​Slight changes but no end in sight for violent crime in South Africa

Police Minister Bheki Cele. (David Harrison/M&G)

Police Minister Bheki Cele. (David Harrison/M&G)

“These statistics are not very rosy,” Police Minister Bheki Cele warned before he began presenting the 2019 annual crime statistics.

On Thursday, Cele and the South African Police Service (SAPS) announced to members of Parliament’s police committee that contact crime had increased by 2.6%.

Contact crime is an offence perpetrated against the physical body of a person. It includes murder, attempted murder, sexual offences and assault.

The biggest increase however, was seen in commercial crime which was up by 14.4%.

The number of murders investigated in the last year rose by 685 cases totalling 21 022 cases, signalling a 3.4% increase year on year.

The number of cases of attempted murder also rose by 4.1%, with 18 980 cases being recorded. That is 747 more cases than last year.

Sexual offences increased by 4.6% with 52 420 cases reported. 41 583 rapes were reported, reflecting an increase of 3.9% in reported cases.

SAPS statistics chief Major General Norman Sekhukhune told members of Parliament that the majority of contact crime occurs over weekends and are often related to drug and alcohol intake.

“Weekends contribute 60% of murders. If you include Monday, over those four days, it represents 70% of murders. Also, a lot of the murders take place between 9pm on a Saturday and 3am on a Sunday morning. There is a relation between alcohol and drug-related abuse,” Sekhukhune said.

Cele lamented that most murders are committed by people who know their victim, and often take place behind closed doors making it difficult for law enforcement to intervene.

“One problem with the murders that are not recorded is the high number of people murdered by people they know. All those are registered as murder. But we are going to try and come up with different codes [to register cases]. Because it’s difficult to police… It has really pushed up the numbers,” Cele said.

Cele told legislators that police will be using the help of sociologists and criminologists to understand the phenomenon of violence between people who know each other.

“We have to open ourselves up. We can’t be a closed book,” he said.

MPs expressed frustration that the violent crime rate continues to escalate with seemingly little police action.

Democratic Alliance MP Ockert Terblanche called for more current, up-to-date crime statistics so that police resources can be better distributed to areas where they are needed.

“The statistics that we heard today is for the last financial year. It is six months old. And that is probably part of the problem. The murder rate is alarming.”

The Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald claimed the statistics were far worse in reality as many crimes, especially gender-based crime, are under-reported.

“This is the seventh year in a row we see an increase of murder. When it comes to sexual offences, this is only cases that were reported. If this is the indication, then the problem is much worse.  It is clear we have a violent crime where we have to take drastic steps.”

“We have to acknowledge there is a problem,” said the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Zandile Majozi.

“The fears of women and children being killed is not going anywhere and anytime soon… We need to increase police deployment on weekends. They must be deployed from Thursday and Monday, so that they can go in raid the streets and help decrease these statistics,” she said.

The Economic Freedom Fighter’s Washington Mafanya said it’s time for police to admit that they’re not up to the task of fighting crime: “We are a country at war with itself. We need a security cluster summit. Because police alone can’t deal with this alone. We need an inter-departmental approach to crime.”

But the police minister said there are silver linings: the recording of serious and violent crime is slowing down.

“Yes, they are not looking good. But they look better than last year in addressing the six main crime priorities… The rate of increase is slowing down. There are glimmers of improvement,” he said.

“We are not where we want to be. But we are not where we were. [Police] Heads won’t roll now, because they will have to reverse this situation.”

Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke endorsed the figures, telling journalists the crime statistics are accurate and credible.

“The statistician general only states facts. The police minister said numbers went up, some numbers when down. The statistician general doesn’t look at the emotion, only about providing the information to the nation… I declare them official,” Maluleke said. 

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