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SA: Crime Numbers and Press

by Nomad Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 05:44:44 AM EST

My previous instalment on crime in South Africa pretty much had the opposite effect I wanted to achieve - neutralising the rampantly overblown and ignorant image in the western media that Johannesburg and other areas of this country are nothing but a warzone, with people locked up in Green Zones and moving from hub to hub in heavily armoured vehicles, ever anxious about the looming threat of swart gevaar (black danger).

Common Johannesburg vehicle

Promoted by Migeru

Now I have successfully scared the bejeebus and other saints out of ET readers with my semi-bombardment of crime related anecdotes, it is high time to get the emotion out and the analytical in. But before going there, it does not seem superfluous to me to stress the superfluous.

  1. In South Africa, stop being European (or American) for a time. Because, simply put, you're not in the west anymore. Start from scratch before putting on any other kind of spectacles.

  2. There was (and there still is) not one occasion in which I personally was confronted face-to-face with the crime situation in South Africa. Let me repeat that, with feeling: Not. Once. Nine months here, and counting. I don't own a heavy armoured vehicle, and I've been to places a lot of people find appalling.

A few observations first.

Every time when I regale the fact that I've been walking unscathed through Jozi for nine months, I am consistently greeted with sounds of amazement. Those who are most amazed are white.

If one would (as I did prior to my emigration) sort through the European newspapers for clippings on this country, I'd wager to guess one would predominantly find pieces about:
a)    escalating crime
b)    the Zimbabwean crisis
c)    AIDS

Coming here, it did not struck me as particularly odd at first that the same range of issues (plus the exploits of the Springboks, the national rugby team) is dominating the headlines stapled to the street-poles. One feels validated that the newspaper you read back home must have had it absolutely right with all the crime and AIDS.

There is however a more insidious undercurrent concerning the papers that make the most ruckus and hoo-ha on crime, and the stormy present already outlined this in her response posted to the previous diary.

  1. All daily newspapers around here are outrageously sensational. The only light in this dark murk are the weekly papers, appearing around the weekend, and even they are sauced with sensation, albeit with a lower degree.
  2. Those who are gobsmacked, outraged, stunned, appalled and fill the papers with noise are dominantly the people who sit on the money. As over 90 percent of the entire economy of South Africa was in the hands of Afrikaners after 1994, it all seems awfully convenient that South Africa is these days caught in an unstoppable tsunami of crime and violence.
  3. As I wrote as a comment to my previous diary, I highly suspect that the international newspapers cue their leading stories on the high impact stories published by the leading SA newspapers. This positive feedback loop sets sensationalism and exaggeration at centre stage. And Helen was so kind to expose a recent example:

South African reggae star shot dead in front of his children - Independent Online Edition > Africa
The largest black opposition party, the Inkatha Freedom Party, accused Mr Mbeki of being in denial of crime as he was in denial of HIV/Aids. According to statistics a murder takes place in South Africa every 24 seconds and a woman is raped every 21 seconds.

With no justification or source whatsoever and anyone who can do some math will find that losing some 1,6 million people per year on murders alone may sound just a bit over the top. Perhaps they're confused with AIDS?

But how bad is the tsunami of crime, really? In April this year the SAPS (South African Police Service) released a set of extraordinary statistics on the country - which were ripped from their hands to make ginormous headlines the succeeding days to come, such as: "CRIME RAMPANT!" and "VIOLENCE INCREASES!" and "DA: CRIME OUT OF CONTROL!" (DA being the Democratic Alliance, the largest white opposition party).

Two particular statistics were decisively worrying: aggravated robbery (among which carjacking and house robberies) and murder were up, with 4.6% and 2.4% respectively. And those were repeated over and over.

I had to suffer through four days of outraged press before the Mail and Guardian put the first nuance to the story, where they compared the reports from all nine provinces between 1997 and 2007. That gave me the following bar graph (data available on-line at Google Docs):

Numbers from the South African Institute of Race Relations 1996/1997 and the South African Police Service.

