At 41 per 100 000 population, South Africa’s second largest city, Cape Town, has a homicide rate higher than the national average, and that at a rate which has decreased by 50% over the past decade, according to a new report.
The Global Study on Homicide report conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) noted that homicide was one of the predominant causes of all non-natural deaths in South Africa, and while the homicide rate had declined in recent years, it remained relatively high at 34 per 100 000 population in 2009, down from 49 per 100 000 population in 2000.
In 2010, the South African Police Service recorded 1 521 homicides among the city’s 3.7-million inhabitants, UNODC pointed out.
The group’s research found that the total number of 468 000 homicides resulted in a global average homicide rate of 6.9 per 100 000 population.
As many as 36% or 170 000 deaths took place in Africa, 31% in the Americas and 27% in Asia.
The five countries making up the Southern African region showed to have the highest homicide rate in the world on average, stretching past 30 per 100 000 population.
The research for Cape Town found that homicides were not evenly distributed between Cape Town’s police precincts. Analysis of the most recent homicide data by police precinct showed that they tended to be concentrated in the poorest parts of the city, such as the Khayelitsha, Nyanga and Gugulethu neighbourhoods, where 44% of Cape Town’s homicides took place in 2009/10.
Poverty and income inequality
Homicides in Cape Town appeared to be deeply entrenched in situations of social segregation and poverty that could easily spark spells of violence, the UNODC said.
“This is confirmed when comparing the territorial distribution of homicides with those of other types of crimes: homicides show a pattern very similar to the distribution of other violent crimes, namely sexual crimes [including rape and indecent assault],” the UN group said.
The spatial distribution of property crimes, including non-aggravated robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, etcetera was characterised by a different pattern and those crimes tended to be more evenly distributed in the various sectors of the city. However, the more disadvantaged neighbourhoods recorded only 4% of all property crime in the city (against a share of 44% of all the city’s homicides), while three residential areas — the Cape Town central, Wynberg and Dieprivier police precincts — characterised by advanced social and economic conditions recorded about 15% of the property crime total — against a proportion of less than 1% of the city’s homicides — the data found.
“This suggests that poverty and income inequality may tend to drive different patterns of crime in different urban contexts. High-income areas may tend to attract property crime, but at the same time may have increased security and protection measures, resulting in target hardening … Low income areas frequently remain vulnerable to property crime, including burglary, but residents may have fewer incentives (such as insurance coverage) to report crime to the police,” the UNODC said.
It added that different levels of trust in law enforcement institutions may also be a factor affecting comparison of police statistics as between different socio-demographic areas within a city.
The largest shares of homicides occurred in countries with low levels of human development, and countries with high levels of income inequality were afflicted by homicide rates almost four times higher than more equal societies.
The UNODC found that homicide and property crime were affected by the global financial crisis of 2008/09, with increases in homicides coinciding with drops in gross domestic product (GDP) and rises in the Consumer Price index (CPI) in a sample of countries affected by the crisis.
“Likewise, levels of economic performance also have an effect on homicide,” the group said. — I-Net Bridge
A previous version of this article carried the headline: “Cape Town becomes SA’s murder capital”. This was amended on October 20 2011