Lizette Lancaster ANALYSIS: Where murder happens in South Africa

Most murders are not random. Some people are more at risk than others. Lizette Lancaster explains where murder happens, why location matters and what it means for tackling crime.

Over the past three years the South African murder rate has increased from 30 murders per 100,000 to 33. This is five times higher than the global average of 6.2 per 100,000. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, South Africa ranked eight out of 167 countries with data available for 2012.

Between April 2014 and March 2015, on average 49 people were murdered each day. This is on average two more killings a day than in the previous year and a staggering six more deaths a day than in 2011/12.

The 2013/14 South African Police Service annual report showed that 5% of murder victims were children and 14% were women, most of whom were murdered by their intimate partners. By far the majority of victims (81%) were male. Victimisation surveys, police docket surveys and mortuary surveillance studies confirm young black men are most at risk of falling victim to murders.

Western Cape tops the list

Most murders do not make the news. They happen in places where violence and crime is a daily occurence and where desperate and marginalized residents are routinely overlooked by media and politicians.

Research shows that murders are often not premeditated, but take place when an argument leads to physical assault. Most victims are killed by acquaintances, friends or family members during disputes that are often fuelled by alcohol.

The Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and the Free State were the five most dangerous provinces as far as murder were concerned in 2014/15. All had a murder rate higher than the national rate of 33 per 100,000 people. Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo had murder rates below the national average.



Risk also varies within cities

In recent years, police have recorded more murders in Cape Town than in Johannesburg and Pretoria combined. This means that taking population into account, Cape Town residents are almost twice (1.8 times) more likely to be murdered than Johannesburg residents.

But the risk of becoming a victim of crime depends a significant degree on your race, gender, age, economic status and where you live. For example, almost two-thirds of the Cape Town murders took place in just ten of the sixty police station precincts in the city, according to a crime hotspot analysis we carried out at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

The Nyanga, Harare, Mitchellsplain, Gugulethu, Khayelitsha and Delft police precincts remain the most murderous in the peninsula. These areas have experienced extremely high murder rates for more than a decade, suggesting that the cycles of violence will be difficult to break.

There are such vast differences in risk between areas that half of South Africa’s murders in 2014/15 occurred in only 12.3% of police precincts. On the other hand, one in five police stations in predominantly affluent metro and rural areas and towns have a murder rate of less than 12 per 100,000. Just over 10% of policing precincts have a murder rate of zero.

Murder accounts for less than 3% of all violent crime

As high as the murder rate is, murder accounts for less than 3% of all violent crime. While there were 17,805 murders last year, almost 600,000 other violent crimes – including attempted murder, rape, robbery and assault – were recorded by the police.

Central business districts and mixed residential and business nodes in large urban and metro areas remain the most high-risk areas in terms of violence in general, and specifically for robberies. The clear front-runner is Mitchells Plain followed by Johannesburg Central, Hillbrow, Nyanga, Pretoria Central, Umlazi and Khayelitsha.

Violence can be prevented

Violence affects everybody in some way. The trauma of witnessing or experiencing violence has lasting physical and emotional consequences and a significant impact on economic growth.

Violence can be prevented, but it requires a comprehensive strategy which would include integrated short-, medium- and long-term inventions and responses. Such a strategy should guide not only the police but other government departments, civil society organisations and the public.

Long-term interventions may not be easy to sell to the crime-weary public and politicians who want quick wins. However, the implementation of long-term strategies is vital if we wish to reduce violence.

These would include interventions which focus on supporting parents, reducing the exposure of children to violence and keeping children in school.

The increases in many violent crime categories in recent years point to the need for urgency in adopting a new approach to violence prevention. The National Development Plan calls for a re-think on building community safety in the medium to long-term. The implementation of this plan needs to be fast-tracked if thousands of lives are to be saved.

Lizette Lancaster is manager of the Crime and Justice Information Hub in the Governance Crime and Justice Division of the Institute for Security Studies. 


