Johannesburg - A total of 1.7 million, or 52 percent, of crimes committed in South Africa went unreported in 2011.
This is according to the SA Institute of Race Relations, which released a report on Tuesday saying the figures included 82 000 unreported house robberies and 8 000 hijackings.
The report was based on the Victims of Crime Survey compiled by Statistics SA and based on 31 000 households across all provinces.
It also noted that three murders went unreported every day.
Dr Jackie de Wet, from the criminology and forensic studies department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the under-reporting of crime was known as the “iceberg effect”.
“You only see 20 percent of what is above the surface, the other 80 percent is below, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” he said.
Although it was difficult to say whether the figure was correct without further analysis of the statistics, it appeared to be “about correct”.
Said De Wet: “These figures, not confirmed or disqualified, would suggest the trend in South African society of crimes being under-reported.”
Police figures would be different as law enforcement agencies would not investigate unreported crimes.
Several factors influenced whether a crime was reported or not, said De Wet. These included a fear of retribution.
The reporting of crimes such as rape could also be influenced by social stigmas or family pressure.
It was difficult to estimate how the under-reporting of murders could be established as there would need to be a body, a murder weapon or an accusation of murder before a death could be placed in that category, said De Wet.
Professor Jacky Galpin, from the Wits School of statistics and actuarial science, said the sample size of the survey was not an issue for extracting an estimated figure of under-reporting.
“Your sample size has nothing to do with whether it is representative or not.”
She said the most important issue was whether the survey was done using a representative sample of all South African citizens, which she said the victim survey did.
SAIRR researcher Kerwin Lebone said expenditure on private security rose from R2 billion in the 1990s to an estimated R50bn in 2011, and incidents of vigilantism continued to occur in less affluent areas.
“All these facts taken together signify a lack of confidence in the police by some sections of the population,” said Lebone.
The senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Dr Johan Burger, said it was important to look at the different crimes reported.
“Theft of expensive items and vehicles that have insurance value are required to be reported. The report rate for these crimes is as high as 98 percent,” he said.
He said more developed countries such as the US and UK also had a high report rate for such crimes.
“If you look at interpersonal crimes like murder, rape and assault, the report rates differ.”
Murder was one of the most accurately reported crimes internationally. “It is very rare that the police don’t report murders. As long as there is a body.” he noted.
Burger said rape was a highly under-reported crime – it was estimated that around 60 percent of rapes were never reported.
“If you take the average of all of this and compare, the end result is something similar to 50 percent under-reporting. It may be slightly worse in South Africa,” he said. – Additional reporting Mpiletso Motumi