There is a cognitive bias around the perception of Nigerians in South Africa and in fact many parts of the world. Criminal activities by a few Nigerians are leading to profiling of the larger group. More importantly, this profiling is failing to see the positive activities by Nigerians. For example, South African universities are well-ranked comparatively to the rest of the continent. This ranking is based on research outputs, ability to attract international students among other factors. Research output is ranked based on affiliations and not nationality, scholars from Nigerians and other Africans therefore significantly contribute to this ranking for South African universities. Another example refers to the various technical and volunteering services done by Nigerians. For instance, The Redeemed Christian Church of God in South Africa has numerous CSR initiatives in South Africa with funding coming from members who are predominantly Nigerians.Public Policy 

FACTSHEET: South Africa’s crime statistics REVEALED

FACTSHEET: South Africa’s crime statistics for 2017/18

This factsheet summarises statistics for South Africa’s main crimes of public interest during 2017/18.

NOTE: Following the release of South Africa’s 2017/18 crime statistics, Africa Check published an analysis [READ]which showed that the police had made an error in calculating the 2017/18 crime rates. The police have nowrevised the crime rates [READ]to correct this error. The factsheet below contains the corrected ratios.

South Africa’s crime statistics for the 2017/18 reporting year was released in parliament [READ]on 11 September 2018. They cover the period 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018.

“There’s nothing to write home about. Absolutely nothing to write home about,” police minister Bheki Cele told MPs.

This factsheet summarises the statistics in two ways:

  • absolute numbers (20,336 murders, for example)
  • crimes per day (56 murders every day)
  • crime rates [READ](35.8 murders per 100,000).

Given that populations generally grow, the crime rate provides a more fair comparison [READ] between years. (For example, [READ]most murders were reported in the Gauteng province in 2016/17, but more people per 100,000 in the Eastern Cape were murdered during that period.)

Here are statistics for the main crimes of public interest.

1. Murder

Murder is considered to be the most reliable crime statistic, [READ] because most murders can be independently verified, Gareth Newham from the Institute for Security Studies [READ]explains.

In South African law, murdered defined as the unlawful and intentional killing [READ]of another person.

In 2016/17, the police recorded a total of 19,016 murders. The statistics for 2017/18 show it has increased to 20,336 murders.

The murder rate increased from 34.1 per 100,000 people to 35.8. In 2017/18, an average of 56 people were murdered every day.

[READ]: Where murder happens in South Africa

Murders on farms and smallholdings

There is no crime category called “farm murders” or “farm attacks” in South Africa. Rather, the police keep track of crimes which meet a definition included in the 2011 Rural Safety Strategy.

An attack or murder should be recorded if the victim is a person living, working on or visiting a farm or smallholding “aimed at disrupting the legal farming activities as a commercial concern”, major-general Norman Sekhukhune, head of police crime research and statistics, explained to parliament. The crimes of murder, rape, robbery or the intention to inflict bodily harm are included. However, crimes resulting from domestic violence, liquor abuse or common social interaction are excluded.

Sekhukhune added that the police reconciled these statistics with those kept by other stakeholders, such as agricultural unions.

In 2017/18, the police recorded 62 murders during 58 attacks. Of those murdered, 52 were the owners or occupiers of the farm/smallholding, 9 were farm workers and one was a farm manager. Forty-two murders took place on farms, 15 on smallholdings and one at a cattle post.

The majority of the murder victims (46) were white.

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READ: Statistics on farm attacks and murders in South Africa

Murders of women and children

In 2017/18, a total of 2,930 women [READ] were murdered in South Africa. This means that the femicide rate [READ] was 15.2 murders per 100,000 women.

More boys (691) were murdered than girls (294).

Murders of women and children made up 19.3% of the total murder count in South Africa in 2017/18.

Attempted murder

A total of 18,233 attempted murders were reported to the police in 2017/18, up slightly from 18,205 the previous year. The attempted murder rate decreased from 32.4 to 32 per 100,000 people.

2. Sexual offences

The sexual offences category contains [READ] such crimes as rape, compelled rape, sexual assault, incest, bestiality, statutory rape and the sexual grooming of children.

In 2017/18, a total of 50,108 sexual offences were recorded by the police, up from 49,660 in 2016/17. The majority of the sexual offences recorded were rapes.