I will say that that last spike of course look frightening and that the numbers are high, no matter how you look at them. What I did: I simply added the total of each province's car hijackings, murder, rape and Aggravating Robbery for 1997 and 2007 to produce the nation's total for both years. But it does show that the murder and rape numbers are decreasing within this ten year snapshot, although the bulk of crimes have shifted massively towards material ones. The Mail & Guardian did not draw these conclusions from these numbers - I did, albeit tentatively, as a ten-year snapshot may not be sufficient enough to establish a well defined trend.  But because murder and rape are up in 2007 compared to 2006, the trend may actually be down and SA could be seeing a temporarily upward blip.

This is confirmed in the statistics of the SAPS available on-line, here: Looking at the 2001-2007 time series for the whole of the country (pdf!), total numbers of rape, murder and attempted murder do show a slow downward trend, with 2007 forming an upward blip. If 2008 will show a higher number than 2007, then I'd possibly start to get concerned.

But contextualizing is not what is done frequently in the SA dailies and there is now almost open war between the government and the media. The crime numbers are exemplary in this regard: the moment the SAPS released the numbers, the press vilified the ANC government for their failing policy; the ANC focussed on the positive trends in the crime report, marginalized the bad ones, ignored the fact that the SAPS was surprisingly scathing against the government as well but accused the press of biased reports.

As so often is the case in a tug of war around the truth, I'd postulate that truth is most likely slouching in the middle. The slow trickle of good news which one finds buried somewhere on page 5 in the newspapers is testimony to that as well.

Let's walk through some more enlightening statistics:

  • The SAPS crime statistics show that rape and murder are also down in Gauteng (pdf) - the most urbanised province of all, holding both Johannesburg and Pretoria. The DA countered, however, that the reporting of rape is down, and that it says nothing about actual rape.

  • In Johannesburg, the City Business District was going through a bad phase during the late nineties and early 2000 years - the revamp phase that was unleashed from roughly 2004 is starting to pay off results. Reportedly, crime is down with over 60 percent compared to last year. The CBD is still not speckless, but it is currently a place where things are happening and it's a rather dynamic place to visit.

  • In Hillbrow, the infamous area much shunned by everyone except the poor, results of an intensified SAPC program were showing - it is one of the better performing police districts this year with crime detection up 12%.

  • A bombshell also highlighted by the SAPS and virtually ignored by the daily press:
  • 82 % of all murders (15 746 reported incidents)
  • 76% of all rape (39 989 reported incidents)
  • and 89% of assaults (380 997 reported incidents) were alleged to be committed by people who knew their victims.  That very much implies that more than two thirds of these crimes in this country is not randomly done to strangers such as me walking on the street. These percentages are believed to be much, much higher within townships.

  • And for the clincher: The number one area which is most affected by house robberies is Sandton, in Johannesburg -343 cases of house robberies compared to a total of 242 cases in 2006. The number two area is Tembisa (272 cases), the number three is Midrand (252 cases). All areas are situated here, in Johannesburg.

I have visited Sandton, Tembisa and Midrand. Tembisa is a township at the east of the city, and it remains one of the poorest and more violent townships of the entire area. Yet how the hell do places such as Sandton and Midrand make the number one and three spot, respectively - because they form the richest and best protected areas of the entire city, riddled with so-called "security complexes"?

It's all rather simple: the highest returns for house robbery are there. I applied this logic to my own situation in my previous diary: High walls mark large targets - and it draws in the crime syndicates: organized crime. The syndicates are suspected to have infiltrated the security companies that are supposed to protect the complexes. The enemy, as the Mail & Guardian writes, could come from within. Inspecting the security companies is a nightmare, as their total workforce is now almost double the size of the SAPS. Another scenario is also likely: a crime syndicate buys an apartment inside a security complex, waits for a while to inspect the neighbours, strikes, and moves out.

Lastly a noteworthy trend: the black middle class and black communities are getting very, very angry about crime - the murder of world famous reggae artists Lucky Dube symbolises much of this. As the black middle class is increasing and the super-rich in Sandton and Midrand are topping up their walls, they too become acceptable targets. It is no longer a white vs black divide - as I also suggested in my previous diary it is rapidly becoming a struggle between the haves vs the have-nots. The SAPS itself commented on the April statistics that the source of crime needs to be sought in socio-economic problems - namely, urbanisation, poverty and unemployment, vigilantism, previous offenders and alcohol and drugs. If my suspicions are true, with still roughly 30 million people (out of some 46 million) living below the poverty line, South Africa as a nation is far away from relieving itself of crime.

