South Africa’s murder statistics in seven charts

In brief

  • The number of murder cases reported by the South African police has increased by 14.5% over the past three years.
  • SA’s murder rate is five times higher than the global average.
  • The country has been in the global top 10 for its high homicide rate for all but two years since 2000.
  • The Western Cape has the highest murder rate of the provinces, it is eight times higher than the global average.

We’re losing ground when it comes to violent crime
If murder statistics are an indicator of how violent our society and the effectiveness of our police force at preventing violent crime, the latest numbers released by the South African Police Service are not encouraging. What they show is that between April 2012 and March 2015 the number of murder cases increased by 14.5%. That’s an increase from an average of 43 murders a day to 49. This does not reflect well on police commissioner Riah Phiyega, who has been in charge of the SAPS since June 2012. (Update: Riah Phiyega was suspended in October 2015, pending an inquiry)

We’re way above the global average for murder
To compare South Africa with other countries, you need to know the murder rate (number of murders per 100 000 people). Unusually, this year SAPS didn’t make the murder rate available to the public. By using Statistics South Africa’s mid-year population estimates for 2014, the murder rate for 2014/2015 works out at 33 per 100 000 people. That’s up from last year’s 32.2 and five times higher than the global average, which is 6.2, according to the UN’s latest available figure. A homicide rate of more than 20 per 100 000 people is considered high by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

We’re in the global top-10 for homicide
South Africa has been one of the 10 countries with the highest murder rates for 21 out of the past 23 years. In 2009 it dropped to number 11 and in 2010 it reached number 12. In the early 2000s, South Africa’s murder rate was the world’s third highest. The most recent international data available from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), which is for 2013, has South Africa at number five – but so far data for only 88 countries have been collected for 2013, and data for some of the countries with very high murder rates are missing. The 2012 data, which includes 167 countries and is a better indicator of South Africa’s place in the world, puts us at number eight. In its 2013 Global Study on Homicide, the UN noted that South Africa’s crime rate had “decreased steadily between 1995 and 2011 by more than 50 percent (from 64.9 to 30.0 per 100 000 population)”. Unfortunately, the situation appears to now be in reverse.

South Africa is not the only African country to have made the international homicide top 10. Between 2007 and 2010 Lesotho was ranked higher than South Africa with a murder rate at one point of 45.8 per 100 000 people. Southern Africa and Central America are the sub-regions with the highest murder rates in the world, according to the UN. Five countries are included in the sub-region: South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The Western Cape has SA’s highest murder rate
Gauteng had the biggest increase in the number of murders reported year on year – from 3 325 to 3 671 – a rise of 10%, but it doesn’t have the highest number of murders per capita. That dubious honour goes to the Western Cape. The province’s murder rate has risen to 52.1 per 100 000 people – which would put it third in the international rankings if it were a country. Given its reputation for gangsterism and drugs, that may not come as a surprise. What is perhaps surprising is that this is the first year since 2008/2009 crime stats were released that the Western Cape has had the highest murder rate. The Eastern Cape has held the number one spot for the past six years. Even though the number of reported murders in Gauteng has increased by 23% in the past two years, its murder rate is still lower than the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.

* Thank you to Kodek for liberating the data from the dreaded drop down menus.

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