The police released South Africa’s crime statistics for 2019/20 on 31 July 2020. Police minister Bheki Cele said “we are not where we wanted to be” but that he was “pleased with the improvements in more stubborn crime categories”.
In one analysis, Independent Online (IOL) claimed that KwaZulu-Natal province was the murder capital of South Africa. It also said Inanda, a large township in the province, was the country’s rape capital.
Do the statistics support these claims? We checked.
Murder is the unlawful and intentional killing of another person. According to the Institute for Security Studies, a South African policy think tank, murder statistics are considered the most reliable because they can be independently verified.
When Cele was asked the reason for the increase, he identified the province’s Inanda and Umlazi townships as “problematic areas”.
But do the figures make KwaZulu-Natal the murder capital of the country?
KZN recorded most murders, Eastern Cape has highest murder rate
“The total number of murders tell us little about the risk of victimisation, or the frequency of the violence,” Dr Andrew Faull, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, told Africa Check.
“Some people may look at these figures and assume that the two countries are equally dangerous or violent. But if we consider this data in relation to the two countries’ populations in 2012, we see that the US has six times as many people as South Africa,” Faull said.
This suggests that people in South Africa were six times more likely to be murdered than people in the US, even though both countries recorded roughly the same number of murders.
“This is why we should always strive for murder – and other crime – rates rather than counts.”
KwaZulu-Natal’s murder rate was 42.6 for every 100,000 people in 2019/20. But the Eastern Cape, which recorded 3,879 murders, had a higher murder rate of 59.5 per 100,000 people. The Western Cape province followed closely behind with a murder rate of 58.2.
Does this make the Eastern Cape province the murder capital of the country?
It’s definitely worth highlighting the parts of the country that seem to be the most violent, Faull said, but it’s not necessarily helpful to single out an entire province as a “capital”.
“A province is far too big for localised interventions.” Ideally, we should look at murder rates at police station level and identify the places and times when murder usually occurs, Faull said.
The Inanda police station recorded 297 cases, more than any other police station in the country. The Umlazi police station recorded 293 cases.
But as with the previous claim about murder, total numbers alone are not useful. If the numbers were converted into a rape rate, it might provide a clearer indication of high risk areas, Lisa Vetten, gender-based violence researcher, told Africa Check.
Difficult to calculate rape rates at police station level
But, to do this, you would need to know how many people live in each police precinct. Unfortunately, precincts don’t always line up with census boundaries, making it difficult to calculate a rape rate for the areas they serve.
“And even if you were able to calculate the rape rate for Inanda, you would need to carry out that exercise throughout the country in order to see whether it remains the so-called rape capital,” Vetten said.
There is also the issue of under-reporting. It’s well known that the rape statistics collected by the police are not an accurate reflection of the actual number of rapes that take place. “At best, all you are comparing is the extent to which any one population, group or area is willing to report versus another,” Vetten said.
So while claims about rape capitals may potentially draw our attention to a particular problem, they don’t help us understand the problem or how to address it.
Provincial breakdown shows variations across South Africa
“There is value, however, in trying to understand geographical variations in the distribution of rape,” Vetten said. “Because when you look at the provincial breakdown, it’s very clear that there are variations across the country.”
“This tells us that rape does not occur identically. It pushes us to ask more nuanced questions about why rape may be lower here than there.”
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