To sum up.

  1. The SA press (and dragging the international press in its wake) is obsessed by sensational crime stories and seizes any opportunity to highlight the depravities in this country.

  2. That doesn't mean all is well but:

  3. Crime statistics over a ten years period seem to indicate the worst crimes (rape and murder) have been shifting to material crimes.

  4. The majority of violent crime is not targeted towards strangers, but needs to be put in a social context.

  5. Statistics also indicate that material crimes are dominantly focussed on the richest areas and that the black middle class is now targeted equally.

In this discussion, skin colour should be inferior - but isn't in this country and worst of all, the racial aspects are only addressed insidiously and commonly by association.

Next part will therefore be dedicated on contextualising crime: I will give my impressions of causes of crime and it will doubtlessly become the most depressing of all diaries as it is unavoidable to interweave the apartheid history in today's world.

Documents on-line:
SAPS 2007 Crime Statistics PDF
SA total (raw) crime numbers from 2001-2007 PDF

What do you think of crime in SA now?
. I'm still not visiting 17%
. You're making matters worse Nomad 0%
. Better but not conviced 5%
. Why didn't you tell this before? 5%
. You're clearly a dangerous pinko commie pragmatist 70%

Votes: 17
Results | Other Polls

Someone stole my tip jar!

by Nomad on Sat Nov 3rd, 2007 at 09:27:11 PM EST
Off to the front page with you, Nomad!

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 05:45:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary Nomad.  I think in a lot of situations like this, the real issues get buried by stereotypes and sensationalist propaganda.  If people took a more rational and open look at what the stats may be telling us, like you have done here, then we'd be much further along to tackling the cause of the issues and maybe creating some improvement.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 07:18:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a parallel to your take on violent crime and reporting violent crime.

In Hungary, after moving in a narrow band around an average of 204 across the eighties, the annual number of murders shot up by 50% in the early nineties. Like Poland, Hungary has its share of late-coming death penalty advocates, who ignore every other factor (poverty after economic collapse, appearance of organised crime, end of police state) and cite the above fact, as well as the latest outrageous murder cases from the rainbow press, to claim that it's all because murderers no more fear the gallows.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 11:40:30 AM EST
has been abolished in this country, while a recent poll this year actually hinted that more than 80 percent wanted the death penalty back... So much for progress, although I didn't take a look how the poll was done and how the distribution was across the SA population.

Even so, the point of "murderers don't fear the death penalty" doesn't show any sense when compared with the SA stats. I think it shows in your data as well - on eyeball comparison they show similarities with an overall downward trend.

A presentation question: how do you get your graphs so nicely presented? I'm suffering scaling problems with my graphs - which are made in Excel and can't be exported easily. Right now the graph is a jpeg put into my Photobucket account.

by Nomad on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 03:40:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
pc or mac?

on a PC use ALT and Print screen then paste it into your image editing program. crop everything else other than the graph out.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 03:53:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it shows in your data as well

I intended the diagram to speak for itelf -- but to make it explicit, since 2005 murder levels are below what they were in the eighties, the last decade the death penalty was on the books. Death penalty advocates citing the 50% increase didn't check progress since 1994.

how do you get your graphs so nicely presented?

It mostly comes from Excel, too... I'm not sure what is your exact problem, so stuff I do in sequence:

  1. I click on the axes and customize the scales
  2. I set page size to A5, and the left/right margins to 4 cm.
  3. I manually re-set the font sizes (scales to 8, title to 10)
  4. I mark the graph, copy it, and insert into an image editor (IrfanView, GIMP, etc.)
  5. I crop the excessive whitespace and voila I am under 600 pixel width
  6. I save in some good format (GIF and PING keep it nice, but now I was lazy and just saved as JPEG at 85% compression)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 04:03:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since the custom width on ET is 600 pixels, I should resize any graph pics to 600 pixel width size - otherwise they get automatically "shrunk" and become distorted. I'll try that later.
by Nomad on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 02:50:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On a more critical note, even if SA crime is decreasing, 19 thousand murders a year is still well beyond anything normal. The USA, with a population 6.25 times that of SA, had around 17 thousand in 2006. That's murder rates of:

