Crime in South Africa

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Graph of South Africa's murder rate (murders per 100,000 people) over a 100-year period from 1915 to 2015. The murder rate increased rapidly towards the end of Apartheid reaching its peak in 1993 then decreasing until bottoming out in 2011.
Smash and grab attacks are extremely prevalent on South African roads

South Africa has a notably high rate of murders, assaults, rapes and other violent crimes, compared to most countries. Crime researcher Eldred de Klerk concluded that poverty and poor service delivery directly impact crime levels, while disparities between rich and poor are also to blame.[1] Statistics indicate that crime affects mainly poorer South Africans.


In February 2007, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation was contracted by the South African ANC government to carry out a study on the nature of crime in South Africa. The study pointed out different factors which contributed to high levels of violence.[2] Violent and non-violent crimes in South Africa have been ascribed to:

  • The normalization of violence. Violence is seen as a necessary and justified way of resolving conflict, and some males believe that coercive sexual behavior against females is legitimate.
  • A subculture of violence and criminality, ranging from individual criminals who rape or rob to informal groups or more formalized gangs. Those involved in the subculture are engaged in criminal careers[3] and commonly use firearms, with the exception of Cape Town where knife violence is more prevalent. Credibility within this subculture is related to the readiness to resort to extreme violence.
  • The vulnerability of young people linked to inadequate child-rearing and poor youth socialization. As a result of poverty, unstable living arrangements and being brought up with inconsistent and uncaring parenting,[3] some South African children are exposed to risk factors which increase the chances that they will become involved in criminality and violence.
  • The high levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalization.
  • The reliance on a criminal justice system that is mired in many issues, including inefficiency and corruption.
  • Many South African police officers work long hours out of under-resourced police stations. Many of these stations lack basic office equipment such as a photocopier or fax machine, while their only phone landline is often busy.[4]
  • Many police officers are tempted by offers from the criminal underworld, especially when their superiors and seniors are visibly on the take.[4] A 2019 survey by Global Corruption Barometer Africa suggested that the South African Police Service is seen as the most corrupt institution in the country.[5]
  • South Africa's Criminal Justice Budget was subject to plunder by corrupt police officials at least during the period from 1997 to 2017.[4][6] The massive inside job involved over 20 persons in the SAPS's top brass,[7] and probes into these activities necessitated the discontinuation of some essential policing services.[8]
  • Ammunition and firearms are regularly stolen from the security forces, and it is feared that these may be used in other crimes.[9]

Violent crime[edit]

A survey for the period 1990–2000 compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranked South Africa second for assault and murder (by all means) per capita and first for rapes per capita in a data set of 60 countries.[10] Total crime per capita was 10th out of the 60 countries in the dataset.[citation needed]

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute have conducted research[11] on the victims of crime which shows the picture of South African crime as more typical of a developing country.

Recently released statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Statistics South Africa (SSA) saw a slight decline of 1.4% in violent crimes committed in South Africa.[12]

Most emigrants from South Africa state that crime was a big factor in their decision to leave.[13][14]


Around 57 people are murdered in South Africa every day.[15] The murder rate increased rapidly in the late-1980s and early-1990s.[16] Between 1994–2009, the murder rate halved from 67 to 34 murders per 100,000 people.[17] Between 2011–2015, it stabilised to around 32 homicides per 100,000 people although the total number of lives lost has increased due to the increase in population.[18] There have been numerous press reports on the manipulation of crime statistics that have highlighted the existence of incentives not to record violent crime.[19] Nonetheless, murder statistics are considered accurate.[20] In the 2016/17 year, the rate of murders increased to 52 a day, with 19,016 murders recorded between April 2016 to March 2017.[21] In 2001, a South African was more likely to be murdered than die in a car crash.[22] In September 2019, Nigerian president boycotts Africa Economy Summit in Cape Town because of the riots against foreigners that left many dead.[23]

Homicides per 100,000 from April to March:[24][25][26][27]

