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Some crime decreased in South Africa ‘year after year’ during Jacob Zuma’s presidency, but violent crime increased

“Statistics showed that crime levels were declining year after year under @PresJGZuma, now they are getting higher.” 

That’s the claim in a tweet posted on 20 August 2021, on the same day South African police minister Bheki Cele released the first quarter crime statistics for 2021/22

The first quarter covers April to June. Compared to the same period in 2020, the 2021 figures do show a double-digit increase in most crime categories. 

Cele said this was because during this period in 2020, South Africa was in “hard lockdown”, the alert-level system used to regulate the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma was in office from 9 May 2009 until his resignation on 14 February 2018. The next day, current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was sworn into office.

But Zuma still has a public following. This was witnessed when his arrest triggered widespread riots in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, after the former president was jailed on 8 July for contempt of court. 

Someone replied to the tweet, tagging Africa Check. We checked to see if the original tweet was correct in saying that crime declined year after year during Zuma’s term.

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Violent crime did decline in first three years of Zuma presidency

Gareth Newham, head of the Institute for Security Studies’ justice and violence prevention programme in Pretoria, told Africa Check the claim is “highly selective” and “patently false” if we consider the murder rate. 

Murder is the “most reliable and accurate crime category” because it is easy to verify as there is a body. It did decline by 54% between 1994 and 2012, said Newham. This period included the early years of Zuma’s presidency, which began in 2009. 

Aggravated robbery also declined between 2009 and 2012 from a rate of 229.5 per 100,000 people in 2009 to 202.6 in 2012. Rates per 100,000 people are useful because they allow crime figures to be compared with consideration for differences in population sizes

But Newham said these decreases were mainly because of “investments made in policing prior to when Zuma became president, in preparation for the Fifa World Cup in 2010”.

Increase in violent crime from 2012 to 2018

Newham said: “People in South Africa were more likely to be murdered or fall victim to armed robberies at the end of Zuma’s presidency than they were when he swore his oath of office.” 

After 2012 there was a consistent increase in murder: “Between 2012 and 2018, when Zuma was finally forced out of power, [the number of murders] increased by 30.7%.” 

There were 4,809 more murders in 2018 than in 2012, and the rate increased from 30.9 murders per 100,000 people in 2012 to 35.8 in 2017/18

“Aggravated robbery also increased during Zuma’s presidency,” said Newham. Between 2009 and 2018 it increased by 14.4%

Aggravated robbery is when a person unlawfully and intentionally uses a weapon to steal from another person.

There were 37,595 more aggravated robberies in 2018 compared to 2012. This crime rate increased from 202.6 robberies per 100,000 people in 2012 to 242.7 in 2018

Decrease in assault and sexual offences

Crime statistics showed an annual decrease in assault and sexual offence figures when Zuma was president. 

Assault with intention to inflict grievous bodily harm, or assault GBH, decreased from a rate of 416.2 in 2009 to 296.3 in 2018. The rate of common assault decreased from 400 in 2009 to 280.8 in 2018. 

Sexual offence rates decreased from 138.5 per 100,000 in 2009 to 90.9 in 2018. This crime category includes sexual assault, rape and other sexual crimes. 

However, assault and sexual offence crime statistics are often unreliable because not all victims report these offences to the police. 

During Zuma’s presidency fewer victims reported crimes to the police, according to Newham. And from 2011, Statistics South Africa’s victims of crime survey showed a decrease in the public's approval of the police and willingness to report crimes.

The survey measures “the nature, extent and patterns of crime in South Africa, from the victim’s perspective”. 

Newham said the survey showed that from 2013/14 to 2015/16 “the proportion of victims of assault who reported the incident to the SAPS dropped by 27%” and “victims of sexual offences who reported the incident to the police fell by 31,2%”.

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