On Tuesday, 29 September 2015, the official crime statistics were released for the period 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015 as recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS). Since then much has been written to analyse and making sense of the data.
This article presents a round-up of:
- the data and key trends,
- insightful articles and analyses, and
- an overview of key issues and recommendations that emerged from the analyses.
Crime Stats 2014/15 - Key trends
For interactive infographics showing the latest national as well as provincial crime stats, visit:
- News24: "South Africa's Crime Statistics 2015"
- The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Crime Hub - Quick Facts
Increase in murder and aggravated robbery
In the presentation of the data, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko pointed out that with regards to contact crimes, victims and perpetrators were usually known to each others. The majority of perpetrators were young males in their 20s.
At the same time, 129,045 robberies with aggravated circumstances were reported to SAPS – up 8.5% bringing it to 354 such robberies per day. House robberies increased by 5% and car hijackings by 14%.
Drop in reported sexual offences – only the tip of the iceberg
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) as well as other institutes highlight that the drop in sexual offences does not mean that there are fewer rapes, but rather indicates growing distrust in the police. As little as 1 in 13 rapes are reported to the police, and less than half of victims of assault report to the police.
Highest murder rate increase in Gauteng – most violent communities in the Western Cape
The 2014/15 crime stats show that Gauteng had the highest increase in murders at 10.4%, followed by the Western Cape (+9.7%), Limpopo (+6.7%) and Kwazulu Natal (+5.4%).
Commissioner Phiyega pointed out that of the ten top stations contributions towards the highest murders, eight were from the Western Cape – such as Nyanga, Delft, Khayelitsha, Harare, Kraaifontein and Mitchells Plain. (see M&G, "Gauteng has the highest murder rate", 29.09.2015)
Police alone cannot solve violence and crime
In their respective presentations, Police Minister Nhleko and Commissioner Phiyega stressed that police couldn't solve violence and crime by itself, but that everyone needs to get involved.
"Murder takes place among acquaintances, within families kind of social setups," said Minister Nhleko. "Therefore the question of dealing with murder in our society will require a social effort and a social approach to actually deal with it."
Their remarks were welcomed by institutions such as the ISS who urged SAPS to develop partnerships as recommended by the National Development Plan for reducing violence and crime in South Africa.
Guides: Understanding the crime stats better
A number of research institutes and think tanks have published valuable and insightful guides for how to best understand the crime stats:
A citizen’s guide to SAPS crime statistics: 1994 to 2015 (UCT Centre of Criminology)
The UCT Centre of Criminology has produced a guide to the crime statistics that is intended to be accessible to everyone interested in crime and safety in South Africa. It explains what the crime stats are and what some of the key problems are in making sense of them. It then places the latest statistics in the context of the longest period for which reliable, comparable data are available. In most cases, this is as of 2003/2004, but some rough trends are shown back to 1994. Download
Understanding crime statistics in South Africa – what you need to know (Africa Check)
This concise guide provides an introduction to the South African crime stats and unpacks issues such as the stats timeframe, absolute vs. relative data as well as the different categories of crime. Download
Factsheets on key trends (Institute for Security Studies)
The ISS has published three factsheets that explain numbers and necessary responses with regards to the latest crime stats:
- "Murder and robbery - Overview of the official statistics: 2014/15"
- "Assault and sexual offences - Overview of the official statistics: 2014/15"
- "Property crime - Overview of the official statistics: 2014/15"
Analyses, responses & news reports
"South Africa lacks clear strategies to reduce violent crime" – Institute for Security Studies (ISS)
These crimes often start intergenerational cycles of violence and addressing them requires a different approach. Better data and stronger partnerships are also needed between government, civil society institutions that do research and analysis, and those that implement social programmes, so that data can be used effectively to identify areas of need.
Without detailed and updated crime information being shared regularly, crime fighting efforts will not benefit from the wealth of expertise available in government, the private sector and civil society. We need to know what is going on at the current time if we are able to properly plan and implement crime reduction strategies, and assess their effectiveness.
"Will fewer firearms make South Africa safer?" by Chandre Gould (ISS) and Adele Kirsten (Gun Free SA)
Strengthening gun laws and restricting access to firearms, including legal firearms, is an important step towards reducing violence in our society. Guns are not the start nor the cause of a criminal career but they can change the behaviour and escalate crime.
"The not-so-secret solution to fighting SA's most feared crime" (Gareth Newham, ISS, 06.10.2015)
So, how can the police effectively reduce these robberies? The simple answer is by increasing the risks of being involved in such crimes. This entails increasing the arrest and conviction rates of robbers and those trading in stolen goods. A gang of three people can commit dozens of robberies a year. Conversely, incarcerating these individuals could greatly reduce instances of robbery. Increased conviction rates also serve as a deterrent to would-be robbers.
[W]ith a clear strategy and supporting protocols in place, the SAPS has the necessary operational expertise, resources and technology to effectively reduce robbery. There has been no such strategy in place since 2011.
