Surviving the Transition: Trends and Perceptions of Crime in South Africa
- Cite this article as:
- Louw, A. Social Indicators Research (1997) 41: 137. doi:10.1023/A:1006852502752
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Crime and violence have dominated South Africa's transformation over the past two decades. High crime rates cause widespread feelings of insecurity and fear which undermine popular confidence in the democratisation process. Considering both trends and public perceptions, this paper explores changing crime levels over the past decade, elaborating on the problems associated with crime statistics in South Africa, and the salience of the transition for current crime levels. Data is drawn from official police statistics and from victimisation and other surveys. Crime has been increasing gradually in South Africa since 1980. It is, however, since 1990 and not more recently as is popularly believed, that levels have risen sharply. An examination of the statistics shows that despite general increases, not all crimes have been committed with equal frequency and not all areas of the country are similarly affected. These trends are a product of the political transition and are associated with the effects of apartheid and political violence, the breakdown in the criminal justice system and more recently, the growth in organised crime. High crime levels are taking their toll on South Africans. Surveys show that crime rather than socio-economic issues now dominates people's concerns, and that fear of crime is increasing. Currently, fewer people feel safe and believe the government has the situation under control than in previous years. Faced with widespread unemployment on the one hand, and the prospects of development on the other, levels of property crimes will probably continue to increase. While violent crime levels should decline over the medium term, improved relations with the police and a culture of reporting crimes like rape and assault may result in more crime being recorded.