 42 and eThekwini (Durban metro) has a rate of 34.9. The safest metropolitan areas in relation to murder were Tshwane (22.9) followed by Johannesburg (29.5) and Ekurhuleni (34.6) – all in Gauteng.

Analyses of smaller localities reveal that there are substantial differences within provinces and cities. In the Cape Town metropolitan area precincts such as Milnerton, Langa, Gugulethu, Harare, Nyanga, Delft and Mitchells Plain possess far higher murder rates than the tourist locations of Camps Bay and the city centre. For KwaZulu-Natal, areas such as Port Shepstone and Empangeni have higher than average murder rates while in the Free State, the risk of being murdered is larger in the Bloemspruit, Maluti, Welkom and Mangaung policing precincts.

Fortunately for holiday-makers, travelling to an area with a high murder rate does not necessarily translate into a higher risk of being murdered. A 2009 SAPS internal docket analysis found that when  it comes to murder, 80% of perpetrators are known to victims, most being relatives, friends or acquaintances of the victims. The study also showed that 65% of the murders occurred as a result of social behaviour, for instance, domestic conflict and arguments associated with jealousy, alcohol and drug abuse. Only 16% of all murders were found to be the result of criminal behaviour such as a robbery. So for many people, staying at home may pose a greater risk of being murdered than going away on holiday.

While murder is typically the crime people fear the most, the picture changes when violent crime as a whole is considered when undertaking a risk assessment of a particular area. The total violent crime figures for the major cities, (including all reported cases of murder, attempted murder, rape, assault and robbery), reveal that during 2010/2011 Mangaung (Bloemfontein) is a particularly violent city with 2 166 violent crime cases per 100 000 being recorded.  Johannesburg (with 1 895 violent crime cases people), was overall more violent than Cape Town (with 1 704 cases).

The top ten most violent precincts in the country

Station Precinct

Number of Violent Crime Incidences

Mitchells Plain

6 021


5 545


4 845


3 944


3 704


3 596

Pretoria Central

3 567

Eldorado Park

3 450


3 429

Four of the top ten policing precincts in the country that record the most violent crime are in Johannesburg (Hillbrow, Moroka, Eldorado Park, and Booysens).  Together, they account for 22.2% of all violent crime reported in the Johannesburg metropolis. In turn, the Mitchells Plain precinct alone accounts for 10.1% of all violent crime reported in the Cape Town metropolitan area. 

As crime rates fluctuate monthly, the risk of any particular place also changes throughout the year. The South African Police Service does not release monthly statistics for crime. Therefore we do not know which areas are more dangerous specifically over the festive season. At the end of the day, the statistics will not tell you how much at risk you may be in any given area. If you reasonable precautions wherever you are it is most likely that you will be safe whether travelling or staying at home.

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