SA murder rate drops slightly, overall crime up

South Africa’s murder rate has declined slightly, the government said on Tuesday, though a surge in robberies pushed the country’s overall crime rate slightly higher.

South Africa is one of the world’s most violent countries, and crime remains one of the leading concerns ahead of the 2010 World Cup, which kicks off in less than nine months.

The number of murders fell by 3,4% to 18 148 during the 12 months ending in March, compared with the previous year, the Police Ministry said.

Violent crime more generally was down 2,8%, though a 27% jump in house robberies helped push up the overall crime levels by 0,2%, the ministry’s report said.

Releasing the crime statistics for the 2008/9 financial year, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa also said police were concerned at a 41,5% hike in the number of business robberies, mostly targeting small businesses.

Cash-in-transit robberies declined by 2,3% during the period, which ended on March 31 this year.

“This, we agree, is not much decrease compared with the same period last year. It is a decrease nevertheless,” he told a media briefing at Parliament on Tuesday.

Bank robberies dropped by 29,2%, and ATM attacks by 10%, while figures since January this year would seem to indicate that the ATM statistic was dropping even further.

Mthethwa said the police were concerned about the 27% increase in house robberies.

“It is one of the crimes that are the most intrusive and personalised,” he said.
“We simply cannot tolerate a situation where people do not feel safe in their homes.”

House robberies affected people from all walks of life, and were not restricted to wealthy areas.

The police recognised that they needed to do more, and had begun an audit of how they deployed their human and material resources, and the timing of that deployment.

“Equally, we realise that we need greater engagement with affected communities,” he said.

“Communities must ensure that those who represent them on the community policing forums are an equal partner with the police in establishing the programme of action in addressing the needs and to monitor the implementation thereof.

“This engagement will assist us in refining our approach to dealing with house robberies,” he said.

He said murder and attempted murder had been steadily declining over the past couple of years, and the police were pleased that they continued to do so.

During the year under review, murder dropped by 3,4% and attempted murder by 4,3%.

Common assault was down 4,3%, and assault with intention to commit grievous bodily harm down by 4,7%.

However, the 2,7% increase in stock theft was a matter of serious concern, as it impacted negatively on people in rural communities.

Sexual offences increased by 10,1%. Part of this could be accounted for by changes in legislation, which had introduced new categories of crime. But it was still “not good”.

Mthethwa said the release of the statistics was not merely to quantify crime or create a debate in society.

“We believe that this is a call to action for government, business, NGOs and communities,” he said.

“As you will observe, in the various breakdowns of crime trends over the past fiscal year, there are areas where we are making progress. At the same time there are those where we are still lagging behind.

“Nevertheless, the ANC government remains unmoved in its commitment to securing a better life for all, and the fight against crime is an integral part of ensuring this better life.”

Hard line on crime
Last month, police National Commissioner Bheki Cele said that South Africa’s police would be transformed from an overstretched service tarnished by graft into a well-oiled machine that would send criminals fleeing.

Cele was appointed by President Jacob Zuma in July, drawing criticism from opposition parties because he had no police background in a country with one of the world’s highest levels of violent crime.

But Cele, a former community safety minister in KwaZulu-Natal who took a hard line on crime, said he planned to shake up the police and root out graft. He faces a particular challenge before the 2010 World Cup finals.

“There are pockets of excellence in policing in the Republic of South Africa and there are areas that really need to be addressed in a very serious form,” he said in an interview.

“The pools of ugliness will be the number of police who are arrested because they are corrupt.”

Critics say a lack of personnel and resources have compromised the police service and justice system, allowing many criminals to evade prosecution, with courts often dismissing cases because of poor police investigations.

“Once this organisation is well-oiled, I can assure you criminals will begin to run. You can’t have a weak organisation and expect it to give you the best results,” Cele said.

About 50 people are murdered a day—slightly more than the rate in the United States, which has six times South Africa’s 50-million population.—AFP, Sapa, Reuters

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