South Africans living in fear – as new crime trends emerge

 ·31 May 2023

As crime continues to escalate, most South Africans no longer feel safe in public spaces, during their commute, or even in their homes.

This is according to the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA)’s latest quarterly State of Security (SoS) report, evaluating South Africans’ sentiments towards personal safety in the country.

The latest report conducted a wide-ranging survey of 1,438 respondents between March and April 2023 – unavailing the bleak reality of citizens’ perceptions of safety.

According to the data, Only 31% of South Africans feel either ‘mostly safe’ or ‘completely safe’ in the country – meaning 69% of the remaining respondents do not feel safe in South Africa. 

The report showed that, of this 69%, 37% of citizens feel either ‘barely safe’ (22%) or ‘not safe at all’ (15%), while the rest (32%) only feel ‘somewhat safe’ living in the country.

Outlining what South Africans believe to be the locations at which they are most vulnerable, the report noted that South Africans feel most unsafe in outdoor public spaces (45%) and during their daily commute (25%).

Even in their own homes, the findings showed that 36% of people indicated that they either feel only ‘somewhat safe’ (29%) or ‘not safe at all’ (7%). In contrast, 30% of respondents said they feel ‘safe’, 20% feel ‘very safe’, and only 14% feel ‘extremely safe’ in their homes.

Disturbingly, despite some feeling safe, the report further noted that 76% of all respondents indicated being victims of a crime over their lifetime in South Africa.

Crime goes unabated in South Africa

Considering the latest crime stats published by the South African Police Service (SAPS), the respondents’ sentiments from the SoS report are no surprise.

Of concern is that the stats showed an increase in several crimes, including another jump in violent contact crimes, such as murder, attempted murder and assault.

According to the SAPS, 6,289 people were murdered over the period, equating to 70 fatalities every day. Contact crimes, including sexual offences and robbery, comprised the biggest crime category, with 164,206 cases reported between 1 January 2023 and 31 March 2023.

Put into a different context, there is one contact crime committed every 50 seconds of every day.

The increase in criminal activity was recorded across all the provinces, with the usual suspects making up the bulk of crimes – Gauteng (27.2%), Western Cape (19.1%), Kwa-Zulu Natal (16%), and the Eastern Cape (10.3%).

“These numbers are not only an indication of the nightmare many South Africans face daily, but they are indicative of a government which has totally lost control against crime,” said CEO of the AA Willem Groenewald.

“Not only do these statistics show crime is increasing, but they also show, alarmingly, that 81% of South Africans trust private security more than they do the South African Police Service (SAPS),” he added.

Considering the crime statistics in the country, 88% of the respondents to the SoS survey indicated they believe crime will increase in the future.

“Given this response, it’s no surprise that more and more people are spending money on personal security such as more burglar bars, alarm systems, and security cameras at their homes,” said Groenewald.

“Our country is a dangerous place, and people desperately want to feel safe. However, the statistics show that our law enforcement agencies are failing to deal with the problem effectively,” he added.

New trend

Commenting on the latest crime stats, security group Fidelity noted that criminals are becoming more sophisticated and are adapting to policing to stay one step ahead.

While there are many areas in the country known for their high levels of criminal activity – in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KZN in particular – attackers are also quickly adapting and finding gaps, the group said.

“We would expect authorities to concentrate resources where the majority of the attacks are taking place,” the group said. “However, the problem with the attacks is the perpetrators are so sophisticated that they move around depending on where they assess the gaps to be.”

For example, in April, 40% of the cash-in-transit robberies suddenly moved to KwaZulu-Natal. While the police were able to arrest some people involved, ultimately 70% of the attacks were successful and resulted in cash loss.

Fidelity said more police visibility is needed.

For the average citizen concerned about their personal safety, the group said how South Africans live their daily lives make a big difference in limiting potential risk of exposure to crime

“So we need a renewed focus on personal safety measures. The first step is to live safer lives and to be more careful about our movements wherever we may be,” it said.

“It goes without saying that it is impossible to prevent every type of crime from happening to us. You can, however, see a massive difference if people pay attention to their surroundings and what happens around them.”

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