Violence was the leading cause of non-natural deaths in 2003, accounting for 48% of them.
This was disclosed in the fifth National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) annual report, released in Durban yesterday.
The report contains information and statistics gathered by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of South Africa from 36 mortuaries in seven provinces.
Researchers scrutinised a total of 22 248 non-natural deaths and found that 10 499 were attributable to violence.
The data also revealed there was a high incidence of gun violence in Johannesburg and Durban. Firearm suicides were high in Pretoria.
The report, which was edited by the MRC’s Richard Matzopoulus, showed that in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, violence was the leading cause of non-natural deaths.
In Pretoria, road accidents were the leading cause, making up 39,7% of fatalities, while violence accounted for 31,4%.
Dr Etienne Krug, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said Cape Town had the highest rate of fatal violence, with 66 deaths per 100 000 people, followed by Durban with 61, Johannesburg 52 and Pretoria/ Tshwane 24.
WHO estimates that more than 1,6-million people are killed violently worldwide each year.
Krug said that in 2000 there were more than 32 000 violence-related deaths in South Africa, which translated into 72 per 100 000 people—about eight times higher than the global rate of 8,8.
But despite the statistics, NIMSS researchers were confident that fatal injury rates in the country were declining. Only suicide was on the increase.
Another area of concern that arose from the report was the prominence of firearm-related deaths.
Despite the tightening of gun laws, gunshot injuries were the cause of 52% of violent deaths. Of these gun-related fatalities, 87% were caused by violence, while 12 % resulted from suicide.
Transport-related deaths accounted for 27,7% of fatalities, and suicides and unintentional injuries such as burns, falls and drownings each accounted for 11% of injury deaths.
The report showed that more people are killed violently in December and March than any other month.
South Africans were more likely to die on the weekend, with 23,6% of violent deaths taking place on Saturday and 21,3% on Sunday.
Sunday was also the preferred day for suicide, followed by Monday.
Violence was at its peak between 8pm and 11pm while transport-related deaths were at their peak between 6pm and 9pm and 6am and 8am.
The report also found alcohol in the blood in 11 390 of the 22 248 cases. In all four cities studied, males aged between 15 and 55 were most at risk of death from injury and in many cases these deaths occurred at night when the victims were under the influence of alcohol.
The report showed that 50,8% of people killed violently tested alcohol-positive and 53,3% of people killed in transport incidents were also alcohol positive.