  • SA: 40 per 100,000 inhabitants
  • USA: 5.7 per 100,000 inhabitants

For comparison:

  • Hungary: 174/10.08 million: 1.73 per 100,000 inhabitants
  • Metropolitan France: 798/61.17 million: 1.30 per 100,000 inhabitants
  • Germany: 375/82.31 million: 0.46 per 100,000 inhabitants

(Note though: I don't find a category of "manslaughter" or similar in the SA statistics, including those would double-triple the West European numbers.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 12:34:45 PM EST
I won't contest that - but I think there are many reasons why it is so high. After the USA, SA has the most serial killers in the world - what could be the reasons for that? I'll expound my vision on that in the next diary. But what you're doing I'm very much against at this point: you're pulling out western crime figures and comparing them to SA. I went to the SAPS pdf and they pretty much caution against the same, validated by the UN:

"However, the UN acknowledges that international comparisons of crime statistics are beset by methodological difficulties:

  • Different definitions for specific crime types ...
  • Different levels of reporting and traditions of policing: This relates closely to levels of development in a society, most clearly reflected in accessibility to the police...
  • Different social, economic and political contexts: Comparing crime data from societies that are fundamentally different may ignore key issues present in the society that impact upon levels of reporting. For example, different social norms in some countries may make it difficult for women to report cases of rape or sexual abuse, while in others, women are encouraged to come forward."

Page 2-3, Crime Statistics report.

Your point on manslaughter underlines the very same argument: manslaughter is not analysed in this report, although it is recognised under the law.

In 1999, murder was an estimated 55 murders per 100.000  people. In 2006 you calculated it as 40. That's a decrease of 15 per 100.000 - that's what I find significant.

The point of this diary was that the most violent crimes in this country are not spiraling out of control, in fact, it's the exact opposite. Which I'd never have learned in Europe, or from the press here.

by Nomad on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 04:15:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd like to play a bit with your numbers, but I can't really do what I'd like to unless I know the population of each of the nine areas you're reporting the stats for. Could you give me some kind of numbers for it?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Nov 4th, 2007 at 07:53:40 PM EST
The best estimate to date for the entire country remains the 2001 census, which can be found here.

This is a direct link to the overview per province: here.

However, the Statistics website also provided 2007 mid-year population estimates, which can be found in this report, see page 10 & 11.

Hope that helps...

by Nomad on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 02:47:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Those are precisely the figures I was looking for. Thank you. And with growth rates to boot. Vere nice, as that allows me to test for correlation to population growth rates, which might in turn be a proxy for poverty.

Here goes:

It appears that overall crime numbers are constant or declining. In the face of an estimated total population growth of 6.7 percent over the same period, it would appear that the crime rate would be declining.

We further see that across the provinces, murder rate is uniformly down over the period, rape rates are down or constant, while rates of aggravated robbery have increased. The reader is cautioned, however, that either of the years displayed may be anomalous, so these conclusions should be regarded as tentative.

That being said, they do seem to support Nomad's contention that the increase in crime is related to property crime more than violent crime (to the extent that 'aggravated robbery' is not a violent crime, that is).

Further, we see major differences between the provinces, particularly in the case of aggravated robbery. This may be due to different reporting practices, but it may also reflect real differences. Either way, the reader is encouraged to keep this difference in mind when reviewing total crime statistics for RSA.

The murder rate does not seem correlated to population growth, the rape rate might be if you squint and look at it sideways, but it's not a relationship I'd be comfortable about calling a correlation, but aggravated robbery shows something that either is or very strongly resembles a correlation to population growth rate for both 1997 and 2001.

This is consistent with Nomad's observation that the reported increase in crime is due largely to poverty- and property-related crime, at least if we accept that population growth rate is a suitable proxy for poverty.

