South Africa's Murder Rate Falls Most in Six Years as Police Force Expands

South Africa’s murder rate fell to its lowest since at least 1995, the year after the fall of apartheid, as the government hired more officers and spent more money on crime prevention.

The number of people killed per 100,000 dropped to 34.1, or a total of 16,834, in the year through March from a rate of 37.3 in the previous 12 months, its biggest drop in six years, the South African Police Service said in a report released today in Pretoria. Street robbery fell by 10.4 percent.

“We are really encouraged by the significant decline in the murder rate,” Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa told reporters. “This is a significant achievement given that murder is the most reliable category in crime stats.”

The ruling African National Congress identified the fight against crime and corruption as one of its top five priorities when it won its fourth consecutive election victory since the end of white minority rule in 1994. The police hired 44,000 extra officers during the soccer World Cup, during which there weren’t any reports of serious crimes against visitors.

The murder rate has fallen almost 50 percent from 67.9 in 1995, when an integrated national police force was created and national statistics compiled for the first time.

The drop in the murder rate is a “huge decrease for a single year,” said Kerwin Lebone, a crime analyst at the South African Institute of Race Relations, a Johannesburg-based research institute. “The preparations for the World Cup ensured there were enough policemen on the beat. That would have had an impact.”

Clamp Down

The number of reported sexual offenses fell 4.4 percent, while bank robberies slid 8.8 percent and attacks on cash transit vans declined 7.3 percent, according to the report. Car hijackings decreased 6.8 percent and truck hijackings fell 1.7 percent.

Burglaries at homes rose 2.7 percent over the 12 months and 4.4 percent at non-residential premises. Commercial crimes increased 8.1 percent.

A clamp-down on street crime forced robbers to concentrate on homes and offices, said General Chris de Kock, the head of the police’s Crime Information Analysis Centre.

The police budget rose an average 14 percent in the three years through March, reaching 56.5 billion rand ($7.8 billion), and will grow a further 8 percent over each of the next three fiscal years, according to the National Treasury. The government intends hiring 15,289 more police officers in the three years through March 2013, increasing the size of the police force to 200,660 members.

To contact the reporter on this story: Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net.

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