Like all crime statistics, South Africa’s need to be treated with caution (South Africa ‘like a war zone’ after surge in murders, 12 September).
Yes, murder rates are about the most reliable indicator of levels of violence. And, yes, a 7% increase in murder in 2017-18 over the previous year as part of a continuing upward trend evident since 2011-12 is worrying. But a sense of both perspective and context is needed too.
Last year’s murder rate of 35.2 per 100,000 people is up from a low of 30.1 per 100,000 in 2011. But it is dwarfed by the figure of 78 per 100,000 recorded back in 1993, the year before South Africa’s first democratic elections.
When it comes to other forms of crime, such as housebreaking, the data is much less reliable – largely because of hard-to-detect changes in both reporting by citizens and recording by the police. South Africa’s Victims of Crime Survey suggests that, overall, crime in 2016-17 was down, but that only just over half of all incidents of housebreaking were reported to the police.
As for policing, the reality is that most of it is done not by “the police” but by a vast array of private providers from multinational security companies to self-appointed neighbourhood enforcers. Tackling corruption and improving leadership in the public police service is one thing, responding to the chronic insecurity experienced by millions of South Africans another.
If the latest crime figures tell us anything, it is how far South Africa has to go in dealing with the violent legacy of apartheid, and the unfinished business of creating a more just society.