Numbers never tell the whole story. They rarely reveal the nuance of cause and effect and are vulnerable to massaging by vested interests. Sometimes, however, they are as startling and eye popping as a punch to the nose.

Take the astounding violence of this society. South African Police Service (SAPS) statistics show that between April 1994 and March 2013, a total of 376 624 people were murdered. Although the 2013/14 figures are not yet out, if one assumes we have reached a statistical plateau in our killing fields, by my calculations the 400 000th South African to be slaughtered since the advent of democracy will die on or around September 5.

It’s not quite as bad as it seems, statisticians reassure us. A compelling analysis by independent Africa Check established that the murder incidence per 100 000 of population in 1970s South Africa was around 32.2, peaked at 62.5 in 1994, and has since steadily declined, with a slight uptick in 2012/13 taking it to 31.3.

That’s still almost five times worse than the global average of 6.9. Averages can be misleading: the homicide rates of the major Anglophone nations – Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States – are 1.03, 1.63, 1.47 and 4.75 respectively. South Africa’s larger neighbours – Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia – are also much lower than us, at 8.83, 14.26, 14.48 and 17.23 respectively.

For the sake of the white genocide conspiracists among us, put into a contextual racial template it turns out whites are proportionately less likely to be murdered than any other race. Although whites are almost 9% of the population, they are less than 2% of the murder victims.

Then there is rape, with an incidence three times higher than that of murder, with at least 95 cases per 100 000 – sexual assault is notoriously under-reported and the statistics can be fudged by SAPS to make itself look better, unlike murder where there is an actual corpse to magic away. In the 10 years to 2013, more than two-thirds of a million people, overwhelmingly women, were sexually assaulted.

During the course of that same decade, there were close to 200 000 attempted murders; more than 2.1-million serious assaults; and about 1.8-million robberies, of which two-thirds were accompanied by the threat of violence.

Even if you were fortunate enough to not be one of the 4m South Africans who in the past decade were victims of a serious crime against their person, it doesn’t necessarily mean escaping unscathed. In the 10 years to 2013 there were almost 2.6-million home burglaries, more than 650 000 non-residential break-ins, and 1.3-million thefts from vehicles.

Three-quarters of a million vehicles were broken into and stolen and, maybe to avoid damaging the paintwork, another 125 000 were hijacked. Unfortunately, for the criminals damaging the passengers is less of a consideration.

This week four-year-old Taegrin Morris died after being dragged outside his mother’s VW Golf for eight kilometres, after his foot caught in a seatbelt during an armed hijacking. In response to national outrage, SAPS hastily posted a R50 000 reward for information about the perpetrators, then doubled it a day later.

Perhaps at last, SAPS is beginning to use a tactic that the old era’s cops used to good effect in a largely impoverished society – money. Apartheid era clear-up rates were assisted by the tacit carte blanche the cops had to use whatever physical violence was necessary to obtain information or a confession, but more effectively, the police also built extensive networks of paid informers.

The new era’s cops are at least as violent towards the public as their predecessors – last year the allegations of police assault rose 218% to 4 131; there were 275 deaths in custody and another 431 died as the result of police action; there were 146 allegations of police rape, with another 22 during police custody; and 50 claims of torture. But SAPS is pretty hopeless at getting convictions.

Could it be because there are now proportionately as many criminals in the SAPS as there are in outside? Thanks to an opposition Democratic Alliance parliamentary question we know that of 1 448 cops convicted of crimes – including 54 of murder, 116 of attempted murder, 37 of rape, 917 of assault and five of terrorism – not one has been dismissed from the service.

And these aren’t just rogue rookies running riot. More than 330 of the crimo-cops are officers, including a major- general, 10 brigadiers, 21 colonels and 10 majors.

The snag is that the Labour Court found the SAPS board of fitness, which processes dismissals, was improperly constituted. Strangely, for a government which automatically appeals all the way to the Constitutional Court each and every ruling against it – whether by the Public Prosecutor or the courts – there’s been no appeal lodged.

Meanwhile, the numbers keep clicking over. Stay safe on September 5.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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