Province 94/95 95/96 96/97 97/98 98/99 99/00 00/01 01/02 02/03 03/04 04/05 05/06 06/07 07/08 08/09 09/10 10/11 11/12 12/13 13/14 14/15 15/16 16/17 17/18 18/19
Eastern Cape 76.8 73.4 70.4 61.5 59.6 56.2 50.7 55.2 52.1 48.6 48.6 53.2 52.6 51.1 50.2 49.6 49.1 50.5 51.5 53.1 51.2 56.3 55.9 58.7 60.9
Free State 50.6 54.0 50.7 46.1 43.3 38.6 33.9 34.2 35.2 30.5 30.7 29.5 32.2 29.7 33.3 33.1 35.0 34.7 36.8 33.8 33.6 35.1 33.3 36.7 34.5
Gauteng 83.1 81.3 76.6 78.2 77.5 64.6 63.1 54.1 53.3 48.8 41.6 38.8 40.8 38.9 34.6 29.3 27.1 24.4 23.7 25.7 27.6 28.2 29.3 29.5 30.5
Kwazulu-Natal 95.0 92.5 76.4 72.9 75.1 67.7 61.4 57.0 56.5 53.9 51.1 49.9 50.4 47.0 46.9 41.3 36.3 32.9 34.5 34.1 35.5 36.2 36.6 39.4 39.1
Mpumalanga 37.5 43.6 50.0 42.8 39.7 35.6 32.0 29.6 33.1 30.4 31.9 25.4 24.8 23.6 23.3 22.2 18.1 18.0 16.9 19.4 19.6 19.9 21.8 20.7 21.9
North West 37.6 44.5 46.7 38.9 40.9 31.6 30.2 30.2 30.7 25.9 23.9 22.8 24.4 24.3 25.5 21.8 21.6 22.8 24.4 22.8 23.2 24.2 23.7 24.5 24.4
Northern Cape 69.5 83.9 70.3 64.7 70.4 58.4 55.6 54.8 52.7 40.4 38.1 36.4 38.1 38.3 37.5 33.8 30.3 32.3 36.0 37.7 35.2 31.3 28.6 27.9 26.1
Limpopo 22.2 19.8 19.0 19.3 18.4 15.3 14.6 16.1 13.2 12.9 13.8 12.9 13.9 12.9 14.2 14.3 12.4 13.6 12.8 13.2 13.9 15.9 14.2 15.7 15.6
Western Cape 71.5 83.9 79.4 80.6 86.9 77.0 84.0 76.2 79.5 63.1 58.7 59.2 60.7 58.6 43.3 41.1 40.9 39.8 43.7 48.3 51.9 51.4 51.7 57.0 59.4
South Africa 66.9 67.9 62.8 59.5 59.8 52.5 49.8 47.8 47.4 42.7 40.3 39.6 40.5 38.6 36.4 33.3 31.1 30.1 30.9 31.9 32.9 34.0 34.1 35.8 36.4


The country has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, with some 65,000 rapes and other sexual assaults reported for the year ending in March 2012, or 127.6 per 100,000 people in the country.[28][29] The incidence of rape has led to the country being referred to as the "rape capital of the world".[30] One in three of the 4,000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year.[31] More than 25% of South African men questioned in a survey published by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in June 2009 admitted to rape; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person.[32][33] Three out of four of those who had admitted rape indicated that they had attacked for the first time during their teenage years.[32] South Africa has amongst the highest incidences of child and infant rape in the world.[34]

Car hijackings[edit]

Hijacking Hotspot" warning sign, R511 in Gauteng

South Africa has a high record of carjacking when compared with other industrialised countries.[35] Insurance company Hollard Insurance stated in 2007 that they would no longer insure Volkswagen Citi Golfs, as they were one of the country's most frequently carjacked vehicles.[36] Certain high-risk areas[37] are marked with road signs indicating a high incidence of carjackings within the locality.[38] Smash-and-grab robbers or opportunist vagrants target slow-moving traffic in cities, cars at filling stations or motorists that have become stranded beside highways.[39] More brazen robbers may resort to throwing rocks, petrol bombs or wet cement at vehicles to bring them to a standstill, or may drop rocks from overpasses. Various debris like concrete slabs, tyres or rocks are also placed on roadways, or a car may be tapped or bumped to induce the driver to leave the vehicle. Preventive police operations on N1, N2, N7, R300, M9 and R102 highways are aimed at reducing crime on these roads,[40] and Durban Metro Police has established a street crime unit that will attend to attacks on motorists in the city.[41]

Taxi violence[edit]

South African taxi operators regularly engage in turf wars to control lucrative routes. A high number of murders of taxi owners or drivers have not resulted in either arrests or successful prosecutions,[42] and this has been blamed on vested interests of police officials.

