Murder by numbers

2015-10-14

Over the past three years, the South African murder rate has increased from 30 murders per 100 000 people to 33. This is five times higher than the global average of 6.2 per 100 000. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, South Africa ranked eighth worst out of 167 countries with data available for 2012.

Between April 2014 and March 2015, on average 49 people were murdered each day. This is on average two more killings a day than in the previous year, and a staggering six more deaths a day than in 2011/12.

The 2013/14 South African Police Service annual report showed that 5% of murder victims were children and 14% were women – most of whom were murdered by their intimate partners. By far the majority of victims (81%) were male. Victimisation surveys, police docket surveys and mortuary surveillance studies confirm young black men are most at risk of falling victim to murders.

Most murders do not make the news. They happen in places where violence and crime is a daily occurrence, and where desperate and marginalised residents are routinely overlooked by media and politicians.

Research shows that murders are often not premeditated, but take place when an argument leads to physical assault. Most victims are killed by acquaintances, friends or family members during disputes, which are often fuelled by alcohol.

The Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and the Free State were the five most dangerous provinces as far as murder were concerned in 2014/15. All had a murder rate higher than the national rate of 33 per 100 000 people. Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, on the other hand, had murder rates below the national average.

In recent years, police have recorded more murders in Cape Town than in Johannesburg and Pretoria combined. This means that taking the population into account, Cape Town residents are almost twice (1.8 times) more likely to be murdered than Johannesburg residents.

But the risk of becoming a victim of crime depends, to a significant degree, on your race, gender, age, economic status and where you live. For example, almost two-thirds of the Cape Town murders took place in just 10 of the 60 police station precincts in the city, according to an Institute for Security Studies' crime hotspot analysis.

The Nyanga, Harare, Mitchells Plain, Gugulethu, Khayelitsha and Delft police precincts continue to see the most cases of murder in the peninsula. These areas have experienced extremely high murder rates for more than a decade, suggesting that the cycles of violence will be difficult to break.

Murders are not usually premeditated, but take place when an argument leads to physical assault

On the one hand, the risk of murder differs so vastly between areas that half of the murders that occurred in South Africa in 2014/15 took place in only 12.3% of police precincts. On the other hand, one in five police stations in predominantly affluent metro and rural areas and towns have a murder rate of less than 12 per 100 000. Just over 10% of policing precincts have a murder rate of zero.

As high as the murder rate is, murder accounts for less than 3% of all violent crime. While there were 17 805 murders last year, almost 600 000 other violent crimes – including attempted murder, rape, robbery and assault – were recorded by the police.

Central business districts and mixed residential and business nodes in large urban and metro areas remain the most high-risk areas in terms of violence in general, and specifically for robberies. The clear front-runner is Mitchells Plain, followed by Johannesburg Central, Hillbrow, Nyanga, Pretoria Central, Umlazi and Khayelitsha.

The risk of being murdered in SA often depends on who you are and where you live

Violence affects everybody in some way. The trauma of witnessing or experiencing violence has lasting physical and emotional consequences and a significant impact on economic growth. Violence can be prevented, but doing this requires a comprehensive strategy that would include integrated short-, medium- and long-term inventions and responses. Such a strategy should guide not only the police, but also other government departments, civil society organisations and the public.

Long-term interventions may not be easy to sell to the crime-weary public and politicians who want quick wins, but long-term strategies are vital in reducing violence. These would include interventions that focus on supporting parents, reducing the exposure of children to violence and keeping children in school.

Increases in various violent crime categories in recent years show that a new approach to violence prevention must be adopted with urgency. The National Development Plan calls for a re-think on building community safety in the medium to long-term. Implementing this plan needs to be fast-tracked and could save thousands of lives.

Lizette Lancaster is Manager of the Crime and Justice Information Hub, Governance Crime and Justice Division, ISS.

This article was first published by Africa Check

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