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Crime stats: First spike in murder in 10 years

Rape and sexual offences crimes have declined in the past financial year with an increase in convictions for serious crimes, but murder and attempted murder crimes have increased, the police revealed on Thursday.

Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa announced the latest annual crime statistics at a briefing in Pretoria on Thursday morning. The statistics are for the year April 1 2012 to March 31 2013.

Murder of police officers and police suicides are eroding the police's ability to fight crime, said Mthethwa.

Murder has increased by 0.6%, but this is against a "constant reduction" over the past nine years, Mthethwa said. Attempted murder showed a similar trend – an increase of more than 6% over the past year, although this was against a general downward trend over a nine-year period.

"Serious and violent crime is increasing in South Africa. This shows that government's approach to crime is not working," said Institute for Security Studies analyst Gareth Newham, in response to the newly released crime statistics.  

"After a long period of decreases in serious and violent crime, these are the worst figures we have seen in 10 years," he said

Newham is director of the governance, crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies.

Provincial figures
Causes for the increase in murder were broken down per province: domestic violence and labour unrest were highlighted in the Eastern Cape and North West, while drugs and drug-related turf wars were highlighted in the Western Cape. In KwaZulu-Natal, most of these deaths were committed by strangers, Mthethwa said.

Car-jacking, truck-jacking and robbery of residential premises has increased. Drug-related crimes showed a significant increase of 13.5% in the past financial year.

Mthethwa said convictions for contact crimes increased in the past year by about 50 000 – the number of convictions is now over the 350 000 mark.

Contact crimes, contact-related crimes and property-related crimes have decreased. Incidences of fraud have also fallen.

Sexual offences are down by more than 10% compared with nine years earlier, but the decrease over the past financial year was only 0.4%. Rape is down by 0.4% and rape of children has seen a slightly more significant decrease of 3.3%.

"Nonetheless, we are still unhappy and concerned about the levels of rape in the country. Protection of communities is now central to our strategies aimed at reducing gender-based violence," Mthethwa said.

He said the reintroduction of Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units two years ago has contributed to the decrease, as well as a "remarkable" increase in life sentences.

Sexual offences courts
Mthethwa said research shows that in 80% of these crimes, the victims know the perpetrators. The reintroduction of specialised sexual offences courts is "encouraging", he said.

Other crimes that decreased were:

  • Assault with grievous bodily harm, reduced by 6.6% in the last year
  • Common assault, down by 7.9%
  • Common robbery, down by 2.2%

Mthethwa said the closing of liquor outlets contributed to the reduction of these crimes.

Shoplifting, robbery at non-residential premises, has decreased and cash-in-transit robberies are down by a substantial 20.3%, while bank robberies have fallen by 80% in the past year.

Increased sharing of intelligence with the banking industry helped lower these crimes, said Mthethwa.

ATM bombings were down by 34.6% in the 2011-12 year and decreased by 18% in the 2012-13 financial year. Arson and malicious damage to property have also decreased.

But Mthethwa warned that the "escalating violent incidences of public disorder" have a bearing on malicious damage to property crimes.

Car and stock theft are down largely because of "advanced technologies" in vehicle security. Mthethwa said rural safety priority committees are functioning at national and provincial levels.

Illegal possession of firearms and ammunition is down. All other theft, including non-ferrous metals and copper cable theft has been reduced.

"We are intensifying the war on cable theft through the Second-Hand Goods Act. In essence, the act stipulates that any person who buys a stolen good is as guilty as the person who stole the goods, and harsher sentences will apply to both the buyer and the thief," said Mthethwa.

Drunken driving cases have increased, including driving under the influence of drugs.

Public order policing remains a challenge as the number of public gatherings and protests breached the 12 000 mark. Most were peaceful, but 1 883 were violent. The police have made more than 14 000 arrests at protests in the past four years.

Most of these in the past year were South African Municipal Workers' Union and South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union protests, or took place at De Doorns, Marikana, Zamdela and Ratanda, Mthethwa said.

"Cumulatively, we are reducing crime and this is happening against the population growth," Mthethwa said.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega reiterated that there had been a "general decline" in crimes over the past nine years.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the crime situation is under control," she said. 

"Reducing crime is not only a police responsibility. There is also an important role for other government departments such as health, education and social development," Newham added.

"Violence remains unacceptably high and should be treated as a serious crisis that stands in the way of South Africa's social and economic development. We have seen increases in murder, attempted murder, car hijacking, street robbery and house robbery. These are some of the crimes South Africans fear most.

"We understand that the police work under very difficult circumstances, and we applaud the many officers who work tirelessly to combat crime and to protect people and communities in South Africa," Newham said.

An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that violent crime was at a 10-year high. This is, in fact, incorrect.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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