Cash-in-transit heists[edit]

Cash-in-transit (CIT) heists have at times reached epidemic proportions in South Africa.[43] These are often well-planned operations with military-style execution,[44] where the robbers use stolen luxury vehicles and high-powered automatic firearms[45] to bring the armoured car to a stop. In 2006, there were 467 reported cases, 400 in 2007/2008,[45] 119 in 2012, 180 in 2014 and 370 in 2017.[46] Arrest rates are generally low,[43] but it was believed that the 2017/2018 spate of heists in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and Gauteng were brought to an end with the arrest of Wellington Cenenda. Several gangs believed to be part of his crime syndicate were also rounded up.[47] These crimes are often perpetrated by ex convicts who are willing to commit extreme violence. They typically act on inside information with cooperation of a police official.[45]

Cash point robberies[edit]

Automated teller machines are blown up, portable ATMs are stolen,[48] or persons who withdraw grants from these machines are targeted afterward. R104 million was taken in a 2014 cash centre heist in Witbank where the gang impersonated police officers.[46]

Farm attacks[edit]

Crime against white commercial farmers and their black staff[49] has gained notable press, given the country's past racial tensions.[50][51][52][53]


Kidnapping in South Africa is common, with over 4,100 occurring in the 2013/2014 period. A child is reported missing every five hours (not all due to kidnapping), of which 23% are not located.[54][55]

Gang violence[edit]

In the Nyanga, Mitchells Plain, Delft, and Bishop Lavis townships and suburbs of the Western Cape, gang violence is tightly connected to rates of murder and attempted murder. Gang activity occurs in areas of poor lighting, high unemployment levels, substance abuse and crowded spatial development. Gang members are well-known members of the community, and while feared, may also receive praise from the community,[56][57] as they may support poor families who cannot otherwise pay their rent. Outside the Cape Flats area, gangs are also active along drug routes in northern Port Elizabeth,[58] while gangster violence erupted in Westbury in Johannesburg, and in Phoenix in Durban during 2018 and 2019 respectively.[59] In 2019, after 13 gang-related deaths in one day in Philippi, the military was authorized to assist a contingent of police to "seal" off affected areas, and "stamp the authority of the state" on the area.[60] Witnesses have noted that they do not consider it worthwhile the risk and exposure to testify against gang members.[61]

Xenophobic violence[edit]

A UNHCR camp in Gauteng, erected in 2008 for refugees from xenophobic attacks.

Outbreaks of xenophobic violence have become a regular occurrence in South Africa. These acts are perpetrated by the poorest of the poor, and have been ascribed to a combination of socio-economic issues relating to immigration, migration, lack of economic opportunity, and the ineffective administration of these.[62] The 2019 spate of attacks in Gauteng were in part ascribed to premeditated criminality.[63][64] Hundreds of foreigners had to seek safety, while twelve people were killed and dozens of small businesses belonging to foreigners were looted or completely destroyed.[65] Hundreds of arrests were made on charges of attempted murder, public violence, unlawful possession of firearms and malicious damage to property.[66][67] From Jeppestown[62] the violence spread to Denver, Cleveland, Malvern, Katlehong, Turffontein, Maboneng, Johannesburg CBD and Marabastad. The African Diaspora Forum prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and suggested the deployment of troops.[65] Some victims accused the country's leadership and the police of inaction, and Nigeria arranged voluntary evacuation of its citizens from South Africa. South African businesses in Nigeria were attacked in reprisals,[65] and South Africa's High Commission in Nigeria was temporarily closed.[62] Malicious rumours of attacks by foreigners caused the closing of several schools.[66]

Financial and property crimes[edit]

PricewaterhouseCoopers' fourth biennial global economic crime survey reported a 110% increase in fraud reports from South African companies in 2005. 83% of South African companies reported being affected by white collar crime in 2005, and 72% of South African companies reported being affected in 2007. 64% of the South African companies surveyed stated that they pressed forward with criminal charges upon detection of fraud. 3% of companies said that they each lost more than 10,000,000 South African rand in two years due to fraud.[68]

Louis Strydom, the head of PricewaterhouseCoopers' forensic auditing division, said that the increase in fraud reports originates from "an increased focus on fraud risk management and embedding a culture of whistle-blowing." According to the survey, 45% of cases involved a perpetrator between the ages of 31 and 40: 64% of con men held a high school education or less.[69]

Building hijacking[edit]

City buildings are regularly hijacked by syndicates. In Johannesburg alone, this has led to thousands of arrests by the JMPD unit and the return of 73 buildings to their rightful owners.[70] Hijacked buildings have also been highlighted as dens for criminal activities.

