During his presentation of the annual crime statistics on Tuesday (11 September), police minister Bheki Cele said that a surge in murders has turned South Africa into a place that “borders on a war zone.”
According to the SAPS, there were 20,336 murders in South Africa between April 2017 and March 2018, showing a 7% increase from the previous year.
This puts the country’s murder rate at close to 36 people murdered per 100,000 population – with Cele noting that 57 people are being murdered each day.
South Africa had the fifth highest murder rate in the world in 2015, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNOCD) most recent data.
Looking at this UNOCD data, as well as data provided by the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) Armed Conflict Survey, the BBC has now compared how South Africa’s murder rate compared to armed conflict zones.
The IISS’ data includes conflict-related deaths and victims of terror attacks where the perpetrators of the attack are part of a conflict – but excludes murders outside of the conflict.
It then estimated the overall rate for each country using the World Bank’s population figures. This measure gives an indication of the extent to which the whole country is affected by conflict.
- In Somalia, where government troops backed by the African Union are fighting al-Shabab militants, the IISS recorded 5,500 conflict-related deaths in 2017, which is a rate of 38.4 per 100,000 people. That’s higher than South Africa, even excluding homicides.
- For Afghanistan, there were 14,000 deaths last year in the conflict between insurgent groups and pro-government forces. That’s a rate of 40.4 per 100,000 people.
- IISS uses the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ death toll figure for the Syrian conflict, which reported 39,000 deaths in 2017. That’s equivalent to 212 per 100,000 people.
- In Yemen there were 17,000 deaths – a rate of 61.6 per 100,000 people.
- In Iraq, there were 15,000 conflict-related deaths – a rate of 40.3 per 100,000 people.
Looking at the above it is clear that while the overall murder rate in South Africa is very high – the level of killing is lower than in all the conflict-affected countries considered even without taking into account non-conflict related murders in those countries.
While crime on a national level cannot be compared to a conflict zone, the BBC noted that the stats point to a very different story when looking at specific areas.
It pointed to the fact that while there are 1,144 police station precincts across the country – 20% of all the murders were recorded at just 30 stations.
“According to ISS’ Crime Hub, several precincts have a murder rate estimated at more than 100 per 100,000. That’s higher than in most of the war zones considered above,” the BBC said.
“In Philippi East, a township of Cape Town, the rate was estimated at 323.4 per 100,000. It was 214.52 in Madeira in the Eastern Cape province and 177.3 at Pietermaritzburg’s central city station in KwaZulu-Natal.”