What Is To Blame For SA’s High Crime Rate?

Can South Africa's murder rate really be compared to that of an actual war zone, and what's to blame for all this crime? The station commanders of SA's five most crime-riddled precincts were called in to answer.
Jason Snyman
2018-11-06

The 2017/18 SA Crime Stats made for some incredibly grim reading in September, with numbers so disheartening that Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, went as far as to declare South Africa close to a war zone.

Of course, this probably wasn’t supposed to be taken too literally, and was likely only used to better emphasise the extent of the trouble we are in – because we certainly are. This didn’t stop the likes of the BBC from getting as petty as possible about it.

Only two years ago, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOCD) placed South Africa fifth on the list of countries with the highest murder rate in the world. Using that data, along with Armed Conflict Survey data provided by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the BBC compared SA’s murder rate to actual armed conflict zones.

The IISS data includes both victims of terrorist attacks – where the perpetrators of the attack are part of a conflict – and other conflict-related deaths. It omits murders outside of the conflict.

Using population figures from the World Bank, it then estimates an overall rate, per country. This allows for a pretty good estimation of the extent to which the entire country is impacted by armed conflict, i.e. war.

The results pointed out, rather unnecessarily, that while the murder rate in South Africa is astronomically high, it is still lower than the rate of killing in all conflict-riddled countries taken into consideration, such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Take that, Bheki Cele.

There’s no big surprise there, if you look at that list. War is another beast altogether, so, of course, crime on a national level cannot realistically be compared. This, however, still doesn’t detract from the fact that murder is ever on the rise in our country.
 

Location, Location, Location

Out of 1144 police stations across South Africa, a fifth of all murders in 2015 were recorded at 30 stations alone. Several of these stations experience a murder rate higher than 100 per 100 000, which, even the BBC admits, is higher than what occurs in most war zones.

The BBC stated that in Philippi East, for example, the rate was estimated at 323.4 per 100 000. Madeira is the Eastern Cape sat at 214.52 and Pietermaritzburg’s central city station at 177.3. 

The recent 2017/18 Crime Stats show that the ten stations that reported the most cases were:

  1. Johannesburg Central in Gauteng – 5 253
  2. Nyanga (Cape Town) in the Western Cape – 4 784
  3. Mitchells Plain (Cape Town) in the Western Cape – 4 362
  4. Hillbrow (Johannesburg) in Gauteng – 4 334
  5. Kagiso (Krugersdorp) in Gauteng – 3 580
  6. Khayelitsha (Cape Town) in the Western Cape – 3 477
  7. Dobsonville (Soweto) in Gauteng – 3 373
  8. Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal – 3 313
  9. Inanda in KwaZulu-Natal – 3 194
  10. Delft (Cape Town) in the Western Cape – 3 181 

Infamous for gang violence, Cape Town’s Nyanga remained the most dangerous place in South Africa, with the murder rate increasing by almost 10%. In the specific time period, over 300 murders were recorded in this area – more than anywhere else.
 

What’s To Blame For All This Crime?

Last week, Parliament’s portfolio on police summoned the SAPS station commanders of Johannesburg Central, Nyanga, Mitchells Plain, Hillbrow and Kagiso – the five stations with the highest incidents of violent crime – to appear before the committee / firing squad.

The purpose of this was to evaluate the current SAPS strategy on combatting crime, seeing as though all five of these stations saw a predominant increase in law-breaking delinquency.

When asked why these stations were struggling to uphold law and order, the station commanders listed the following as main obstructions to reducing crime:

  • Foreign nationals;
  • Unemployment;
  • Gang activity, and;
  • Lack of resources.

According to a spokesperson for the Nyanga police station, there had been no proper national review by SAPS of the conditions under which Nyanga residents are living – and the role this has to play in the failure to bring down the crime rate.

The SAPS was then chastised by the MPs for failing to address mediocre police performance and fight police corruption. The committee members pointed out that in many of these precincts, officers just don’t report to work (such as in Mitchells Plain where only 79% of all officers are reporting for duty), resources are stolen or misplaced (such as 76 bulletproof vests missing from Johannesburg Central) and that fraud is practically running rampant (such as funds allocated for informants, while no informants are being used).

Bheki Cele, on the other hand, laughed at these criticisms, stating that the SAPS mission is impossible, because ‘the conditions of the precincts will never change’.

It was added by Commissioner of Police, Khehla John Sitole, that the real solution will not be found in increasing police enforcement, but in an overall change of human life.

With the recent Stats SA labour force survey revealing that there are 6.2 million people unemployed in South Africa – higher than the combined populations (5.8 million) of Lesotho, Botswana and eSwatini – crime is very unlikely to halt its ceaseless climb any time soon.