South African Murders Increase as Drugs, Alcohol Fuel Crime

  • 17,805 homicides were committed in year through March 2015
  • Police Commissioner Phiyega being investigated for misconduct

The number of homicides increased from 17,023 the previous year, the South African Police Service said in its annual crime statistics report, released on its website on Tuesday.

Photographer: AFP via Getty Images

The number of murders committed in South Africa rose to a six-year high in the year through March, as police battle to combat crime stemming from poverty and rampant drug and alcohol abuse.

The number of homicides rose by 782 to 17,805, the South African Police Service said in its annual crime statistics report, released on its website on Tuesday. The murder rate increased for a third straight year to 33 per 100,000 people from 32.2 in the previous year, Bloomberg calculations based on the police data show. The rate in the U.S. is 4.5 per 100,000 people.

Crime “is a social problem,” Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko told lawmakers in Cape Town. “The causal link between the commission of crime and drug and alcohol abuse continues to be a standing feature in driving up levels of crime.”

The number of sexual offenses fell 5.4 percent, while attempted murder cases climbed 3.2 percent, the police report showed. Incidents of truckjacking rose by almost a third and carjackings jumped 14 percent. Commercial crimes fell 12 percent to 67,830.

There were 1,537 attacks on police during the year under review, up from 1,172 the year before. Eighty-six officers died.

“There are no clear indications that we are making progress in reducing serious violent crime,” Chandre Gould, a senior research fellow at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said in Cape Town. “We still lack a detailed and clear crime-prevention strategy that cuts across all government departments and draws on hard evidence to ascertain what works to prevent violence.”

An increase in violent protests, socioeconomic inequality, a proliferation of firearms, a high prevalence of undocumented migrants and a resurgence of taxi-related violence all contributed to the high crime rate, Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said.

The police documented 2,289 violent demonstrations by communities demanding better housing, education and other services in the year through March, up from 1,907 the year before.

Phiyega is under pressure from opposition parties and civil rights groups to resign since 34 striking miners died during a police shooting at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum mines in 2012. A judicial commission of inquiry found the police used the wrong tactics to disperse the strikers, and on Sept. 22 President Jacob Zuma appointed a panel to determine whether Phiyega was guilty of misconduct.

“Our South African Police Service remains politically and operationally rudderless,” Dianne Kohler Barnard, a lawmaker for the main opposition Democratic Alliance said in e-mailed comments. “Forty-nine South Africans are murdered in this country each and every day. This number of deaths is what one would expect from a country at war.”

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