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2014 SONA claims revisited: Zuma on crime

South African president Jacob Zuma is due to deliver his eighth State of the Nation Address in parliament on Thursday. Last year he delivered two State of the Nation Addresses – one before and one after the country’s national elections in May. This report looks at his claims about crime.

‘Crime has decreased by 21%’

The claim: “The overall crime rate has decreased by 21 % since 2002…”

Our verdict: Selective and misleading

The decrease in the overall crime rate claimed by Zuma referred only to the period from 2002/03 to 2011/12. It excluded the 2012/13 crime statistics which showed worrying increases in a number of categories of serious and violent crime.

On the face of it, Zuma’s claim appeared to have been supported by a 2012 factsheet prepared by South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies which stated that “[s]ince the 2002/03 financial year, when total crime levels peaked in South Africa, the overall crime rate has decreased by 21%”.

But the fact-sheet also pointedly cautioned that overall crime rates do not provide useful information in terms of increases or decreases in specific crime categories, with respect to regional crime rate changes, or the reasons for the change in crime rates.

Without this context, the victory-against-crime claim recycled by the president last year was almost meaningless.

Zuma’s claim used 2002 – a year in which “total crime levels peaked in South Africa” – as its benchmark. While overall crime rates may have decreased by 21% between 2002 and 2012, the ISS noted that “overall levels of crime [for 2011/2012] are actually quite comparable with the levels recorded in 1994/1995”.

The decline in crime was not uninterrupted. According to the ISS, a “3% increase in total crime levels was recorded in the two-year period between 2007/08 and 2009/10”, which was followed by marginal decreases in the next two years.

Gareth Newham, the head of the ISS’s governance, crime and justice division said last year that Zuma’s address should have focused on “what has happened in the last year, not distracting us by discussing the last ten years”.

“In the last year all forms of serious and violent crimes – including murder, attempted murder, house robbery, street robbery – all of these have increased. Murder is of particular concern, because the [murder rate] had been coming down – and this is the first time murder has increased in seven years.”

‘Progress made in reducing serious crime’

The claim: “Some progress has been made over the past five years in reducing the levels of serious crime such as murders, aggravated robberies, crimes against women, children and other vulnerable groups, but they remain unacceptably high. We will work to further reduce levels of crime.”

Our verdict: Selective and misleading

An analysis of the 2012/13 crime statistics showed that “violent crimes that cause the most fear and trauma amongst the public” had increased in 2012/13. For the first time in six years there had been an increase in both the number and rate of murders and attempted murders.

Incidents of murder increased from 15,609 murders in 2011/12 to 16,259 murders in 2012/13. Consequently, the number of murders increased from a total average of 43 murders a day to 45 murders per day. There were also increases in attempted murders, aggravated robbery, residential burglary, fraud, vehicle hijackings and theft from motor vehicles.

Averaged out over five years, the official crime statistics certainly showed an overall reduction in serious crimes, as claimed by the president. But his statement failed to mention the 2012/13 crime statistics which – for the first time in six years – showed disturbing increases in violent crimes including murder, attempted murder, residential burglaries, aggravated robberies and vehicle hijackings.

Additional reading

Report: President Jacob Zuma’s sixth State of the Nation address fact-checked

Report: Wrapping up the [7th] State of the Nation

Guide: Understanding crime statistics

Factsheet: South Africa’s crime statistics for 2012/13

Factsheet: South Africa’s crime statistics for 2013/14

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