Crime in South Africa – what the official statistics don’t tell you

Statistics South Africa has published its latest Victims of Crime (VoC) survey, showing that thousands of crimes went unreported over the last year.

The survey gives supplementary perspective to the latest official crime statistics last published by the South African Police Service (SAPS) on Friday (18 February), which showed a slight decrease in criminal activity over the previous quarter – but an increase in murders and other violent crimes.

South Africa’s official crime statistics are based on incidents and crimes reported to police stations, as well as crimes discovered through police action. The data can only tell us about the crimes that go through official processes and do not necessarily give a reflection of the true-crime levels in the country.

The VoC survey, meanwhile, reflects criminal activity from victims’ experiences, revealing large discrepancies between experiences of crime and reported crime in South Africa – with a large number of crimes going unreported, and thus not included in the SAPS’ official data.

For example, over a million households experienced housebreaking/burglary over the last year, but just 56.1% reported the incident to the police.

Similarly, 55.9% of 141,000 violent home robberies were reported, and just 50.6% of 56,000 cases of assault were reported.

In many categories, crime experienced by South Africans shows a downward trend over the last year, partly attributable to the Covid-19 lockdown, but still well above the official reported statistics.

The proportion of households that experienced housebreaking/burglary between 2019/20 and 2020/21 has decreased from 5.3% of all households to 4.6% of all households, with an estimated one million incidences.

Around 1.9 million households experienced housebreaking/burglary over the past five years, with 312,000 experiencing a home robbery (including contact with the criminals).

The data further shows that 212,000 households experienced car theft, with 151,000 people experiencing a hijacking.

An estimated 844,000 incidences of theft of personal property occurred in 2020/21, affecting 732,000 individuals aged 16 years and older.

A total of 304,000 of adults aged 16 and older experienced street robbery in a total of 346,000 incidences.

Individuals who felt safe walking alone in their neighbourhoods during the day decreased from 86.6% in 2019/20 to 84.8% in 2020/21. Those who felt safe walking alone at night decreased from 41.9% in 2019/20 to 39.7% in 2020/21.

More than 80% of all persons, irrespective of their sex, said addictions/substance and alcohol abuse are the cause of violence against women and children.


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Crime in South Africa – what the official statistics don’t tell you