South African police record 2,300 gender-based violence complaints in first week of lockdown – not 87,000

High rates of gender-based violence are a huge concern for South Africa. 

When president Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day national lockdown to help slow the spread of Covid-19, many were worried that victims of this violence would be stuck indoors with their abusers. 

The concerns seemed warranted when police minister Bheki Cele said that 87,000 cases of gender-based violence had been reported by phone in the first week of lockdown. 

This figure seemed excessive, even for a country with a high rate of gender violence. Readers asked us to look into the numbers. Here’s what we found. 

Extent of gender-based violence in South Africa

Gender-based violence includes all contact crime – including murder, rape and physical abuse – against women, acting police ministry spokesperson Brig Mathapelo Peters told Africa Check . 

The police recorded 179,683 contact crimes against women in the 2018/19 financial year, in the country’s most recent crime statistics. Of these, 82,728 were cases of common assault and 54,142 were assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm. 

In that year, 2,771 women were murdered, with a further 3,445 attempted murders. The police do not provide data on motives for these murders.

There were 36,597 recorded cases of sexual offences against women. This is a broad crime category that includes rape, attempted rape, sexual assault and contact sexual offences.

How has South Africa’s national lock down affected these figures? 

‘It’s serious, no doubt about it’

“GBV violence … it’s serious, no doubt about it,” Cele said in a media briefing on 2 April 2020. 

“If I’m not mistaken, the last number we received from the report of the [inaudible] is that since it started, 87,000 people have phoned reporting that there might be gender violence in their houses.”

Cele’s figure has since been carried in several online news articles and caused an uproar on social media. But the minister was mistaken. 

Peters, the police spokesperson, told Africa Check that the 87,000 figure was for the total number of complaints received in 2019. 

In the first week of the lockdown, 27 to 31 March, the police received 2,300 complaints in relation to gender based violence. The ministry has released a statement with the correct figures. “We have gone out of our way to clarify the confusion,” Peters said. 

Asked for an update on gender-based violence figures during an interview with the SABC on 6 April, minister Cele said: “Maybe the first thing there should be the correction. The 87 [thousand] sounded like it was during the lockdown. Actually the 87,020 is the 2019 figure of the calls that were made based on gender-based violence.” 

The police’s statement also says the numbers are yet to be verified. – Cayley Clifford

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