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South Africa grapples with escalating homicide rates

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South Africa

Tulani Ngwenya 

Pretoria, South Africa – A newly released policy brief from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has sounded the alarm on South Africa’s soaring homicide rates, urging the government and police to prioritise murder-reduction partnerships. The brief reveals a concerning increase in murders over the past decade, reaching a staggering 45 deaths per 100,000 people in 2023, with an average of 75 people killed every day over the last year.

The study underscores a troubling trend, citing a 53% escalation in the murder rate since 2012, a stark reversal from the 55% drop observed between 1994 and 2012. The raw figures are equally alarming, with murders surging by 77%, recording 27,494 cases in the 2022/23 financial year, up from 15,554 in 2011/12.

David Bruce, the author of the ISS policy brief, emphasises that murders are not uniformly distributed across the country. Four provinces—the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Gauteng—account for 83% of all murders. At a local level, half of these violent crimes occur in only 12% of the country’s 1,162 police precincts.

Bruce’s research reveals that the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Gauteng lead the nation in per capita murder rates, and these provinces have also experienced the highest increases in murder rates since 2011/12. In the 2022/23 period, the Eastern Cape had the highest murder rate at 71 killings per 100,000, followed by KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, both with annual murder rates of 56.

Read more on the subject:

Understanding escalating levels of murder in South Africa

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“A proper assessment of the factors driving murder trends in these four provinces would enable the development of practical, context-specific interventions that work,” said Bruce. “This kind of strategic approach would also reduce related forms of violence and violent organised crime.”

The ISS policy brief aims to motivate the government and the South African Police Service (SAPS) to prioritise reducing murder and associated forms of violent crime as part of their strategy to enhance public safety. Gareth Newham, Head of Justice and Violence Prevention at the ISS, suggests a shift from large-scale, high-visibility policing operations to a more strategic approach. Newham proposes empowering specific police commanders in high-murder areas with appropriate resources and the task of establishing partnerships to implement evidence-based interventions with measurable objectives.

“A reduction in murder would not only save lives and prevent trauma but also help improve conditions for local economic development and South Africa’s attraction as an investment destination,” emphasised Newham. The urgent call for murder-reduction partnerships comes at a critical juncture as the nation grapples with the devastating impact of escalating homicide rates.

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