/ 18 August 2023

Crime stats: spike in cop killings

SAPS unrest
South African National Defence Force soldiers and South Africa Police Services (SAPS) members line up in front of the Phoenix Police Station in Durban, on July 21, 2021. File photo by Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa’s murder rate has reduced by 3.1% but the number of police officers killed almost doubled during the first quarter of 2022-23, according to the latest police crime statistics released on Friday.             

Police Minister Bheki Cele and senior South African Police Service (SAPS) officials, including national and deputy commissioners Fanie Masemola and Thulare Sekhukhune, presented the first quarter, 1 April to 30 June 2023, crime statistics in parliament

The stats show that 6 228 murder cases were reported, down from 6 424 during the same period last year. But attempted murders increased by 15.3% with 354 cases registered, up from 307.

Thirty-one police officers were murdered in the past three months, up from 18 in the same period last year. Police officers were killed in the line of duty and while off duty, with causes ranging from the theft of their weapons and work related investigations to disputes at liquor outlets and family relationships.

Most murders occurred in public places such as on the streets, in fields, parks and abandoned buildings and on beaches, followed by the homes of victims and perpetrators, in cars, buses and taxis, and at liquor outlets such as shebeens and pubs. 

The top seven causative factors of murder were: arguments/misunderstandings/road road/ provocation; vigilantism; robbery; retaliation/revenge/punishment; gang related; taxi related; hijacking and attempts.

A total of 149 806 contact crimes were reported for the period, marking an increase of 4.9% from 142 915 during the previous period.

Sexual offences 

The number of sexual offences cases dropped by 2%  to 11 616 from 1 855, and rape declined by 2.8% from 9 516 to 9 252, while incidents of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm (GBH) rose by 8.2% to 37 491. Attempted sexual assault cases rose by 22.6% from 416 to 510.

Highlighting crimes against women and children, the statistics showed that murders rose 4.7% from 855 to 895, while murders of children rose 20.6% to 293 over the three months. Attempted murder of women rose significantly — by 20.2% to 1 417 — while those of children increased by 15.3% to 354. There were 12 872 cases of assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm committed against women, representing an increase of 9.7%, while those against children dipped 6% to 1 432.

Cele said the police’s Operation Shanele had led to the arrest of 7 000 people, many of them wanted for serious offences such as murder, rape and housebreaking, and it appeared the operation had dislodged weekend crime as the prime time to commit crime.

“It looks like we are turning the tide … but the number that worries [me] is the number of illegal foreign nationals in the country. It is sometimes difficult to link them to crime because they are untraceable [by their] DNA and fingerprints,” Cele said.

“Crime has moved a little bit away from the weekend, except for Sat, to Wednesday and Tuesday, which means our sanitation of the weekend is working,” Cele said.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Andrew Whitfield, raising questions during the session, said the murder of so many policemen was an attack on the state.

“There was one police killing every three days. We need to acknowledge that there is an attack on the state from violent criminals and on the citizens of the country. This is an indication of a society that no longer respects the rule of law,” Whitfield said.

“This just underscores the importance of adopting a whole of society approach [to fighting crime]. As we have seen from the statistics, South Africans are increasingly unsafe in their own homes,” he said.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Zandile Majozi said the killing of police officers was “alarming” and asked what measures were being implemented to fight this crime.

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe said the killing of police officers “indicates that we are living in a country where lawlessness becomes the norm because where people are attacking the police they are attacking the state”. 

He also asked at what time and how rape perpetrators had gained access to schools where 66 rapes and seven murders had taken place over the past three months. Five of the rapes were committed by strangers who had gained access to the schools.

National Freedom Party MP Shaik Emam raised concern about the high number of serious crimes such as murder (243), attempted murder (276) and assault GBH (3 262) that were committed at shebeens, pubs, taverns, night clubs and bottle stores. He said the government needed to do something about the prevalence of alcohol related crimes.

DA MP Brandon Golding said one of the main causes of murder was gang related and asked whether the police had implemented their previously announced plans to use technology to fight crime in population dense areas.

Responding to questions Cele said the issue of the link between alcohol and crime needed to be dealt with in a broader discussion. He said provincial and local authorities needed to work together with the police to ensure the enforcement of tavern closing times and the blocking of entry to minors.

“It is a problem. Liquor is a problem. There is so much, that will be rape, murder that could not be related to alcohol yet alcohol is part of it. The issue of alcohol in the country, I think we need to look at it. Now, when there was looting in the taxi problem in Cape Town they broke into Tops, they stole fridges, which tells you alcohol is one area all of us will have to look at,” Cele said.

He said the police had provided R70 million to community policing forums to purchase equipment such as vehicles and torches, while the police service had bought 30 drones and was working with municipalities in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to fight crime using technology such as CCTV cameras.

He said the police had signed a memorandum of understanding with the department of basic education for police officers to visit and raid schools but the police service was constrained by limited human resources at police stations.