Asset stripping[edit]

Mines faced with the financial obligations of creditors, worker benefits and environmental rehabilitation may enter business rescue and liquidation.[71] Rogue liquidators then collude with the company managers to strip the mine's assets, whereby most financial obligations are bypassed. The Master's office in Pretoria has been compromised in attempts to remove liquidators who fulfilled their role as watchdog.[72]

Advance fee fraud[edit]

Advance fee fraud scammers based in South Africa have in past years reportedly conned people from various parts of the world out of millions of rands.[73] South African police sources stated that Nigerians living in Johannesburg suburbs operate advance fee fraud (419) schemes.[74]

In 2002, the South African Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, wanted to make a call centre for businesses to check reputations of businesses due to proliferation of scams such as advance fee fraud, pyramid schemes and fly-by-night operators.[75] In response, the South African Police Service has established a project which has identified 419 scams, closing websites and bank accounts where possible.[76]


South Africa's municipalities often employ unqualified personnel[77] who are unable to deliver proper financial and performance governance. This leads to fraud, irregular expenditure (R30-billion in 2017, and R25-billion in 2018) and consequence-free misconduct.[78] Only a fraction (14% in 2017, 8% in 2018) of municipalities submit clean annual audits to the Auditor-General, and implementation of the AG's recommendations has been lax. By 2018, 45% of municipalities have not implemented all procedures for reporting and investigating transgressions or fraud, while 74% were found to insufficiently follow up on such allegations.[78] Kimi Makwetu suggested holding employees individually accountable, treating recommendations as binding and issuing a certificate of debt to guilty parties. Government departments and large parastatals generally mirror these problems.[79]

Targeting of government auditors[edit]

The Auditor-General of South Africa, which employs 700 chartered accountants to audit state expenditure at all three levels of government, has revealed a surge in crimes against its employees, starting 2016. The crimes are tied to the detection of financial mismanagement and the annual release of municipal audit reports. During the countrywide audit of municipalities, their auditors have experienced hijackings, death threats, attempted murder, hostage-taking, threatening phone calls and damage to their vehicles.[80] In 2018 South Africa incurred R80 billion in irregular expenditure due to outstanding audits and incomplete information,[81][82] and passing of municipal budgets may be subject to bribes.[83] The country's leadership was accused of disregarding the AG's recommendations in cases of wrongdoing.[81]

Lawyers overcharging clients[edit]

Lawyers representing clients that make personal injury claims from the Road Accident Fund (RAF), have made excessive profits by overcharging them. Individuals in desperate need of a pay-out are conned by the enticing offer of "no win, no fee". In one prominent case the NPA's Asset Forfeiture Unit managed to obtain a court order in 2019 to seize and reclaim R101 million in assets from two lawyers.[84]

Theft, smuggling and vandalism[edit]


Arson was a recurring problem at Cape Town railway station during 2016 and 2018

Prasa collected information about train arson attacks since 2015, and stated that losses of some R636 million were incurred due to train fires from 2015 to January 2019. 71%, or losses totaling R451.6 million rand, occurred in the Western Cape, besides damage of R150 million to Cape Town Station.[85] This entailed the burning of 214 train coaches, 174 in the Western Cape, and the remainder in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Cape Town's fleet of 90 trains was reduced to 44, and only one suspect was arrested.[86][87] Some replacement trains acquired at R146 million each could not be insured.[88]

One aspect of xenophobic violence is the torching of trucks driven by foreigners on main routes.[89] In a prominent incident in April 2018, 32 trucks were torched and others looted near Mooi River on the N3 route,[90] and 54 protesters and opportunist looters were arrested.[91]

Faiez Jacobs pointed out that arson cripples the entire value chain of the community‚ with many people unable to go to work‚ losing daily wages‚ and ultimately losing their employment, which in turn causes social upheaval and adds burdens to their community.[92] SATAWU has noted that labour strikes that are called by unidentifiable persons have been associated with incidents of arson.[93]

Power grid[edit]

Cut cables at Meyerton, Gauteng

In Johannesburg vandalism and theft of the power grid infrastructure shows an upward trend. Hundreds of millions of rand is lost to vandalising of street poles and theft of newly-installed equipment such as supply cables and aerial bundled cables. Road interchanges, lights on pedestrian bridges and substations are targeted by criminals and a high number of illegal connections also damage the supply transformers.[94] Cable theft from stations has impacted train services and endangered passengers in Gauteng, and brought services to a standstill in Mamelodi.[95]

Zama zamas[edit]

Thousands of disused or active mines attract illegal miners, also known as zama zamas, due to unanswered socio-economic inequalities. The estimated 30,000 illegal miners are organised by criminal syndicates which infiltrate industrial gold mines, where they employ violent means and exploitative working conditions, while causing considerable financial losses. Losses in sales, tax revenue and royalties are said to amount to 21 billion rand per annum, while physical infrastructure and public safety are compromised. Output in excess of 14 billion rand of gold per annum has been channeled to international markets via neighbouring countries. The greater part, over 34 tons of gold between 2012 and 2016, was smuggled to Dubai. The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002 acknowledges artisanal miners, but an overhaul of the act has been proposed.[96]

