South Africa ranks as one of the most violent and dangerous places in the world

 ·29 Jun 2023

The Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) published its Global Peace Index (GPI) for 2023, showing South Africa is less peaceful than a year ago – dropping eight places in the rankings.

South Africa also now ranks as the 20th worst country in the world in terms of safety and security.

The GPI covers 163 countries comprising 99.7% of the world’s population, using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, and measures the state of peace across three domains:

  • The level of Societal Safety and Security;
  • The extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict; and
  • The degree of Militarisation.

This year’s report noted that the average level of global peacefulness deteriorated by 0.42% – with 84 countries improving and 79 deteriorating in peacefulness in 2022.

Concerningly, over the past 15 years, the world has become less peaceful, with the average country score deteriorating by 5%, with two of the three GPI domains having declined significantly since 2008, the authors said.

The data showed that Ongoing Conflict deteriorated by 14% and Safety and Security deteriorated by 5.4%. The IEP pointed to a sharp increase in violent demonstrations worldwide as the culprit of the deterioration of peace, while Militarization was the only domain to improve.

According to the report, Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world in 2023, holding the top position since 2008.

Joining Iceland at the top of the index are Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, and Austria, while at the bottom of the index – the least peaceful country in the world – is Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the least peaceful country in the world for the eighth consecutive year, followed by Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

South Africa

In the Sub-Saharan Africa region, South Africa ranked 26th out of 44 countries. Overall, Sub-Saharan Africa recorded a slight fall in peacefulness in the 2023 GPI, with the average country score deteriorating by 0.57%. 

This means that South Africa is less peaceful than most African countries, including Sierra Leone, Ghana, Rwanda, Namibia, and Zambia – among others.

According to the report, the region is less peaceful than the global average in the Safety and Security and Ongoing Conflict domains but more peaceful than the worldwide average in the Militarisation domain. 

This put South Africa in the 130th position worldwide (out of 163 countries), dropping eight places from a year ago, cementing the country firmly in the bottom half of the ranking.

On the safety and security index – which looks specifically at criminality, political instability, violence and unrest – South Africa ranks in the bottom 20 (144th out of 163), just ahead of Ukraine, which is at war with Russia.

South Africa’s low ranking on this domain is due to its high murder rate, large number of violent demonstrations, high levels of violent crime, and high levels of perceived criminality.

The table below shows the top 10 most and least peaceful countries worldwide.

RankCountryChange from 2022 ranking
4New Zealand2
130South Africa8
159Democratic Republic of the Congo0
160South Sudan0

Economic cost

The IEP estimates that the global economic impact of violence was $17.5 trillion in 2022, equivalent to 12.9% of global GDP, or $2,200 (R41,102) per person.

IEP estimates the economic impact of violence by comprehensively aggregating the costs related to violence, armed conflict and spending on military and internal security services.

These were compiled under three main variables – the direct and indirect costs and the multiplier effect – quantifying factors such as:

  • the cost of crime to business;
  • domestic violence;
  • household out-of-pocket spending on safety and security; and
  • spillover effects from conflict and violence.

The report further explained that indirect costs accrue after the violent event, including indirect economic losses, physical and physiological trauma to the victim, and lost productivity.

Direct costs are the cost of violence to the victim, the perpetrator, and the government. These include direct expenditures, such as the cost of policing and medical expenses, said the IEP.

The multiplier effect represents the flow-on effects of direct costs, such as the additional economic benefits from investment in business development or education, instead of the less productive costs of containing or dealing with violence.

For example, if a community were to become more peaceful, individuals would spend less time and resources protecting themselves against violence, and more money would be diverted towards more productive areas such as health, business investment, education and infrastructure.

According to the report, violence cost South Africa $176.49 billion (R3.30 trillion) in 2022 – 15% of the country’s GDP.

South Africa placed 15th on the Economic Cost of Violence Ranking, sorted by the economic cost of violence as a percentage of GDP. 

The cost of violence in South Africa grew by $57.58 billion (R1.08 trillion) between 2021 and 2022. The GPI estimates that the per capita impact of violence in South Africa in 2022 was $2,947 (R55,133.96).

IEP Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa Serge Stroobants told eNCA that there had been an apparent rise in the number of internal and external conflicts fought in South Africa and the Sub-Saharan region.

He said the IEP has also seen a rise in violent demonstrations and political instability in the region, as well as lower levels of resilience to cope with the impact of this violence.

Read: South Africa is home to the most dangerous drivers in the world – here’s how we compare

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter