South Africans have the right to know when and where they are most at risk of being murdered.
Over the past two years, the country has experienced increasing murder rates. Four more people are being murdered every day on average than what was the case two years ago. This increase is particularly concerning, given that the murder rate more than halved since 1994.
If we are to reduce the murder rate, we need to know where and at whom violence reduction initiatives should be directed. Media reports sometimes include a description and circumstantial details of murder victims, but a vast majority of the 47 people who are murdered each day on average remain nameless and faceless.
An often-neglected question is whether all South Africans are equally at risk of being brutally killed. The crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) every September can provide some insight to answer these questions. From these statistics, we can identify which police precincts record the highest incidents of murder in the country. For example, we know that half of all murders take place in only 12.3% of South Africa’s police station areas.
To better understand which policing precincts have the highest murder rates (that is, the numbers of murders per 100 000 of the population), the Institute for Security Studies calculated the population figures for each station area using the mid-term population figures that are released annually by Statistics SA, and which are based on the 2011 census data. Our analysis shows, for example, that 13% of police stations cover areas with populations larger than 100 000. Over a third of all police stations (39%) in the country cover areas with populations of fewer than 20 000 people.
The table below lists the 20 stations with the highest murder rates per 100 000 population.
Top 20 stations with highest murder rates (population > 20 000)
Station Province Estimated population Murder Incidents 2013/2014 Murder rate/100 000
Nyanga Western Cape 212 679 305 143.4
Philippi East Western Cape 55 429 73 131.7
Pietermaritzburg KwaZulu-Natal 21 104 27 127.9
Johannesburg Central Gauteng 53 904 66 122.4
Marikana* North West 34 808 42 120.7
Joubertina Eastern Cape 20 795 25 120.2
Jeppe Gauteng 67 160 79 117.6
Gugulethu Western Cape 128 572 150 116.7
Bronville Free State 29 397 34 115.7
Fochville Gauteng 48 280 54 111.9
Philippi Western Cape 55 892 61 109.1
Isipingo KwaZulu-Natal 48 070 51 106.1
New Brighton Eastern Cape 98 552 103 104.5
Carletonville Gauteng 64 019 63 98.4
Mfuleni Western Cape 120 080 118 98.3
Mpumalanga station KwaZulu-Natal 96 227 92 95.6
Butterworth Eastern Cape 45 060 42 93.2
Harare Western Cape 178 899 164 91.7
Dalasile Eastern Cape 37 170 34 91.5
Khayelitsha Western Cape 160 126 146 91.2
Source: ISS calculations based on SAPS and Statistics SA data
All the areas in the table with a population larger than 100 000 are located in the Western Cape, most notably in the Cape Town metro. These are Nyanga, Gugulethu, Mfuleni, Harare and Khayelitsha. These areas are known for their high population growth rates due to people moving there from the Eastern Cape.
The top 20 high murder risk areas have an average murder rate of 109.7 murders per 100 000, compared to the national average of 32.2 and the average of 2.4 murders per 100 000 for the 20 lowest murder rate stations (for stations with a population larger than 20 000, to ensure that analysis is not skewed by small numbers).
The 2011 census data also provides a lot of information on the socio-economic conditions of the top high-risk areas. Using this information, the ISS was able to explore the key differences between high-risk and low-risk murder precincts.
The high-risk precincts are overwhelmingly urban in nature. Nine out of 10 people in the top 20 high-risk areas reside in urban areas, compared to four in 10 in the 20 low-risk areas.
Overall, 56% of South Africans live in urban areas. Some 20% of people in the top 20 high-risk areas for murder live in informal residences, compared to only 0.5% of low-risk areas and 5.8% of people nationally.
People in high-risk murder areas are three times more likely to use paraffin, four times more likely to use a bucket toilet and two times more likely to use communal toilets than the national average. Individuals in these areas are also more likely to live alone and rent, or live rent-free, than the national average.
The data also shows that these areas have disproportionally higher numbers of male inhabitants, are more likely to have people aged between 20 and 39 and have a slightly higher population who completed some secondary education. Due to where these areas are located, these top 20 precincts are also more likely to be predominantly isiXhosa speaking.
This preliminary analysis confirms that the communities and individuals most at risk for murder are located in areas with abundant socio-economic challenges. Efforts to understand and reduce the country’s murder and violence problem should concentrate on these communities. However, there is no strategy currently in place to try and reduce the murder rate in high-risk murder areas. The understanding of high-risk murder rate locations presented above suggests where violence reduction strategies should be developed, at whom they should be targeted, and in what primary languages. Lessons learnt could then be rolled out to other areas that have higher than average risks for murder.
Such strategies would need different role players to work together and would not necessarily need to be driven by the police. In fact, most of the factors that result in violence, and ultimately murder, should be addressed by the departments of social development and basic education. The longer it takes to start developing and implementing appropriate violence-reduction strategies, the more people will lose their lives.
Written by Lizette Lancaster, Manager: Crime and Justice Information Hub, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria and Ellen Kamman, Independent Researcher