What the official crime stats don’t tell you about hijacking in South Africa

 ·28 Aug 2023

Statistics South Africa has published its latest Governance, Public Safety, and Justice Survey (GPSJS), revealing a massive discrepancy in the SAPS’ reported crime data, as thousands of crimes went unreported over the last year.

The survey gives a supplementary perspective to the official crime statistics published by the South African Police Service (SAPS), which showed an increase in carjackings over the previous year.

South Africa’s official crime statistics are based on incidents and crimes reported to police stations, as well as crimes discovered through police action. However, this data only reflects the crimes that have been officially processed and may not be a true reflection of the actual crime levels in the country.

The GPSJS 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.

Attempted hijacking near the Marlboro Gautrain Station. Photo: Judy James

According to Stats SA, approximately 128,000 individuals experienced hijacking in 2022/2023, a slight reduction from the 134,000 recorded in 2021/22.

Meanwhile, between April 2022 and March 2023, the SAPS recorded 22,742 carjacking cases. This is a 24% increase in hijacking cases from the 18,299 recorded in 2021/22.

However, this increase aligns with Stats SA’s estimate of the number of cases reported to the SAPS. 62.9% of carjackings were reported to the SAPS in 2021/22, which increased to 89% in 2022/23 – meaning the increase in cases reported by the SAPS is likely due to the increase in reporting rather than an increase in cases of hijackings.

Worryingly, however, the gap between the number of hijackings experienced by households (GPSJS survey) and the number of cases reported by the SAPS is over 100,000 – meaning hijacking could be over four times worse than the SAPS’ crime stats show.

While the 22,742 cases of carjackings reported by the SAPS – relative to Stats SA’s 128,000 individuals who experienced hijacking – should indicate only 17% are actually reported (not 89%), this discrepancy could be a result of the fact that a significant number of reports have just not been officially processed – another worrying sign.

These discrepancies haven’t gone unnoticed

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) does not believe that police crime statistics provide an accurate picture of crime in South Africa.

Business Day reported that the union’s president, Zizamele Cebekhulu-Makhaza, said the figures were not aligned with the realities facing their members and communities, and the situation might be even worse than indicated, as shown above.

Popcru President, Zizamele Cebekhulu-Makhaza.

Cebekhulu-Makhaza said the crime stats released by Minister Bheki Cele already painted a bloody picture for the country, but still, there are several serious underlying issues and flaws in the data collection methodologies that must be addressed.

These issues included inaccurate data collated from each province and department, the underreporting of crimes, and variances in the interpretation and classification of crimes, which together may have resulted in significant discrepancies.

However, Cebekhulu-Makhaza added that despite the flaws, the statistics were an important tool for law enforcement agencies to create budgets, plan and allocate resources, and carry out police operations.

He noted that it was time for a thorough review of the figures and for discussions to rectify the discrepancies, to better represent the true state of the country’s crime situation.

Read: Hijackers are targetting these cars in South Africa – beware of these hotspot areas

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