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Press Release: Release of the 2003 National Victim Survey Results
3 March 2004

Press Release: Release of the 2003 National Victim Survey Results

In the build up to the April general election, several political parties have been campaigning around the issue of crime and policing. According to the South African Police Service, crime levels have stabilized over the past few years, and police numbers are already on the increase. So what is the crime situation in the country, and importantly as the election approaches, what do South Africans think about safety and policing?

Between September and October 2003 the Institute for Security Studies completed the second national victim survey ever to be conducted in South Africa. The results compliment the official crime statistics of the police and provide an alternative national picture of crime rates. These rates can be directly compared to those recorded in the national victim survey carried out by the UN, Statistics SA and the Department of Safety and Security in 1998. As such, the ISS study enables the first independent perspective on whether crime has in fact stabilized over the past five years.

Based on a representative sample of 4,862 people over the age of 16, the survey shows that 22.9% of South Africans had been a victim of crime in the 12 months preceeding the survey date. In 1998 by comparison, 24.5% of all South Africans were crime victims, indicating a decline of 2% in the overall victimization rate.

In 2003, like in 1998, property crimes occurred more frequently than violent crimes, with the five most prevalent crimes in 2003 being non-violent. These include: housebreaking, corruption, theft of personal property, theft out of vehicles and livestock theft. Housebreaking was the most common crime in 2003, with 7.5% of South Africans being victims. A significant proportion of people (5.6%) reported being asked by a government official for a bribe in the form of money, a favour or a present in return for a service that the official was legally required to perform. This corruption was most evident in encounters with traffic officials, followed by the police, and when interacting with officials for employment opportunities.

Theft of personal property was experienced by 4.7% of people, and theft out of vehicles and livestock theft by 2.5% of people each. The most prevalent violent crimes were assault (experienced by 2.2% of the sample) and robbery (2%). As expected given results of previous surveys and the official crime statistics, less than 1% of respondents said they were victims of sexual assault, car hijacking or that a member of their household was murdered.

It is significant that the only crime type that has increased since 1998 is housebreaking, which went up marginally from 7.2% in 1998 to 7.5% in 2003. Theft out of vehicles and motor vehicle vandalism remained the same during the five year period, and all other crimes have decreased since 1998.

These results would then confirm that crime has indeed stabilised between 1998 and 2003, and in some cases decreased slightly.

The survey findings on crime trends in the past five years are certainly cause for optimism. However politicians and policy makers should not lose sight of the fact that public perceptions about crime are much less positive.

Although the level of crime has dropped fractionally since 1998, 53% of those surveyed believe that crime has increased in the past three years. These views are particularly prevalent among people in metropolitan and urban areas, and among Indian and white South Africans.

Continuing in this trend of negative public perception about crime and safety, significantly less South Africans feel safe in 2003 than they did in 1998. In 1998, 60% said they felt very safe walking in the areas where they live during the day; this figure dropped to only 25% in 2003. At night, only 25% said they feel very unsafe in 1998 compared to 58% in 2003. These views differ markedly by race, with a minority of Indians (11%) and whites (35%) feeling very safe during the day, compared to a majority of coloureds (62%) and blacks (64%).

And even though people are much more likely to become victims of property crimes, five of the top six crimes that South Africans are most afraid of, are violent: 25% worry most about murder, 23% about burglary, 18% about sexual assault, 13% about robbery, 5% about assault and 4% about car hijacking. There is little doubt that, even though crime has levelled off since 1998, violence remains the key challenge for the country.

The police and courts are, according to the survey results on public access and views of their performance, well placed to respond to the crime situation.

Almost all respondents (97%) know where their nearest police station is, and 84% know where the nearest magistrate`s court is located. Physical access is also good: two thirds of people (66%) say the police station is less than 30 minutes away using their usual mode of transport, and 51% say it takes less than half an hour to reach the court.

Most South Africans (70%) who have been to court are satisfied with the overall performance of officials. In the case of the police, although there is significant variation by race and province, just over half of all South Africans (52%) think the police are doing a ‘good job` in their areas of residence. In Gauteng at the bottom of the provincial ranking only 45% said the police are doing a good job compared to 62% in the Free State, which tops the ranking. And while only 22% of Indians said the police were doing a good job, whites (47%), coloureds (48%) and blacks (54%) were much more positive.