In South Africa, rape includes the oral, anal or vaginal penetration of a person (male or female, regardless of age) with a genital organ, anal or vaginal penetration with any object and the penetration of a person’s mouth with the genital organs of an animal.

The police recorded 40,035 rapes in 2017/18, up from 39,828 in 2016/17. An average of 110 rapes were recorded by the police each day.

The rape rate decreased from 71.3 per 100,000 people to 70.5.

But “rape statistics recorded by the police cannot be taken as an accurate measure of either the extent or trend of this crime”, the Institute for Security Studies warns.

Also, the number of rapes committed each year cannot be estimated because there is no underreporting rate for South Africa that is recent or representative.

GUIDE: Rape statistics in South Africa

3. Assault

Common assault

Common assault is the “unlawful and intentional direct and indirect application of force to the body of anotherperson” or the “threat of application of immediate personal violence to another”.

In 2017/18, 156,243 common assaults were recorded. On average, 428 people were victims of this type of assault every day.

The assault rate decreased from 280.2 to 275.3 per 100,000 people.

The Institute for Security Studies cautions that thesestatistics may not reflect reality: “Police statistics for assault are notoriously unreliable because most victims don’t report these crimes to the police. Since the victim and perpetrator may be related (such as in a case of domestic violence) victims are often reluctant to disclose assault.”

Assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm

The police recorded 167,352 assaults with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm in 2017/18. This means, on average, 458 such assaults were recorded every day. The crime rate here decreased from 305.5 per 100,000 to 294.9.

4. Robbery

Common Robbery

A robbery is committed when a person unlawfully and intentionally forcefully removes and appropriates propertybelonging to another person.

In 2017/18, 50,730 common robberies were recorded, down from 53,418 the year before. The robbery rate decreased from 95.7 per 100,000 people to 89.4.

On average, 139 common robberies were recorded each day.

Robbery with aggravating circumstances

Robbery with aggravating circumstances occurs when a person uses a gun or weapon to commit a robbery.

In 2016/17, 140,956 robberies with aggravating circumstances were recorded. This decreased to 138,364 in 2017/18.

On average, 379 robberies with aggravating circumstances were recorded each day.

House robbery

House robberies occur when people are confronted in their homes and are victims of theft.

In 2017/18, there were 22,261 incidents of house robbery recorded. The robbery with aggravating circumstances rate decreased from 251 in 2016/17 to 243 in 2017/18.

On average, 61 households were robbed each day.

South Africa’s 2017/18 victims of crime survey revealed that only 59% of victims reported the crime to the police.

5. House burglary

A house burglary is committed when a person “unlawfully and intentionally breaks into a building with the intention to take something on the premises.

It was reported as the most feared crime in South Africa in the 2017/18 victims of crime survey.

In 2017/18, 228,094 house burglaries were recorded – an average of 625 houses per day.

South Africa’s 2017/18 victims of crime survey revealed that 52.8% of households did not report the crime because they thought the police couldn’t do anything about it.

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6. Other crime


In 2017/18, a total of 16,325 car were hijacked. This was a slight decrease from the 2016/17 figure of 16,717 carjacking incidents in South Africa.

On average, 45 cars were hijacked each day in 2017/18.

Theft of cars or motorcycles

In 2017/18, 50,663 cars or motorcycles were stolen – an average of 139 each day. This is down from 53,307 in 2016/17.

Cash-in-transit heists

In the last three reporting years, South Africa’s has seen a consecutive increase in this crime category, Sekhukhune told parliament.

There were 238 cases in 2017/18, up from 152 in 2016/17 and 137 in 2015/16.

The most heists occurred on Mondays (76) followed by Saturdays (49).






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Blaming undocumented foreign nationals for crime in South Africa is nothing new, despite the lack of evidence to back such perceptions. However the South African Police Service (SAPS) Gauteng Provincial Commissioner Lieutenant-General Deliwe de Lange has reportedly claimed that about 60% of suspects arrested for violent crimes in the province are illegal immigrants.

As an experienced police officer, De Lange – we can assume – would not have made the statement without some basis. However, the statement on its own says very little and may simply fuel xenophobic attitudes. What are we to make of this claim knowing that the police don’t publicly release data on the nationalities of those they arrest?

