Crime in South Africa – what the official statistics don’t tell you

Statistics South Africa has released its latest Victims of Crime (VoC) survey, showing that thousands of crimes went unreported over the past year.

The survey gives additional perspective to the latest official crime statistics last released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) Friday (February 18), which showed a slight decrease in criminal activity from the previous quarter – but an increase in murders and other violent crimes.

Official crime statistics in South Africa are based on incidents and crimes reported to police stations, as well as crimes uncovered through police action. The data can only tell us about crimes that go through official processes and do not necessarily reflect the true levels of crime in the country.

The VoC survey, on the other hand, reflects criminal activity from victims’ experiences, revealing wide discrepancies between crime experiences and reported crimes in South Africa – with a large number of crimes going unreported and therefore not included in official SAPS data.

For example, over one million households have been victims of a break-in/burglary in the past year, but only 56.1% reported the incident to the police.

Similarly, 55.9% of the 141,000 violent home robberies were reported, and only 50.6% of the 56,000 assault cases were reported.

In many categories, crime experienced by South Africans shows a downward trend over the past year, partly attributable to the Covid-19 lockdown, but still well above reported official statistics.

The proportion of households that experienced a break-in/burglary between 2019/20 and 2020/21 increased from 5.3% of all households to 4.6% of all households, with approximately one million incidences.

Approximately 1.9 million households have been victims of break-ins/burglary in the past five years, of which 312,000 have been victims of home robbery (including contact with criminals).

The data further shows that 212,000 households were victims of car theft, and 151,000 people were victims of carjacking.

An estimated 844,000 cases of theft of personal property occurred in 2020/21, affecting 732,000 people aged 16 and over.

A total of 304,000 adults aged 16 and over were victims of street robbery in a total of 346,000 cases.

The number of people who felt safe walking alone in their neighborhood during the day increased from 86.6% in 2019/20 to 84.8% in 2020/21. Those who felt safe walking alone at night fell from 41.9% in 2019/20 to 39.7% in 2020/21.

More than 80% of all people, regardless of gender, said addictions/substances and alcohol abuse are the cause of violence against women and children.


Read: New DNA laws for South Africa – how they work