South Africa’s Murder Rate Increases Amid Surge in Protests

South Africa’s murder rate rose for the first time in six years amid an upsurge in violent protest action.

The number of murders committed in the year ended March gained 4.2 percent to 16,259, or 31.1 per 100,000 people, up from 30.9 a year earlier, the South African Police Service said in a report released today in Pretoria, the capital. The government’s target is to reduce homicides and other serious crimes by 7 percent to 10 percent a year.

“Violence remains unacceptably high and should be treated as a serious crisis,” Gareth Newham, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said in e-mailed comments. The “government’s approach to crime is not working.”

Combating crime, fueled by a jobless rate of more than 25 percent, is a top priority for President Jacob Zuma’s government. South Africa has boosted spending on safety and security, bringing the murder rate down from 67.9 per 100,000 people in 1995, when an integrated national police force was created and national statistics were first compiled.

South Africa’s mining industry was hit by a wave of violent labor action last year, which peaked when 34 protesters were killed by police at Lonmin Plc’s (LMI) Marikana platinum complex on Aug. 16. There were also a record 173 protests over a lack of proper shelter and basic services, according to Johannesburg-based research group Municipal IQ.

“This upsurge in public protests has had a very direct impact on the police,” Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa told reporters in Pretoria. “That has diverted police” from their core duties.

While the incidence of attempted murders increased 6.5 percent over the year, sexual offenses fell 0.4 percent, bank robberies dropped 8 percent and car theft declined 4.4 percent.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the crime situation in the country is under control,” Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega told reporters.

Spending on defense, public order and safety rose by an average 9.1 percent annually for the three years through March this year, according to government data.

To contact the reporters on this story: Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net; Amogelang Mbatha in Johannesburg at ambatha@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net

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