Firstly, the commissioner refers to ‘violent crime’. The police do not have a category called ‘violent crime’, but divide violent crimes into seven broad categories: murder, attempted murder, sexual assault, aggravated robbery, common robbery, assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm (GBH) and common assault. Collectively the SAPS refers to this broad group of crime categories as ‘contact crime’ – as there is direct contact between perpetrators and victims.

One could assume that the commissioner means that 60% of people arrested for contact crimes are undocumented foreign nationals. Then we must ask for which specific categories of crime these suspects are being arrested. For the most recent financial year – 2016/17 – a total of 171 466 contact crimes were reported to Gauteng police. Nearly half of these were assaults, which made up 48% (81 767 cases) of all violent crimes reported. Murders made up the least at 2.4% (4 101 cases) of all violent crimes, and aggravated robberies made up 31% of cases (53 793 cases).

The detection rate by the SAPS for all contact crimes in the past financial year was 52.28%. The detection rate is determined by the proportion of cases opened where the police identify a perpetrator, or where the case is closed as ‘unfounded’ – when an investigation finds that no crime occurred.

The serious violent crimes that most worry Gauteng residents are murder and aggravated robbery. Statistically, these are the most reliable violent crime categories, as they have higher reporting rates than other violent crimes. Aggravated robberies are recorded by the police usually when an armed perpetrator threatens or uses violence against a victim in order to steal their belongings.

According to its 2016/17 annual report, the SAPS is able to detect perpetrators in only 23.9% of murders and in 17.9% of aggravated robberies. This means that in more than 75% of murders and in over 80% of aggravated robberies, the police have no idea who the perpetrators are. It therefore isn’t possible to make accurate assertions that undocumented foreign nationals commit most crimes such as murder and robbery.

Therefore we cannot assume – as some media reports did – that De Lange was stating that most violent crimes were committed by undocumented foreign nationals. What she said was that most people arrested for violent crimes were not South Africans.

We do know that the police have been targeting undocumented foreign nationals as a group. Operation Fiela – launched in 2015 – focused on arresting undocumented foreign nationals. Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said most arrests as a result of Operation Fiela were of undocumented foreign nationals and in the first three months of the operation 15 396 undocumented foreign nationals were repatriated. When the police target particular groups of people, most arrests for violent crimes will be of people who match that profile.

The problem with targeting people because of their profile rather than because they are committing specific crimes, is that it has little, if any, impact on public safety. If most people who commit violent crimes are undocumented foreign nationals and the police are arresting large numbers of them, why has this not brought down the level of serious violent crimes in recent years?

Over the past five years in Gauteng, the number of murders has increased by 36.9% and aggravated robbery has increased by 53%. This suggests that Gauteng police are targeting the wrong people. If they were effectively targeting and arresting the people who were committing murders and robberies, these crimes would be decreasing substantially. Between 2009 and 2011, the Gauteng SAPS effectively targeted people committing robberies regardless of nationality. They managed to reduce hijackings by 32%, house robberies by 20% and business robberies by 19% in that period.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha said in July this year that only 7.5% of people in South African prisons were foreign nationals. This suggests that most people committing crimes across the country are South Africans and not foreign nationals. While there are undoubtedly foreign nationals committing crimes, there is no evidence that most of them commit crime, or that they are responsible for most crime.

While it may not be her intention, De Lange’s statements promote xenophobic attitudes and may provoke violence against foreign nationals. The Provincial Commissioner should make the data supporting her statements publicly available so her claims can be verified.

If indeed De Lange’s statement is based on data collected by the police, then we need to understand why the SAPS’ focus on arresting undocumented migrants has not resulted in a decrease in at least murder and robbery.

There is an urgent need for SAPS data to be shared better so as to develop more effective anti-crime strategies. Until there is greater cooperation and information-sharing between the police and other sectors of society, South Africa is unlikely to achieve sustainable levels of public safety.

Gareth Newham, Head of Justice and Violence Prevention, ISS Pretoria

In South Africa, Daily Maverick has exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles. For media based outside South Africa and queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.

Picture: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp


Main Photo: Women handbags are snatched and pick pocketed in South Africa/ Photo: BuzzSouthAfrica

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