All in all, Nomad's contentions seem to be supported by the available numbers.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 07:13:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's generally pleasant to see one's own ideas independently validated by a properly done audit - thank you Jake. Much appreciated.

Minor picky questions: How should I read your last three graphs - by province again? Also, what do the symbols signify - which one is the growth rate?

by Nomad on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 09:55:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was running out of time when I wrote the last few paragraphs, and I figured (wrongly, of course) that I'd managed to make the graphs self-explanatory.

Each data point represents a single province. The two data series represent 1997 and 2007 (squares and triangles, respectively). The x-axis is the population growth rate is in percent over the four years 1997-2001 (so divide by four to get the annual growth rate, if you neglect compound growth*), and the crime rates (y axis, measured in crimes pr. inhabitant) are normalised to the 1996 census and the 2007 population estimates, respectively.

I decided to omit carjackings for the sake of clarity: They are a subcategory of aggravated robbery, and they make up a sometimes major and wildly varying fraction of the total in that category, which means that the graph for carjackings would not be independent of the graph for total aggravated robbery.

If the graph for carjackings showed a correlation with population growth rates - which it did - the casual reader could have gotten the impression that it provided an independent verification of the property/poverty-related crime hypothesis. This would be wrong, however, since the two graphs would be not be independent. I was not confident in my ability to make this clear from the graphs, and thus decided to omit carjackings altogether to avoid the possibility of misunderstanding entirely.

BTW, if you want to use the figures in this or a future diary (such as the follow-up diary you were hinting was in the pipeline), you're welcome to do so. Just remember to link to the comment I posted them in.

*I haven't done the numbers, so I don't know whether you can get away with that. If you wish to account for compound growth, add 100 %, take the fourth root and subtract 100 % to get the annual rate.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 11:30:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
# All daily newspapers around here are outrageously sensational. The only light in this dark murk are the weekly papers, appearing around the weekend, and even they are sauced with sensation, albeit with a lower degree.
# Those who are gobsmacked, outraged, stunned, appalled and fill the papers with noise are dominantly the people who sit on the money. As over 90 percent of the entire economy of South Africa was in the hands of Afrikaners after 1994, it all seems awfully convenient that South Africa is these days caught in an unstoppable tsunami of crime and violence.

Convenient to whom? To the ruling classes? Could feasting on crime coverage be a tested method for them to keep the public dispassionate, in any country?

What would it take to build a less sensational, more reasoned but still influential news outlet (newspaper, radio or TV station)?

by das monde on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 04:12:53 AM EST
The short answer: With "convenience" I hazily insinuate that apartheid thinking is far from eradicated in this country. I'm starting to believe this is a frickin' huge elephant in the room wherever one moves in this country. It is a poor analogy given the fact there are plenty of elephants to spare in SA... But it will be put center stage next diary...

As GWB also shows, an economy of fear can be hugely profitable and influential to shape minds and stereotypes...

For a less sensational press, I'd rather think a complete re-boot of the entire population of the country would stand only a small chance....

by Nomad on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 04:43:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for your effort, Nomad.  This is an impressive presentation and gives me a more hopeful feeling than the last one, maybe because it was anecdotal and I couldn´t draw conclusions?  Don´t trust my memory...

I wish you could use this w/comments to influence some press/govt. agency to put things in perspective for the public, because it confirms really serious issues, like the wealth gap.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Tue Nov 6th, 2007 at 02:23:46 PM EST
Thank you metavision!!

I'd only re-hash this, together with the excellent additional number crunching done in the comments, into a paper version if I'd have an idea to whom I should send this to stand a chance to get published. I'm lost at that point. Speculatively, I'd like to be targeting both the SA audience as well as the European one. In fact, preferably the European one... I'll make that call for advice in the third installment.

In hindsight, starting off with the anecdotes wasn't the smartest move - it put the fear in everyone.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 6th, 2007 at 06:51:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was nothing wrong with the first diary and I just remember a worrisome feeling, just like I get everyday when I read the sad news because I don't see an end to it.  It was very informative and you already mentioned the crime connection between most people and those flaunting wealth.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Wed Nov 7th, 2007 at 09:16:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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