The murder rate in South Africa has reached its highest level in twenty years, posing significant challenges for law enforcement in curbing the escalating violence. According to a recent report by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), there has been a sustained increase in murder rates over the past decade, with the figure reaching a striking 45 per 100,000 in 2022. The report also underscores that four provinces – KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Western Cape, and Eastern Cape – have collectively contributed to 83% of the nation’s documented homicides.

By Staff Reporters

In the last ten years, South Africa has seen a consistent rise in murders, with the rate peaking at 45 deaths per 100,000 people last year. Shockingly, an average of 75 lives were lost each day in the past year.

According to police crime data, over 27,000 lives were tragically lost in South Africa between April 2022 and March 2023.

From the dawn of democracy in 1994 to 2012, the murder rate plummeted by 55% to a historic low of 29.5 per 100,000. However, since then, a lack of progress in socio-economic development and ineffective law enforcement systems have led to a staggering 53% surge in the rate.

For the first 17 years of democracy, rates of murder dropped substantially. Between the financial years 1994/95 and 2011/12, the murder rate fell by more than half (57%), from 69 to 29.5. Since then, the rate has increased every year – except the lockdown year 2020/21.

In sheer numbers, according to the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), the murder rate has surged by a staggering 77%. In the 2022/23 fiscal year, a total of 27,494 murders were reported, a significant leap from the 15,554 recorded in 2011/12.

The ISS also stated that despite this alarming surge in violent crime, the government has yet to publicly recognise the urgency of addressing this issue, which continues to wreak havoc on lives, families, and communities.

Murders in South Africa are concentrated in specific areas. Four out of nine provinces account for 83% of all murders, and at a local level, half of these crimes occur in just 12% of the country’s 1,162 police precincts.

Recent research conducted by the ISS analysed variations in murder patterns across different provinces. The findings, presented in an ISS policy brief, authored by David Bruce, a consultant at ISS, revealed significant differences in murder trends:

  • The Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng lead the country on per capita murder rates.
  • These four provinces also recorded the highest increases in murder rates since 2011/12.
  • In 2022/23, the risk of being murdered was highest in the Eastern Cape, with a rate of 71 killings per 100,000. The next highest were KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape, both with annual murder rates of 56.
  • Since 2011/12, rates have risen most dramatically in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, followed by Gauteng.
  • Unlike the other three most-affected provinces, murder rates in the Western Cape decreased marginally in the last five years.

“A proper assessment of the factors driving murder trends in these four provinces would enable the development of practical, context-specific interventions that work. This kind of strategic approach would also reduce related forms of violence and violent organised crime,” said Bruce.

The policy brief is a key component of ISS’ ongoing efforts to encourage the government and the South African Police Service (SAPS) to prioritise the reduction of murder and related forms of violent crime as part of their strategy to enhance public safety.

The report highlights the necessity for a fresh perspective, calling for dedicated effort and a deeper grasp of the dynamics, trends, and influences behind homicides in South Africa. Enhanced data and interpretation are seen as crucial for crafting impactful strategies to reduce murder rates, according to the authors.

In an interview with News24, Bruce emphasised the significance of the report, highlighting the alarming trend of increasing murder rates in South Africa over the past 11 years. He expressed concern over the government’s lack of appropriate response and failure to acknowledge the severity of the issue. Bruce stressed the importance of understanding the contributing factors to effectively address the rising crime rates, criticising the government’s insufficient investment in comprehending the root causes of murder.

“The report is important… murder has been steadily increasing in SA in the past 11 years and, at the moment, there is no appropriate response from the government and there is no clear acknowledgement that there is a problem with murder.

“One simple point, for the government to effectively respond, they need to understand what is contributing to these increases and it’s clear they do not understand what is shaping these increases.

“They haven’t made sufficient investment in the need to clearly understand the factors contributing to murder. Their approach to addressing crime does not give emphasis to clearly understanding the crime situation,” Bruce told the publication.

Rather than large-scale, high-visibility policing operations that have failed to reduce crime for over a decade,  the ISS asserts that a different strategic approach is required.

“Ideally, specific police commanders in high-murder areas should be provided with the appropriate resources and tasked with establishing partnerships to implement practical, evidence-based interventions with measurable objectives,” said Gareth Newham, Head of Justice and Violence Prevention at the ISS.

“Among the many distressing problems facing South Africa at the moment is the high level of violent crime. Murder – the deliberate and unlawful taking of another person’s life – is a serious manifestation of this scourge.

“For some years, both the number of murders and the murder rates (the number per 100,000 of the population) have escalated steadily. This takes a heavy toll on society in lives lost and the impact on families, friends and communities. It also has a wide range of other serious social and economic costs.

“Despite this South Africa does not have a clear plan to reduce the number of murders. To date, what has been done is at best piecemeal and at worst ineffectual.

“However, the skills and resources exist to tackle the issue. Leadership and a clear, evidence-based strategy can make South Africa a safer place,” asserts the ISS.

A reduction in the number of murders would not only result in saving lives and minimising psychological distress and trauma but also lead to an improvement in the conditions for local economic development and increase the attractiveness of South Africa as a destination for investment.

With additional reporting by News24.

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