Murders have increased consistently in South Africa over the past decade, reaching a high of 45 deaths per 100 000 people in 2023, according to Institute for Security Studies (ISS) consultant David Bruce. On average, 75 people were killed every day over the last year.
Between the start of democracy in 1994 and 2012, the murder rate dropped by 55% to its lowest level of 29.5 per 100 000. Since then, socio-economic stagnation and dysfunctional criminal justice institutions contributed to a 53% escalation in the rate.
In terms of raw figures, the number of murders increased by 77%. In the 2022/23 financial year, 27 494 murders were recorded, up from 15 554 in 2011/12.
“Despite this violent crime crisis, government has not publicly acknowledged the need for a focused response to a problem which is devastating lives, families and communities,” he writes in an ISS statement.
Murders are not randomly distributed across the country. Four of South Africa’s nine provinces recorded 83% of all murders. At a local level, half of violent crimes occur in only 12% of the country’s 1 162 police precincts.
New ISS research examined provincial differences in murder trends. Published in an ISS policy brief Bruce found: the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng provinces lead the country on per capita murder rates as well as recording the highest increases in murder rates since 2011/12.
In 2022/23, the risk of being murdered was highest in the Eastern Cape Province, with a rate of 71 killings per 100 000. Next highest were the KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces with annual murder rates of 56 per 100 000. Since 2011/12, rates have risen most dramatically in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, followed by Gauteng. Unlike the other three most affected provinces, murder rates in the Western Cape decreased marginally in the last five years.
“A proper assessment of factors driving murder trends in these four provinces would enable development of practical, context-specific interventions that work. This kind of strategic approach would also reduce related forms of violence and violent organised crime,” Bruce said.
The policy brief is part of ISS efforts to motivate government and the SA Police Service (SAPS) to emphasise reducing murder and associated forms of violent crime as part of their approach to improving public safety.
Rather than large-scale, high-visibility policing operations that failed to reduce crime for over a decade, a different strategic approach is required.
“Ideally, specific police commanders in high murder areas should be provided with the appropriate resources and tasked with establishing partnerships to implement practical, evidence-based interventions with measurable objectives,” said Gareth Newham, ISS Head of Justice and Violence Prevention.
A reduction in murder would not only save lives and prevent trauma, it would also improve conditions for local economic development and South Africa’s attraction as an investment destination.