Crime figures released this week show that the overall crime rate increased in 2008-09 by 0,3% after steady decreases in the preceding four years.
But up-to-date assessments of whether crime is increasing or not are difficult to make because of the way the government releases the figures.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has called on Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa to revert to the practice of his predecessor, Charles Nqakula, of releasing crime statistics twice a year.
Now the figures are revealed in the police annual report ”and they are six months old by the time we get them, as the report covers the financial year until the end of March”, said Johan Burger, senior researcher in the ISS’s crime and justice programme. This amounts to withholding important information from the public, he said. ”The public has a right to know whether the crime situation is becoming worse.”
The overall murder rate has continued on its downward trend, with a 3,4% decrease this year and a general decline since 1994. But other categories of crime show significant increases. Sexual offences climbed by 10,1%, house robberies by 27,3% and commercial crime by 18,7%.
The fact that all the provinces have seen increases in serious crimes is ”particularly worrying”, Burger said. ”An upward curve in aggravated robbery, however small, is a matter of national concern. It is for this reason that the rise by just under 1%, after a decrease of 7,4% in the previous financial year, should be taken seriously.
”Citizens expect their homes, businesses and vehicles to be the safest of places,” said Burger. ”That we have seen a rise in house robbery by 27,3%, business robbery by 41,1%, carjacking by 5% and truck hijacking by 15,4% is sure to intensify anxiety within communities.”
He speculated that the economic downturn has caused an increase in crime, noting that commercial crime has gone up ”dramatically” by 18,7% and shoplifting by 20,6%.
”Business robberies have gone up by 41,1% and the breakdown shows you many of the robberies happen at small businesses, including spaza shops,” Burger said. ”This tells you that there is an increasing economic pressure at lower-income levels.”