South Africa 20 years on: much safer, still not enough


11 March 2014

While South Africa’s crime levels remain high, the country has made significant inroads in the fight against crime since 1994, according the government’s 20 Year Review.

The Review, released by President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on Thursday, reflects on South Africa’s progress in reconstruction and development since 1994, and on the challenges facing the country as it enters its third decade of democracy.

According to the report, the country has made some progress in reducing serious and violent crime levels, although there has been more progress with respect to certain categories of crime than others.

Serious crime in the country has declined over the past eight years, with statistics revealing that the level of overall serious crimes has decreased from 3 924 per 100 000 people in 2008/09 to about 3 508 per 100 000 people in 2013, against a 2014 target of 3 366 per 100 000 people.

Contact crimes have come down from 1 407 per 100 000 people in 2008/09 to 1 232 per 100 000 people in 2011/12, against a 2014 target of 930 per 100 000 people.

Furthermore, two of the so-called “trio crimes”, carjackings and robberies at residential premises, have in general also shown a downward trend, despite a sharp increase in the third category, robberies at business premises, from 6 689 in 2006/07 to 15 951 in 2011/12.

Crime levels ‘higher before 1994’

Contrary to assertions that the crime situation worsened after South Africa’s attainment of democracy, it had in fact reached alarming propositions before 1994, according to the 20 Year Review.

In 1992 alone, more than 20 000 people were reported to have been murdered in South Africa in political and criminal violence. At the time, there were 380 000 rape cases in South Africa every year, with 95% of the victims being African. Between 1983 and 1992, the murder rate increased by 135%, robbery by 109%, housebreaking by 71%, car theft by 64%, and rape by 62%.

From 1994, by contrast, South Africa’s murder rate started to decrease by more than 50%, with a similar trend evident for attempted murder.

On releasing the 20 Year Review on Tuesday, Zuma noted the country’s efforts to address violent crimes against women and children, while acknowledging that the numbers were still unacceptably high. He said crime against vulnerable groups such as women and children required continued intensive focus.

Crimes against women, children

“The country still faces a challenge of heightened violent and sexual attacks against the vulnerable, including, women, children, the elderly, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people,” notes the report.

This has necessitated the restoration of sexual offences courts to ensure that such offences matters are dealt with through dedicated court support services entailing the use of intermediaries, audio-visual equipment and training.

Over the past 20 years, the government has also accelerated the implementation of the Sexual Offences and Children’s Acts, empowered prosecutors, police, magistrates and doctors with specialised skills, and kept dangerous sexual offenders under long-term supervision on release from prison.

The South African Police Service currently has 176 Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units countrywide. About 2 000 Forensic Social Workers have been appointed to deal with crimes against children and to provide expert evidence in court. Thanks to this initiative, 24 802 cases were finalised in 2012/13 alone. By November 2013, 906 victim-friendly rooms had been created at police stations across the country to render better services to victims.

The report notes that more work still needs to be done on the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO) and the development of a strategy to address gender- and sexual orientation-based violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex persons.

Currently the register is not open to the public, but rather kept confidential for employers in the public or private sectors such as schools, creches and hospitals, who can check whether a candidate employee is fit to work with children or mentally disabled people.

Service delivery protests

The dawn of a free South Africa also came with the occurrence of service delivery protests, which erupt in part due to inflated expectations.

The Review notes that service delivery protests also result from weaknesses in the ability of local government to manage and mitigate social tensions caused by the high levels of social and economic inequality and political contestation that characterise the South African landscape.

In this context, the report states, the capability of the country’s safety and security forces to ensure public order needs to be strengthened, as underscored in the Public Order Policy of 2011 and other government measures to stabilize violent protest actions, marches and gatherings.

A committee has been established to focus on the implementation of policy provisions and guidelines to police public protests, gatherings and major events.


The government has over the years adopted a “zero tolerance” approach to corruption, whether in the public or private sector, and has continued to give this attention at the highest level.

A range of institutions, laws and measures have been put in place since 1994 to counter corruption.

“These are now being strengthened by implementing measures such as preventing public servants from doing business with the state and better management of the risks related to government procurement processes,” Zuma said on Tuesday.

Corruption, he added, was not only a public sector problem, and the country’s response had to include the private sector as well.

Notable progress from 2009 to date includes criminal investigations against some 242 persons, the successful conviction of 42 individuals for corrupt activities in incidents involving R5-million or more, and the release of the names of 42 people who have been convicted of fraud and corruption.

According to the 20 Year Review, freezing orders totalling R1.07-billion have been obtained since 2009, while 302 forfeiture cases involving a total sum of R118.4-million have been completed.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) currently has 25 active Presidential Proclamations authorising investigations into 10 national government departments, seven provincial government departments, six local government authorities and two state-owned enterprises. Seven proclamations were finalised in the 2012/13 financial year alone.

The Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster is currently developing an Anti-Corruption Framework in order to give effect to government’s anti-corruption policies and to give effect to the National Development Plan’s (NDP’s) recommendation to establish a resilient multi-agency anti-corruption system.

Looking forward

The 20 Year Review recommends strengthening efforts to reduce levels of serious and violent crime, ensure an efficient and effective criminal justice system, safeguard and secure South Africa’s border effectively, secure cyber space and ensure domestic stability.

“The implementation of the crime prevention strategy will need to be accelerated, with particular emphasis on visible policing, crowd management, rural safety, intelligence policing, crime investigations and border control. The implementation of crime combating strategies will also need to be accelerated to address serious and violent crime.”

According to the report, human resource development across the value chain will be critical in this regard.

“There is an urgent need to provide sufficient capacity in areas of forensic, detective, investigation and prosecution services, which hampers efforts to reduce the overall levels of crime, particularly ‘trio’ and ‘contact’ crimes.

“There also needs to be continued emphasis on improving coordination of effort and integration of systems among role-players in the criminal justice system. Implementation of the seven-point plan to make the [system] more efficient and effective must be expedited.”

Beyond this, the reports says efforts should be made to rejuvenate the country’s moral regeneration initiative, with the aim of instilling good values and morals among citizens, as well as community participation, as it is stipulated in the National Development Plan.