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 protests over wages and the provision of basic services.

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.

While the nation’s murder rate has dropped by more than half since 1995, it remains six times higher than that of the U.S. President Jacob Zuma’s government missed its annual goal of reducing homicides and other serious crimes by 7 percent to 10 percent as a wave of violent labor action in the mining industry peaked in the killing of 34 protesters by police at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum complex last August.

“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.”

Zuma’s administration has made combatting crime a top priority amid a jobless rate of more than 25 percent. There were 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.

Serious Crimes

South Africa’s murder rate compares with 4.7 homicides per 100,000 people in the U.S.

The number of serious crimes committed in the country rose 3.8 percent to 806,298 in the year through March, while the number of people convicted for such crimes rose almost 15 percent to 352,513, police data shows.

While the incidence of attempted murders increased 6.5 percent over the year, rape 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 in Pretoria.

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. South Africa, which has a population of 53 million, has 197,946 police officers.

“The latest crime stats have much to concern us,” the Cape Town-based National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders said in e-mailed comments. “Primary first-line crime prevention is not the main function of the police. Good and efficient social policies are vital in the campaign to prevent crime.”

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