MURDER ON THE RISE
Organised crime a significant contributor to soaring murder rates in South Africa, reveals policy brief
A policy brief on South Africa’s rising murder rate notes that experts believe the entrenchment and growth of organised crime ‘has played a major role in the increasing number of murders’.
In the week of the release of an Institute for Security Studies (ISS) policy brief on murder trends in the country, a male student was filmed viciously stabbing his wife outside a residence in Belhar, Cape Town.
The attack was frenzied and the woman is currently fighting for her life in hospital.
In his introduction to the ISS policy brief titled, “Murder trends in South Africa’s deadliest provinces”, author David Bruce notes: “Among the many distressing problems facing South Africa at the moment is the high level of violent crime.”
Murder, the deliberate and unlawful taking of another person’s life, he said, is a serious manifestation of this “scourge”.
Indeed, the clip which went viral on social media is such a manifestation, with many outraged by the invasion of privacy and the traumatising nature of the visuals.
Murder on the rise
Bruce, an independent researcher, notes that in South Africa, both the number of murders and murder rates (the number per 100,000 of the population) have escalated steadily.
“This takes a heavy toll on society in lives lost and the impact on families, friends and communities. It also has a wide range of other serious social and economic costs,” Bruce writes.
The brief sets out that the per capita murder rate in the country has steadily escalated since 2011/12 when it was at its lowest since 1994.
The 2022/23 rate of 45 per 100,000 is the highest in 20 years.
Focusing only on national murder trends was misleading, warned Bruce, as these varied across the nine provinces.
The current high per capita murder rate was driven by high rates in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and Gauteng, which have the highest per capita murder rates.
In 2022/23, the Eastern Cape had the highest murder rate (71 per 100,000), followed by KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, both with annual murder rates of 56.
Since 2011/12, rates have increased most dramatically in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The increase has been greatest from 2017/18 to 2022/23.
However, the per capita murder rate in the Western Cape, said Bruce, had decreased over the past five years.
KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng had both experienced “major surges in murder in 2021/22, with increases continuing in 2022/23. These have taken them well above their rates in the year before the Covid pandemic and national lockdown”.
It was noted that deaths that had occurred during the July 2021 attempted insurrection after the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma “were not a major contributor to the increases in murder in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in 2021/22”.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Reducing SA’s 520 murders a week must be a top government priority to reverse trend
The author noted that experts believed the entrenchment and growth of organised crime “has played a major role in the increasing number of murders”.
A 2022 report on organised crime in South Africa by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime argued that three major factors have contributed to an increase in murders linked to organised crime, noted Bruce.
“First is the erosion of policing independence and skills, reflected in far fewer murder cases being solved. Second is the release of large numbers of state guns to the criminal underworld.
“Third is the enormous increase in the issuing of gun licences (including for semi-automatics) thanks partly to licensing system corruption. These factors have led to an increase in the number of organised crime-related deaths in robberies, assassinations, gang violence and the like.”
While police crime reports provided extensive statistical information, they did not currently clarify “what share of murders might be linked to the growth of organised crime”.
This would include murders in the SAPS category of “conflict between (criminal) groups” and some related to robbery or other crimes.
More in-depth provincially focused research and analysis was required to better understand the factors and circumstances driving murder trends, Bruce noted.
Recommendations from the policy brief include that government and society “must prioritise reducing murder rates, which are high and increasing”.
Also, the collection and analysis of data about murder needed to be improved.
“One-size-fits-all” approaches to addressing murder were unlikely to be effective, and strategies should be adapted to respond to the drivers of murder focusing on high-murder localities.
Additionally, priority should be given to understanding and addressing murder in the four provinces with the highest per capita murder rates.
Lessons about good practice in understanding and addressing murder in different localities should be recorded and disseminated.
The policy brief crunched SAPS murder statistics, focusing on differences in provincial per capita rates.
Bruce said SAPS murder statistics are viewed as the most accurate and reliable crime data released by the police.
The data used are provincial murder figures from 2011/12 to 2022/23 (12 years). As highlighted above, in 2011/12, after 17 years during which murder had decreased steadily, rates were at their lowest since 1994.
Since that year, numbers and rates have increased every year except 2020/21. DM