Murder rate in South Africa falls to its lowest level for two decades

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The Independent Online

South Africa's murder rate, one of the highest in the world, has dropped by 8.6 per cent to its lowest level in nearly two decades, according to statistics released yesterday.

Authorities credited better policing for the decline. Officers had stepped up their efforts in preparation for the Football World Cup in the summer, when the country hosted hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the number of murders had dropped below 17,000 for the first time since authorities starting keeping nationwide statistics in 1994.

Attempted murder was down by 6.1 per cent, sexual offences by 4.4 per cent and armed robbery by 7.5 per cent, he said. Assault with grievous bodily harm marginally decreased by 0.5 per cent.

Mr Mthethwa cited better coordination among crime-fighting agencies, the profiling of most-wanted criminals and the introduction of tactical response teams.

Critics have questioned whether some police departments are keeping back reports. Mr Mthethwa said that of all the crimes, murder "is the one category you cannot easily cheat".

"In other words, the fact that such a crime is counted based on the actual bodies makes it more reliable," he said.

Annette Hubschle, a researcher from South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, said while some numbers might be missing, "it is clear that there have been improvements".

The main opposition Democratic Alliance party, usually scathing in its assessment of the African National Congress government's efforts to bring down crime, said the figures were reason for cautious optimism.

"Crime is something which affects each and every South African and a decrease in crime is obviously something to be welcomed," said party spokeswoman Dianne Kohler-Barnard.

The 16,834 murders police recorded for the year ending 31 March put murders at 46 a day in a country with 50 million people.