Additional Reading

GUIDE: Understanding crime statistics in South Africa – what you need to know

FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2014/15 assault and sexual crime statistics

FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2014/15 murder and robbery crime statistics

FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2014/15 property crime statistics

Where murder happened in South Africa in 2012/13

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Comment on this report

Comments 6
  1. By chadley cavernelis

    There should be more police, metro and task forces around these areas with high crime rates . I think police vehicles shouldn’t be used as criminals all know how these vehicles look, normal looking cars and bakkies should put a doubt on all criminals faces with whatever they doing, almost like ghost cops, I haven’t seen so much racing going on and I live at racing hotspot. I’m sure much more criminals and thieves will be caught

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  3. By Bulelani Mfenyana

    Incredible how Western Cape and Nyanga have remained at the top of the Murder List since the early 80’s when I lived there. So much for the DA doing so much better than the ANC or the Aparheid regime.

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    • By R Smith

      As far as I know.

      The police are under the command of the National Government with a Provincial Commissioner appointed by the National Police Chief / National Government not the provincial government (DA). The DA has repeatedly called for more police and even the military to intervene in the violence of the townships and Cape Flats. The ANC chooses to ignore their pleas and prefers to score cheap political points at the expense of human lives.

      So in many respects the ANC is no better than the Apartheid government, you are right.

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      • By Peter Higgins

        Crime is caused by local social conditions as much as policing. If there was opportunity in CT then crime statistics would fall dramatically. Is the literacy rate in CT better than the rest of SA? Is access to opportunity, transport and the resources of the state better than elsewhere? These are the things that really address crime, rather than merely preventing it. I would guess these would be better in the Cape where it feels safer, so perhaps it is more about localised crime in Khayelitsa and the Cape Flats. If so, what is being done to get resources into these areas?

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  4. By David

    It is disingenuous for Africa Check to state any factual conclusion based on police reports. This especially applies to murders… and for the following CRUCIAL information that is absent in police reports and published statistics…

    Police only provide 1 category of murder which reflects in stats. There are in fact 3 basic categories. I.E. First degree, Second degree and Manslaughter… and which could show a different statistical picture. HOWEVER with the public outcry about farm murders for example, even three categories is insufficient in providing a FACTUAL picture and when a minority group is allegedly being targeted. There should in fact be a minum of 6 murder categories and 3 Manslaughter categories…
    1. First degree murder – highest level of premeditation and indifference to the victim
    2. Second degree murder – There was a definite intent to harm but not necessarily kill
    3. Third degree murder – The death happened as a result of indifference or neglect
    4. Fourth degree murder – Used to charge the accomplice in a homicide
    5. Aggravated felony murder – the (non-participant) victim dies during the commission of a crime which is considered a felony
    6. Justifiable Homicide (as in self-defence situations) is a murder classification but not a charge, because there would be no case to answer.

    1. Manslaughter – implies no specific intent to kill (for example two guys in a bar have an argument and decide to take the issue further outside in the parking lot. One guy punches the other and kills that person.)
    2. Involuntary Manslaughter – perpetrator was engaged in criminal negligent behavior but didn’t intent to take a life. (For example driving while drunk and involved in an accident killing another.)
    3. Voluntary Manslaughter – when someone takes a life during circumstances that altered the killer’s behavior beyond their control (crimes of passion – something perhaps Oscar Pristorius should have initially pleaded)

    AND then in addition to FIRST DEGREE Murder… there should also be another category and that of AGGRAVATED FIRST DEGREE MURDER and where there was evidence of premeditated torture before killing. Then in addition murder stats should also include murders where family members were victims as well as women and children raped and tortured or heinously murdered (immersion in boiling water for eg). And which is allegedly typical of many white Farm Murders. These facts would provide a clearer picture of whether there is a Targeted Racial Hate Crime involved.

    Another statistical fog is when an X number per 100K population is given. This can effectively disguise targeted murder and especially against a minority group.

    Example… if three SA Africa Check employees are tortured and murdered in one month, then this should not be concerning if compared to the total murders in SA in a month or an X number per 100K population in that area.

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