SA's murder rate is worse than the coronavirus mortality rate

Eight-year-old Regan Gertse's body was discovered near the Tulbagh Museum on Sunday. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Eight-year-old Regan Gertse's body was discovered near the Tulbagh Museum on Sunday. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 3, 2020


Fifty-eight people died in South Africa today. And yesterday. And tomorrow, 58 more will die. I am not talking about Covid-19 (Coronavirus) deaths. I am referring to the number of murdered people.

Covid-19, rightly, is regarded and treated as an international crisis of potential magnitude, even though figures indicate it might have peaked, with the number of new incidences dropping significantly.

With about 2500 deaths so far, world stock exchange prices have declined remarkably - described by some as the worst since the 2008 financial crisis, with some investors fearing an imminent worldwide recession.

Why, despite not one case of Covid-19 in South African at the time of writing, is everyone in the country on high alert while many South Africans and the government remain unconcerned about the scourge of murder that far, far outweighs the Covid-19 threat?

BusinessTech reported that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s July 2019 report said more than 486 260 South Africans were murdered between 1994 and 2017.

Since then, the murders have numbered 20306 in 2018 and 21022 last year. This brings the total to 526588.

In 2017, South Africa had one of the highest murder rates in the world, at 36 per 100000 people.

The UNDoc Report says, contrary to popular perception, this is by no means a post-apartheid phenomenon. The country’s homicide rate has been well above the global average since at least the 1920s.

“South Africa’s official homicide rate has been above 20 per 100000 population since the 1950s and above 30 per 100000 since the 1960s.”

However, the data shows there was a sharp downward trend in the homicide rate after the country abolished apartheid in the early 1990s.

“The country’s transition to multiparty democracy was accompanied by a continuous decline in the homicide rate for many years, but since 2011 it has been increasing again with the homicide rate climbing from 30 per 100000 in 2011 to 36 per 100000 in 2017 (37 in 2018 and 38 last year).

“The reasons for this remain unclear, but it may have to do with a surge in the availability of illegal firearms, including hundreds diverted from police custody by corrupt officials, particularly to gangs,” it said.

A question that must be asked is why our country seems satisfied with the scourge of murder, or does little to try to reverse the trend and save the lives of so many innocent people.

It is not just better policing that will do the trick. Of course, that is necessary, focusing on gangs, detection and prosecution, but societal conditions also need attention. A country that suffers from outdated economic policies that lead to an unemployment rate of more than 29% condemns many to living in poverty and deprivation and sliding into crime. Families that are broken and children who grow up in one-parent families are more likely to offend, especially when fathers are absent or do not care or contribute.

The abuse of liquor, the prevalence of illegal guns and dangerous knives, the fall-away of church attendance, the breakdown in school discipline all demand redoubled efforts by the authorities, by NGOs and churches, and an awakening of people at all levels able to help. We have a great focus on gender violence.

How about a well-planned national effort to combat murder with all of us joining in where we can?

The life you save might be

your own.

* Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is:

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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