Cape Town, Joburg, Durban and Gqeberha ranked among the most violent cities in the world

The Mexican Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice has published its latest ranking of the 50 most violent cities in the world, with four South African cities included among them.

The report lists the 50 most violent cities by the number of murders per 100,000 people, only considering cities with populations exceeding 300,000, where murder statistics are made available.

In the 2020/21 ranking, four South African cities feature in the top 50, with Johannesburg back for its second consecutive year after being absent from the list between 2015/16 and 2018/19.

As with previous years, the ranking is dominated by South American cities, with South Africa, Jamaica and the US being the only main regional outliers.

The top five cities are Mexican cities, led by Celaya which recorded 699 murders among its population of 639,052 people – giving it a murder rate of 109.30 per 100,000 people.

This was followed by Tijuana (105.15), Juarez (103.61), Ciudad Obregon (101.13) and Irapuato (94.99).

Cape Town carried the dishonour of featuring in the top 10 in 2015, where it ranked as the 9th most violent city in the world. However, it then showed a gradual improvement over the years, before settling at 15th position in 2017.

In 2018/19 Cape Town retained its 15th position, but its murder rate spiked to a new high at 66.4 murders per 100,000 population.

In the 2019/20 ranking, this was pushed to a new record high of 68.3 murders per 100,000 population, and a ranking of 8th overall.

In the latest ranking, Cape Town has ‘recovered’ somewhat to a murder rate of 64.0 per 100,000 people – however, it remains in the top 10, ranked 10th overall.

Also of note is that in pure numbers Cape Town recorded the most deaths out of all the cities featured in the top 50, recording 2,947 murders among its population of 4.6 million.

For context, Tijuana – Mexico’s most violent high-population city – recorded 2,155 murders, among a much smaller population of 2.05 million.

Nelson Mandela Bay (Gqeberha), ranks as the second most violent city in the country, having jumped from 45th in 2018/19, to 24th position in 2019/20.

In 2020 the metro eased in the rankings slightly, despite its murder rate going up. The city recorded 621 murders in a population of 1.2 million, giving it a murder rate of 51.2 per 100,000 people, up from 45.8 last year.

Durban, which ranked 35th last year, now ranks 31st – another improvement in the rankings despite a higher murder rate.

The city recorded 1,727 murders among a population of 4 million, giving it a murder rate of 43.4 per 100,000, up from 40.5 in 2019/20.

Joburg returned to the rankings last year at 41st position. It has recovered one spot to 40th overall, but as with Gqeberha and Durban saw its murder rate increase. The city recorded 2,182 murders among a population of 5.9 million, giving it a murder rate of 37.2 per 100,000 people.

Most violent cities in South Africa (murder rate)

City 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Cape Town 51.0 60.0 65.5 60.8 62.3 66.4 68.3 64.0
Nelson Mandela Bay 35.7 34.9 35.8 39.2 37.5 39.2 45.8 51.2
Durban 32.4 34.7 35.9 34.4 38.1 38.5 40.5 43.4
Johannesburg 33.3 36.2 37.2

Most violent cities in South Africa (ranking)

City 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Cape Town 20th 14th 9th 13th 15th 15th 8th 10th
Nelson Mandela Bay 41st 35th 42nd 43rd 46th 45th 24th 22nd
Durban 48th 38th 41st 50th 44th 47th 35th 31st
Johannesburg 47th 41st 40th

Murder in South Africa

The South African Police Service recently published its latest crime statistics, tracking criminal patterns in the country for the fourth quarter of 2020 – between January to March 2021.

While the overall crime rate was down over this period, the data shows that two types of serious crime saw an increase – murder and attempted murder, which recorded an 8.4% and 8.7% increase respectively.

Taking full-year data into account, South Africa experienced 19,846 murders in the 2020/21 period, giving it a murder rate of 33.3 per 100,000 people (based on 2020 mid-year population estimates).

This is down from the 21,325 murders recorded in the prior year, where South Africa had a murder rate of 36.3 per 100,000 people. This does not point to a declining trend, however.

Overall crime rates dropped in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Even with the effects of the pandemic, murder rates in South Africa remain particularly high, concentrated in metro areas, townships and regions beset by gang violence.

Police minister Bheki Cele said his department is working on several strategies to tackle the high crime rate in the country.

This includes a new practice where provincial commissioners, meet with station commanders every week to measure station performance and account for crimes trends; in particular the murder cases per policing precinct, Cele said.

“Furthermore, national intervention plans, which involves crime combating and prevention operational deployment are activated to respond to the top 30 murder stations to address the stubborn murder trend and other violent crimes,” he said.

Other interventions include:

  • The establishment of an anti-gang unit;
  • The introduction of Operation Thunder targets specific parts of the Cape Flats in the Western Cape;
  • Operation Vala targets crime in correctional facilities;
  • Operation Lockdown aims to curb serious violent crimes plaguing the Cape Flats and other townships in the Cape;
  • Operation O kae Molao which targets specific parts of Gauteng.

“National intervention deployments are heavily intensified in the Western Cape province which continuously proves to be stubborn in reducing violent crimes,” said Cele.

“The SAPS continues to enhance police visibility through crime prevention operations to promote law and order in the high crime areas of the Western Cape especially the Cape Metropole.”


Read: These are South Africa’s ‘murder capitals’ – and the police’s plan to fix them

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Cape Town, Joburg, Durban and Gqeberha ranked among the most violent cities in the world