South Africa’s minister of police reports that the country’s murder rate increased by 4.9 percent from March 2015 to March 2016. That is more than fifty people killed every day. Official statistics show 142.2 sexual offences per day in the same time period, a slight reduction that likely is due to under reporting. South Africa’s population is estimated at approximately fifty-three million.
These statistics are appalling, but some context is needed. South Africa’s murder rate is by no means the highest in the world: according to NationMaster, which has compiled data from the UN and various census reports, South Africa ranks fifteen per capita, behind (among others) Honduras (one), Jamaica (four), Uganda (eleven) and Malawi (twelve). Tanzania, with about the same population as South Africa, ranks twenty-three; Nigeria, almost four times as large in population, ranks fifty-nine. Other types of crime in South Africa are also up: carjacking’s increased by 14.3 percent and house robberies by 2.7 percent. South Africa has the best official statistics in Africa. Nonetheless, as elsewhere, murder and rape are probably under reported. As always, when comparing crime statistics from one country to another, there are definitional and other issues. Nevertheless, the NationMaster ranking is a rough indication of how countries stack up against each other.
The police minister, Nathi Nhleko, attributed the rise in the murder rate largely to domestic violence and alcohol abuse. He said, “What it says about us South Africans is that we are violent, we have a prevalent culture of violence. It’s not about what the government can do, it’s about what we can do. It’s a huge societal issue that we have to deal with.”
South Africans are deeply concerned about the prevalence of a culture of violence. That concern played a role in the commentary on the Oscar Pistorius killing of his girlfriend Riva Steenkamp. It is also a concern in the United States.
On the NationMaster list cited above, the United States ranks ninety-nine, much lower than South Africa’s rank, and about mid-way on the list. But, especially in cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, and Chicago the murder rate is likely much higher.