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South Africa’s murder rate not up 4.9% as reported

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South Africa’s annual crime statistics made headlines this weekend, after their release on Friday.

Numerous websites, including Times LIVE, the UK’s Independent, the South African Government News Agency, SABC, The Citizen and Sowetan LIVE, reported that the country’s murder rate increased by 4.9%.

But the claim is wrong – and based on a misunderstanding of Crime Statistics 101.Crime statistics are usually reported in two ways: absolute numbers and crime rates. (Note: The SA police only released the absolute numbers last week.)

The absolute number of murders recorded increased by 4.9% from 17,805 in 2014/15 to 18,673 in 2015/16. But the number of murders recorded is not the murder rate.

The murder rate refers to the number of murders recorded per 100,000 people in the country.

South Africa’s murder rate increased from 32.9 in 2014/15 to 33.9 in 2015/16. This is equal to a 3% increase – 1.9 percentage points lower than reported. (Note: This guide explains the difference between “percentage point increases” and “percentage increases”.)

Why are crime rates reported alongside absolute numbers? They’re more useful for comparing changes over time, as they allow you to make fair comparisons between different population sizes and geographic areas.

This is because – generally – the number of crimes committed will increase as a population grows. The crime rate allows us to see whether crimes have increased or decreased in relation to the size of the population. - 06/09/2016


Additional reading:

FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2015/16 crime statistics

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

GUIDE: Tips to avoid three common statistical errors

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