For the past decade the police have had powerful tools to help to locate and track crime, which ordinary citizens haven't been privy to.
Since at least 2009 those tools have covered the country and operated in near real time, making it possible to make educated guesses about the underlying factors in crime trends, and even what may happen next.
But ordinary citizens are not trusted with that data, even though it could be used to secure communities and hold local police and politicians accountable.
Instead, the depoliticisation of crime statistics has succeeded to such an extent that, despite its importance to everything from economic development, poverty alleviation and social welfare to a sense of wellbeing, the numbers are unlikely to play a significant role in the general elections next year.
"In the white population maybe crime levels will come up [for discussion] but, even there, issues of corruption and governance will be more important," said political analyst Sipho Seepe about the national elections due next year.
"Jobs will be a big issue; [social] grants will be there ... whether crime levels go up and down will not be part of it."
That is no accident. In 2009, safety and security minister Nathi Mthetwa told the Mail & Guardian that he wanted to de-politicise crime statistics, citing fears that their release would be seen as an election ploy.
Later that year, police chief Bheki Cele, having barely taken office, declared a "moratorium" on the release of any crime statistics, arguing that the numbers helped criminals and was "used for political bashing".
A similar moratorium was imposed in 2000 on the basis that the numbers were unreliable and liable to be misinterpreted.
During his presidency, Thabo Mbeki charged those interpreting crime figures with racism and bias on several occasions, and the Zuma administration has continued with a less-is-more approach to providing hard data.
Instead of access to the statistics used by the police, South Africans are treated to two sets of annual figures: the national crime statistics for the past financial year released in September (by which stage they are between six and 18 months out of date) and summaries of festive-season crime-fighting operations, typically released in January.
In between, the amount of information depends on how proactive the local police commander and Community Policing Forum (CPF) is.
"We get numbers every fortnight, mostly, and it tells us everything we need to know," said Aslam Peer, leader of a community watch organisation in Berea West in KwaZulu-Natal.
"We don't get the specifics, but enough about the type of crime so we know what we can do to make ourselves safer."
Other areas are not so lucky.
"Do we have numbers? We try to keep count, but we're not rich enough to have security companies who can give us numbers," said the chair of a community safety group to the east of Johannesburg, who asked not to be identified for fear of further souring the community's relationship with the police.
"Our CPF is nowhere ... Our police say 'this is our business' when we ask them [about statistics]."
The Institute for Security Studies has argued for the release of monthly statistics in order for communities to track threats and assess the impact of initiatives to reduce crime.
"Once a month [reports] will let communities see what is happening in their neighbourhoods and they can get involved without the police's help," said the institute's Gareth Newham.
"You can fix the street lights, then look [at the statistics] the next month and say 'the street lights brought down our crime'."