The South African Cities Network (SACN) has released a new report looking at the state of urban safety.
The report is based on SAPS crime statistics recorded at the 1,153 police stations within the borders of the country and compares these figures to current population estimates – giving a broad idea of how common certain crimes are in South Africa’s major cities.
One of the major components of the report is the theft of vehicles and carjacking.
Despite a decrease in certain violent property crimes between 2016/17 and 2017/18, the long-term trend shows an increase, whereas non-violent property crimes have decreased, the researchers said.
“Residential burglary and theft of motor vehicles and motorcycles are at their lowest rates in over 20 years, having declined by at least 30% since 1994.
Contributing factors or conditions that may influence or facilitate the increase in property crimes involving direct and violent contact between perpetrator(s) and victim(s) may include:
Changes in standards and technologies of security (e.g. burglar bars, cameras, immobilisers) that could make it more difficult and riskier for criminals to gain access to houses, businesses and vehicles. In several other countries, this increased difficulty of theft may lead would be perpetrators to use violent measures to gain access.
However, further research is needed to establish whether this displacement effect from non-violent to violent property crimes is relevant to South Africa.
Failures of policing, with crime intelligence operations that are failing to dismantle organised criminal networks and police forces being poorly equipped to catch perpetrators. There also appears to be a growing backlog of cases that are incomplete and thus cannot result in conviction.
This could weaken the deterrent effect of police, as perpetrators realise that they are unlikely to be apprehended. Law enforcement oversight needs to work on and analyse these backlogs.
Theft of vehicles
The report shows that the theft of vehicles and motorcycles is a crime with a strong urban bias, as illustrated by the fact that most cities have stayed above the national rate over the past 13 years.
Three cities are below the national rate: Buffalo City (since 2006/07), Mangaung (since 2011/12) and Msunduzi (since 2013/14).
All nine cities have seen a decline in this type of crime since 2005/06, the researchers said.
“Despite a significant decline (of 56% and 60% respectively), Tshwane and Johannesburg remain the cities with the highest rates of this crime, followed by eThekwini, Ekurhuleni and Cape Town.
“The majority of cities have vehicle and motorcycle theft rates that are well above the national level, suggesting that this type of crime is clearly an urban problem and more prevalent in the larger cities.”
“Despite a decrease in certain violent property crimes between 2016/17 and 2017/18, (residential robbery -1%, non-residential robbery -4%, and carjacking -3%), the long-term trend shows an increase, whereas non-violent property crimes have decreased,” the researchers said.
“Residential burglary and theft of motor vehicles and motorcycles are at their lowest rates in over 20 years, having declined by at least 30% since 1994.”
Over the past 13 years, three cities – Johannesburg, eThekwini and Ekurhuleni – were the top three cities for carjacking, while three cities – Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane – show a similar pattern: after some years of decline, carjackings began increasing from 2011/12, but have slightly decreased since 2016/17.
The research shows that this crime is less prevalent among the smaller cities, with Msunduzi, Buffalo City and Mangaung remaining below the national rate (except between 2011/12 and 2012/13 for Mangaung).
“It is unclear as to why there have been substantial increases in carjackings in most cities, but this may relate to the introduction of more sophisticated vehicle security measures, which has made the theft of parked vehicles more difficult (as possibly shown in the reduction in vehicle and motorcycle thefts in Figure 8), and hence vehicle theft syndicates have increasingly resorted to carjacking,” it said.