South Africa’s murder rate has increased for third year running, with opposition groups saying the figures mirror “a country at war”.
The murder rate jumped 4.6 percent with 17,805 murders committed between April 2014 to March 2015, an increase of 782 deaths from the year before. Almost 49 people were killed every day in a country of 52 million people.
Armed robberies, burglaries and carjackings also increased. Instances of truck hijacking saw the biggest leap with a 29 per cent increase on the previous year.
Police pointed to a decline in rape and assault as a positive sign but analysts said it indicated another problem: that South Africans were failing to report crime because of a loss of trust in the police.
Opposition parties laid the blame squarely at the door of the ruling African National Congress.
The murder figures, which have risen each year from a low of 15,554 in 2011/2012, reflect a reversal of what many had hoped was a long-term progress in reducing violent crime.
“17,805 is a number I would expect from a country at war,” said Dianne Kohler-Barnard, shadow police minister of the main opposition Democratic Alliance.
Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice Division at the Institute for Security Studies, said the statistics reflected a “leadership crisis” in the police caused by endemic corruption in President Jacob Zuma’s government, where political allies are often promoted above skilled professionals.
“This is the third year in a row we’ve seen an increase in violent crime and that’s unprecedented in democratic South Africa,” he said.
Police commissioner Riah Phiyega, a civilian promoted by Mr Zuma to lead the police three years ago, is facing an inquiry over her handling of the Marikana police shootings of 34 striking miners just months into her job.
Her predecessor Bheki Cele was sacked over an allegedly corrupt deal for a new police headquarters, and his predecessor Jackie Selebi was jailed for taking bribes from a drug lord.
“Each of these commissioners has forced out good, honest cops that might have challenged them and brought in their own people,” Mr Newham said.
“We have seen very poor appointments at the highest levels of the organisation, people who don’t have the experience to use the considerable police resources properly, or use their power to further their own interests rather than the interests of the country.”
Releasing the figures to a parliamentary committee, Gen Phiyega said her police force had “a good story to tell” and pointed to a 10-year trend of decline in overall crime.
Nathi Nhleko, the police minister, said the high murder rate could not be blamed on the police alone, that every member of society could influence it by “the way we raise our children”.
“To think we can resolve the issue of murder on our own is effectively just hallucination in a sense, because it’s a social problem,” he said.
Ingrid Molai, a youth worker in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, told The Telegraph the increase in crime was palpable and blamed it on youth unemployment, which remains at around 50 per cent, and corruption.
“If even the parliamentarians are doing it, our kids ask us why not them?” she said.