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South Africa’s murder rate drops slightly

South Africa's murder rate — one of the world's highest — has dropped slightly, but the country faces a distressing rise in rapes, robberies and hijackings, South African police say.
Image: Police investigate the crime scene
Police investigate the crime scene in Johannesburg in Nov. 2007 after a police reservist allegedly shot dead two suspected car hijackers in a failed attempt to steal a car.Anonymous / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

South Africa's murder rate — one of the world's highest — has dropped slightly, but the country faces a distressing rise in rapes, robberies and hijackings, South African police said Tuesday.

The number of murders decreased 3.4 percent to 18,148 between April 2008 and March 2009. That still leaves 50 murders a day in the country of some 50 million people.

Sexual offenses increased 10.1 percent, with a total of 71,500 reported offenses. Robberies at homes and businesses increased more dramatically, up 27.3 and 41.5 percent respectively.

South Africa has one of the worst crime rates in the world, putting the government under pressure to show that safety is improving ahead of next year's soccer World Cup.

"There are areas where we are making progress. At the same time there are areas where we are still lagging behind," Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said. "Government is unshakable in its resolve to fight crime."

Losing the war against crime?
Many observers and opposition parties are not convinced the government is winning the war against crime.

"It's a bad year. It's definitely a bad year," said analyst Johan Burger, with the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.

President Jacob Zuma has appointed a new police commissioner Bheki Cele and charged him with ridding the police force of corruption and boosting morale as the country approaches its first World Cup, expected to draw 400,000 visitors.

In a small bright spot, the number of muggings dropped for the third consecutive year. The latest figures show a 7.4 percent decrease.

Of more concern to South African residents was the increase in house and business robberies and an increase in car hijackings. Figures show that business robberies increased by a staggering 41.5 percent, house robberies increased by 27.3 percent, truck hijackings increased by 15.4 percent and car hijackings increased by 5 percent.

This year, well-coordinated armed gangs have blazed through several shopping malls in Johannesburg, killing bystanders and terrifying shoppers and store owners.

Worsening economy may be culprit
Mthethwa said he believes the worsening economy may be the real culprit for the rise in robberies. South Africa is in its first recession in two decades. He said he was deeply concerned about the increase in house robberies.

"It is one of the crimes that are the most intrusive and personalize the crime experience," he said.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, condemned the figures as a "serious deterioration" of the crime situation in South Africa.

"With the 2010 World Cup fast approaching, the usual rhetoric and empty promises must once and for all be brought to an end," spokeswoman Dianne Kohler Barnard said in a statement, in which she called for more police and better training.

Joe Mcgluwa, from the Independent Democrats, said his party viewed the statistics with mixed feelings. They welcomed the decrease in murders but were very concerned about increase in other forms of violent crime.

"The increase in sexual offenses is most worrying of all and shows we still have a very long way to go to create a society where our women and children are safe," he said in a statement.