Crime in South Africa

South Africa has a notably high rate of murders, assaults, rapes and other violent crimes, compared with most countries.


In February 2007, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation was contracted by the South African government to carry out a study on the nature of crime in South Africa. The study concluded that the country is exposed to high levels of violence as a result of different factors.

  • The normalisation of violence. Violence comes to be seen as a necessary and justified means of resolving conflict, and males believe that coercive sexual behaviour against women is legitimate.
  • The reliance on a criminal justice system that is mired in many issues, including inefficiency and corruption.
  • A subculture of violence and criminality, ranging from individual criminals who rape or rob to informal groups or more formalised gangs. Those involved in the subculture are engaged in criminal careers[1] 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 socialisation. As a result of poverty, unstable living arrangements and being brought up with inconsistent and uncaring parenting,[1] some South African children are exposed to risk factors which enhance the chances that they will become involved in criminality and violence.
  • The high levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation.

Violent crime

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.[2] Total crime per capita was 10th out of the 60 countries in the dataset.

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute have conducted research[3] 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.[4]

Most emigrants from South Africa state that crime was a big factor in their decision to leave.[5]


Around 49 people are murdered in South Africa every day.[6] The murder rate increased rapidly in the late-1980s and early-1990s.[7] Between 1994 -2009, the murder rate halved from 67 to 34 murders per 100,000 people.[8] 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.[6] There have been numerous press reports on the manipulation of crime statistics that have highlighted the existence of incentives not to record violent crime.[9] Nonetheless, murder statistics are considered accurate.[10] 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.[11] In 2001, a South African was more likely to be murdered than die in a car crash.[12]

Homicides per 100,000 from April to March:[13][14]


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.[15][16] The incidence of rape has led to the country being referred to as the "rape capital of the world".[17] 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.[18] 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.[19][20] Three out of four of those who had admitted rape indicated that they had attacked for the first time during their teenage years.[19] South Africa has amongst the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world.[21]

Car hijackings

South Africa has a high record of carjacking when compared with other industrialised countries.[22] 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.[23] Certain high-risk areas are marked with road signs indicating a high incidence of carjackings within the locality.[24]

Taxi violence

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,[25] and this has been blamed on vested interests of police officials.

Cash-in-transit heists

Cash-in-transit (CIT) heists have at times reached epidemic proportions in South Africa.[26] These are often well-planned operations with military-style execution,[27] where the robbers use stolen luxury vehicles and high-powered automatic firearms[28] to bring the armoured car to a stop. In 2006, there were 467 reported cases, 400 in 2007/2008,[28] 119 in 2012, 180 in 2014 and 370 in 2017.[29] Arrest rates are were generally low,[26] 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.[30] 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.[28]

Cash point robberies

Automated teller machines are blown up, or stolen,[31] 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.[29]

Farm attacks

Crime against white commercial farmers and their black staff[32] has gained notable press, given the country's past racial tensions,[33][34][35][36]


Kidnapping in South Africa is common in the country, with over 4,100 occurring in the 2013/2014 period, and a child going missing every five hours.[37][38]

Other crimes

Building hijacking

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.[39]

Financial crimes

PricewaterhouseCoopers's 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.

Louis Strydom, the head of PricewaterhouseCooper's 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.[40]

Advance fee fraud

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.[41] South African police sources stated that Nigerians living in Johannesburg suburbs operate advance fee fraud (419) schemes.[42]

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.[43] In response, the South African Police Service has established a project which has identified 419 scams, closing websites and bank accounts where possible.[44]


Gated communities

Gated communities are popular with the South African middle-class, Black as much as White.[10] 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.[10] 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.[45][46][47] These measures are generally considered effective in reducing crime (within those areas).[48] Consequently, the number of enclosed neighbourhoods (existing neighbourhoods that have controlled access across existing roads)[49] in Gauteng has continued to grow.[50]

Private security companies

The South African Police Service is responsible for managing 1,115 police stations across South Africa.[51]

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.[52] 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.[53] Many levels of protection are offered, from suburban foot patrols to complete security checkpoints at the entry points to homes.


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 demoralised South African Police Service.[54] 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.[55] 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.

Recently, the government had a widely publicised gun amnesty program to reduce the number of weapons in private hands. 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.[56]

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.[57]

See also


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