Spot Check

Zuma’s crime stats selective and misleading

South African crime scene experts work at the scene of the shooting of a union leader who  was  killed inside the National Union of Mineworkers offices by two unknown gunmen, in Marikana on June 3, 2013. Photo:AFP/StringerPresident Jacob Zuma’s claim that “progress has been made in the past five years in reducing the level of serious crime such as murders” has been described as “political claptrappery” by the opposition Democratic Alliance.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on Zuma’s State of the Nation address, DA MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard said: “The truth is the murder rate went up last year, as did attempted murder, aggravated robbery, residential burglaries, fraud, car-jackings and theft from our motor vehicles. Stretching statistics from the past to try and twist today’s truth into a ‘good story’ is political claptrappery.”

In his speech on Tuesday, Zuma said: “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.”

Who is correct? Zuma or Kohler-Barnard?

Last year Africa Check and the Institute for Security Studies published a detailed factsheet analysing the 2012/13 crime statistics. It found 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 is an increase in both the number and rate of murders and attempted murders,” it stated.

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.

Kohler-Barnard’s statement was correct. She was also correct in stating that the president was “stretching statistics from the past” in order to tell a “good story”.

Averaged out over five years, the official crime statistics do certainly show an overall reduction in serious crimes, as claimed by the president. But his statement failed to mention the most recent 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. As a result, the president’s remarks on crime were selective and misleading. – Africa Check 20/06/14

Additional reading

Understanding crime statistics in South Africa

Police wrong to claim that crime index ‘vindicates’ official crime statistics

Blog: The politics of crime statistics