South Africans are killing relatives and acquaintances at an alarming rate, police said, acknowledging traditional methods for battling crime could do little to stem the tide.
According to annually released crime statistics Wednesday, police have failed to achieve a targeted decrease of seven to 10 percent in the numbers of murders and rapes over the year.
South Africa, where nearly 50 people are killed each day, has one of the highest murder and rape rates in the world—and an international reputation as a violent society.
Murders decreased by two percent but still totalled 18 528. Rape also declined slightly by 1 percent, but the total number reported was a staggering 54 926.
Cash-in-transit heists, largely the work of sophisticated syndicates, showed the largest increase, up 74,1 percent from 220 to 383 and car hijackings increased 3,1 percent during the year.
According to the new report, 81,5 percent of the murder victims knew their attacker and 61,9 percent were either related to or knew the killer very well. The report said 76 percent of rape victims knew their attacker.
“These crimes are committed behind closed doors, in secluded spots,” said Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula.
The high crime rate has dominated newspaper headlines and sparked soul-searching among South Africans. A day before the statistics were released, Archbishop Desmond Tutu raised concern about an increasing sense of lawlessness in South Africa.
“What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into license, into being irresponsible. Rights go hand in hand with responsibility, with dignity, with respect for oneself and the other,” Tutu said in his Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town on Tuesday night.
Tutu, a leader in the anti-apartheid movement, decried the rape of children, some as young as nine months, and South Africa’s staggering murder rate, the second only to Colombia.
“What has come over us? Perhaps we did not realise just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong,” he said.
This week one of the country’s top judges sat in court and listened to how his 4-year-old granddaughter was gagged, blindfolded and left for dead under a heavy mattress.
The government is desperate to counter the country’s violent image, especially in the run-up to the soccer World Cup in 2010, and point out that murder is at its lowest level for five years.
“Crime levels are going down. None of us are happy that these levels remain high. We are committed to a further reduction in crime. South Africa is enjoying better safety than in past,” Nqakula said.
However, he said that the murder, rape and crimes against women and children were a cause for “deep concern”.
Chief police statistician Chris de Kock, said these “social crimes” which are often exacerbated by alcohol and drug abuse, were difficult to combat with conventional policing methods. “You would have to have a policeman in every house.”
He said the only way to combat the rising tide of family violence was to make large-scale, intense improvements in the living conditions of people in a country where much of the population is still desperately poor.
This year has seen a number of anti-crime initiatives being introduced by police in attempt to address growing concerns. Thy include a restructuring of various police units that police commissioner Jackie Selebi says will release thousands of police from office duty.
“We are putting all the technological available and all skills to try and reduce levels of crime in country,” he said.