"South Africa's mysterious murder rate" – UCT Centre for Criminology
(in Daily Maverick, by Anine Kriegler and Mark Shaw)
South Africa's murder rate is high by global standards. But the increase of the last three years is particularly worrying. There isn’t yet a good explanation for this recent uptick. It may be that we are seeing a renewed decline in state legitimacy. It may also reflect the significance of the change in the types of murders being committed.
"Crime in South Africa: What’s going wrong?" (Daily Maverick, 05.10.2015)
The release of the most recent crime statistics has been accompanied by expected expressions of outrage and worry about the performance of the South African Police Services and National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega. Less time will be spent interrogating the social conditions which gave rise to the country’s crime epidemic in the first place. Some of the most crucial factors came into play during South Africans’ earliest days of life.
"Crime statistics: Crucial, but flawed" (Daily Maverick, 29.09.2015)
While most MPs are doing constituency work this week, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko will brief the portfolio committee on police today on the annual crime statistics. Politically they're crucial, but their relevancy has been questioned.
"They all lived together in a crooked little house" (South African Institute of Race Relations)
In September the police released their annual crime figures. These Fast Facts delves into twenty-year trends to show the evolution of crime and violence in South Africa.
Conclusion: Key issues & recommendations
SAPS urged to release data more regularly
At the time of their release in late September, the crime stats were already out of date, covering only data up to 31 March of this year. NGOs and activists call for more regular releases of crime stats to allow for tailored, timely and appropriate interventions. For example, the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry into policing recommended publishing station-level crime statistics monthly in community service centres to improve relations between the police and residents.
"Multiple experts at the commission said that regular releases of crime statistics would help communities respond to crime challenges," said Chumile Sali, head of the safety and justice programme at the Social Justice Coalition. "They also identified credible quarterly analysis of crime statistics as an important way to ensure the usefulness of these statistics." (See "Violent crime still defines Khayelitsha", BDLive, 02.10.2015)
Improve police conduct & measure success against cases solved
The success of the fight against crime should be rated on the number of cases solved and not merely on occurrence statistics, according to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela as well as the Institute for Security Studies.
The ISS continued to point out that the national crime statistics should not be seen as a measure of police performance. If the police focused on dealing with priority crimes, such as robbery, clamped down on poor conduct by police officers and focused on improving the service's delivered to civilians, "then we will see substantial improvements in the crime rate and public perceptions of the police," Newham said. (See "Raw stats tell us little" by Times Live, 28.09.2015)
Drop in sexual offences is misleading & conceals scale of the problem
The drop in reported cases of sexual offences (by 7.4%) indicate to victims’ increasing unwillingness to report these crimes and the police’s reluctance to encourage them to do so, warn both the Institue for Security Studies and the Shukumisa Campaign, which advocates against sexual violence. As little as 1 in 13 rapes are reported to the police.
Studies have identified a vicious circle: abused girls are at an increased risk of revictimisation as adults, and boys’ exposure to abuse boosts their chances of becoming violent adolescents and adults. [...] The social and psychological impact of this on our society is dire, especially for a country already besieged by violent crime. Unless we tackle this scourge, we will regret it. (See: "Stats conceal scale of rape scourge" (Mail & Guardian, 02.10.2015)
- "How rape became South Africa's enduring nightmare" (The Guardian, 29.09.2015)
- "Diepsloot: Where men think it's their right to rape" (M&G, 02.10.2015)
Stats don't reflect extent of xenophobic violence
There’s no official data on the extent of xenophobic violence in the country. Moreover, immigrants are increasingly blamed as scapegoats. Claims by the police minister and the police commissioner that foreigners are a major source of criminality not only risk increasing anti-migrant sentiment in a country where xenophobic violence is rife, they prevent us from identifying and addressing the real sources of insecurity.
And, in fact, the recently released crime statistics do not show that immigrants are disproportionately responsible for crime. (See: "Fighting crime or using immigrants as scapegoats?", Daily Maverick, 02.10.2015, African Centre for Migration and Society)
- "Stats needed to shed light on SA's xenophobic violence" (EWN, 23.09.2015)
Need for cross-sectoral partnerships & a focus on preventative measures
Both Minister Nhleko and Commissioner Phiyega stressed the need for strong (community) partnerships to respond to and reduce the high levels of crime and violence in South Africa. Civil society welcomed this call for partnerships.
"[The police] can’t reduce all forms of crime and violence, particularly many murders, assaults and rape," said Gareth Newham from the Institute for Security Studies. "We therefore welcome the call by the Minister of Police to develop partnerships as recommended by the National Development Plan to reduce violence. This will require that the SAPS to work more strategically and transparently with other government departments, business and civil society."
Others pointed out that such partnerships could be an important step towards an integrated approach towards community safety. A growing body of research highlights the need to complement police response with a stronger focus on interventions that aim at preventing violence – i.e. by addressing the risk factors that draw young people in particular into violent, criminal behaviour.
- For more information, read the freely available South African Crime Quarterly 51 which focuses on primary prevention of violence and the importance of interventions aimed at positive parenting and early childhood development.
- Watch this eNCA video focusing on the importance of interventions aimed at parenting and early childhood development – stopping violence before it occurs.