Livestock theft[edit]

Livestock theft is prevalent in all provinces of South Africa, but the Eastern Cape has the highest number of cases.[97] Some 70,000 head of cattle are stolen per annum, and total annual losses amount to 1,3 billion rand. Organized livestock theft which bags large numbers of livestock at a time is on the rise, representing about 88% of these thefts in 2019.[97] The losses impact the livelihoods of farm workers besides farmers, and it is claimed that crime prevention has yet to catch up with the modus operandi of syndicates.[97] Eskom has supplied a contact number where suspicious activities by its employees can be reported, after alleged stock theft on a Northern Cape farm.[98]


As of 2018/2019 an average of 605 houses per day are burgled in South Africa.[99] Electronics, especially laptops, televisions, decoders and cameras, are the most stolen items, followed by jewellery.

School plunder and vandalism[edit]

Schools are seen as easy targets for thieves looking for laptops, computers, cameras and cash,[100] though even filing cabinets, desks and stationary may be stolen. Local protests, whether due to lack of service delivery or other reasons, regularly result in arson or vandalism at schools.[101][102][103] In one week in 2018, four schools were set alight in Mpumalanga province.[104]

Drug smuggling and consumption[edit]

South Africa has become a consumer, producer and distributor of hard drugs.[105] The trade in heroin, ultimately obtained from Afghanistan, has gained a foothold in rural areas, towns and cities. The heroin trade has a corrupting effect on police, through their interactions with gangs, dealers and users.[106] Popular drug combinations that include heroin, are nyaope, sugars and unga. Tik addicts in townships who commit theft to sustain their habit, have been murdered in instances of mob justice.


Gated communities[edit]

Gated communities are popular with the South African middle-class; both black as well as white.[20] Gated communities are usually protected by high perimeter walls topped with electric fencing, guard dogs, barred doors and windows and alarm systems linked to private security forces.[20] The Gauteng Rationalisation of Local Government Affairs Act 10 of 1998, allows communities to "restrict" access to public roads in existing suburbs, under the supervision of the municipalities. The law requires that entry control measures within these communities should not deny anyone access. The Tshwane municipality failed to process many of the applications it has received, leaving many suburbs exposed to high levels of crime. Several communities successfully sued, won and are now legally restricting access.[107][108][109] These measures are generally considered effective in reducing crime (within those areas).[110] Consequently, the number of enclosed neighbourhoods (existing neighbourhoods that have controlled access across existing roads)[111] in Gauteng has continued to grow.[112]

Private security companies[edit]

The South African Police Service is responsible for managing 1,115 police stations across South Africa.[citation needed]

To protect themselves and their assets, many businesses and middle-to-high-income households make use of privately owned security companies with armed security guards. The South African Police Service employ private security companies to patrol and safeguard certain police stations, thereby freeing fully trained police officers to perform their core function of preventing and combating crime.[113] A December 2008 BBC documentary, Law and Disorder in Johannesburg, examined such firms in the Johannesburg area, including the Bad Boyz security company.

It is argued that the police response is generally too slow and unreliable, thus private security companies offer a popular form of protection. Private security firms promise response times of two to three minutes.[114] Many levels of protection are offered, from suburban foot patrols to complete security checkpoints at the entry points to homes.[citation needed]


The government has been criticised for doing too little to stop crime. Provincial legislators have stated that a lack of sufficient equipment has resulted in an ineffective and demoralized South African Police Service.[115] The Government was subject to particular criticism at the time of the Minister of Safety and Security visit to Burundi, for the purpose of promoting peace and democracy, at a time of heightened crime in Gauteng. This spate included the murder of a significant number of people, including members of the South African Police Service, killed while on duty.[116] The criticism was followed by a ministerial announcement that the government would focus its efforts on mitigating the causes for the increase in crime by 30 December 2006. In one province alone, nineteen police officers lost their lives in the first seven months of 2006.[citation needed]

In 2004, the government had a widely publicised gun amnesty program to reduce the number of weapons in private hands, resulting in 80,000 firearms being handed over.[117] In 1996 or 1997, the government has tried and failed to adopt the National Crime Prevention Strategy, which aimed to prevent crime through reinforcing community structures and assisting individuals to get back into work.[118]

A previous Minister of Safety and Security, Charles Nqakula, evoked public outcry among South Africans in June 2006 when he responded to opposition MPs in parliament who were not satisfied that enough was being done to counter crime, suggesting that MPs who complain about the country's crime rate should stop complaining and leave the country.[119]

See also[edit]


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