South Africa suffers setback as crime rises

Stephanie Findlay
19 September 2013
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A group of men stand with their hands against the wall after a police raid in Manenburg, on August 27, 2013

After years of decreasing crime, South Africa is grappling with a rise in the number of murders, burglaries and carjackings, with close to 45 people killed a day, the government said Thursday.

For the first time in six years, the number of murders increased -- by 0.6 percent in the year to April -- police minister Nathi Mthethwa said, announcing annual statistics.

A total of 16,259 people were murdered during that time, close to 45 a day in a country of nearly 52 million people.

South Africa has gained a reputation as one of the most violent countries in the world. Murder, rape, robbery and carjacking are daily occurrences in many communities.

The murder rate is around four times higher than the world average, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report released in 2011.

That image was recently underscored by the high-profile killings of 34 miners at Marikana and sprinter Oscar Pistorius shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Murder rates had been on a downward trend from 2004-2005, when more than 51 people were murdered a day.

Statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) on Thursday also showed broader rises in crime.

Attempted murder, home burglaries and carjackings all increased in the year ending in April, while drug-related crimes soared by 13.5 percent.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega blamed the rise on "the generally violent nature of our society" as well as rampant alcoholism, drugs and unemployment.

At least one in four South Africans do not have a job, despite South Africa being the continent's largest economy.

She also pointed to widespread protests degrading police resources.

According to police figures, there were around five violent protests in the country every day last year, a total of 1,882.

The statistics are closely watched in the crime-weary nation, where the rich live behind high electric fences and hire private security guards armed with automatic weapons.

But poor black South Africans are disproportionately affected.

The latest figures were seized upon by the Democratic Alliance, the country's official opposition party, ahead of April general elections.

"The South African Police Service has failed to reassure South Africa that it is winning the war against crime," said Dianne Kohler-Barnard, the shadow minister of police.

The ruling African National Congress dismissed accusations that its government was not doing enough to fight crime.

"We believe that the registered increase of convictions and sentences on serious crimes auger well for crime fighting objectives," the party said a statement.

It noted decreases in sexual assault and common robbery. Sexual offences and rape fell by 0.4 percent.

"Whatever the difficulties and hurdles we may have experienced over the past year, SAPS shall succeed in its endeavours," said police minister Mthethwa.

"However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, success is guaranteed."

Gareth Newham, a crime analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, blamed some of the increase in serious crime on a crisis in the police intelligence unit.

In 2012 the head of the unit, Richard Mdluli, was suspended after facing charges for murder and fraud.

"If you have good intelligence, you can quickly identify those that are involved and take them to court," said Newham.

"If your business robberies, house robberies, and car robberies are going up, that crime is an indication of the inability of local level police to effectively use the crime intelligence to do proper patrols and undercover operations in the streets."

Meanwhile public confidence in the force remains low.

Many South Africans report being asked for bribes by officers.

Last month police commander Phiyega was forced to withdraw her choice of head of Gauteng police -- the province that includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria -- after it emerged he faces drunk driving charges.

This month, the Sunday Times, a local newspaper, reported that former Phiyega aide, Makhosini Nkosi, was running a brothel.

"Poor leadership has consequences, one is in the public trust," said Newham. "If citizens don't trust police they will not report as many crimes, skewing statistics."

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