Covid-19 and SA’s murder rate

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Covid-19 and SA’s murder rate

By Douglas Gibson[i]

58 people died in South Africa today. And yesterday. And tomorrow, 58 more will die. I am not talking about Covid- 19 (Corona virus) deaths.  I am referring to the number of people murdered in South Africa every day.

Covid-19, rightly, is regarded and treated as an international crisis of potential magnitude, even though the latest figures indicate that it might have peaked, with the number of new incidences dropping significantly.  With about 2500 deaths so far, world stock exchange prices have declined remarkably – described by some as the worst since the 2008 financial crisis, with some investors fearing an imminent world-wide recession.

Why, despite not one case of Covid-19 in SA at the time of writing, is everyone in the country on high alert while many South Africans and the government remain unconcerned about the national scourge of murder that far, far outweighs the COVID-19 threat?

BusinessTech reported the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) July 2019 report said that more than 486 260 South Africans were murdered between 1994 and 2017.  Since then, the murders have numbered 20306 in 2018 and 21 022 in 2019.  This brings the total to 526,588.

South Africa (in 2017) had one of the highest murder rates in the world at 36 per 100,000 people. The UNDOC Report says that, contrary to popular perception, …this is by no means a post-apartheid phenomenon. The country’s official homicide rate has been well above the current global average since at least the 1920s.

“…South Africa’s official homicide rate has been above 20 per 100,000 population since the 1950s and above 30 per 100,000 since the 1960s.”  However, the data shows that there was a sharp downward trend in the homicide rate after the country abolished the apartheid system in the early 1990s.

“The country’s transition to multiparty democracy was accompanied by a continuous decline in the homicide rate for many years, but since 2011 it has been increasing again… with the homicide rate climbing from 30 per 100,000 in 2011 to 36 per 100,000 in 2017 (and 37 in 2018 and 38 in 2019). The reasons for this remain unclear, but it may have to do with a surge in the availability of illegal firearms, including hundreds diverted from police custody by corrupt officials, particularly to gangs,” it said.

A question that must be asked is why our country seems satisfied with the scourge of murder, or does little to try to reverse the trends and save the lives of so many innocent people? It is not just better policing that will do the trick.  Of course, that is absolutely necessary, focusing on gangs, detection and prosecution, but societal conditions also need attention.  A country that suffers from outdated economic policies that lead directly to an unemployment rate of 29+ % condemns many to living in poverty and deprivation and sliding into crime. Families that are broken and children who grow up in one parent families are more likely to offend, especially when fathers are entirely absent or do not care or contribute.

The abuse of liquor, the prevalence of illegal guns and dangerous knives, the fall-away of church attendance, the breakdown in school discipline in many communities all demand redoubled efforts by the authorities, by NGOs and churches, and an awakening of people at all levels able to help. We have a great focus on Gender violence.  How about a well-planned national effort to combat murder with all of us joining in where we can?

The life you save might be your own.

This opinion column appeared in The Star on 3 March 2020.



[i] Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is

Douglas Gibson
Douglas Gibson
A former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand, Douglas Gibson is a keynote speaker and writer.

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