The face of murder is now ‘you and me’

2014-10-27 00:00

THE profile of murder victims in South Africa is changing fast and, chillingly, that profile increasingly looks like you and me.

In 2009, the typical face of the homicide victim was a drunk young man who loses a street fight — a victim whose profile was almost identical to the perpetrator. But security experts have told The Witness that increasingly the face is of property owners.

Meanwhile, the face of the murderer is increasingly a group of professional bandits who are more comfortable killing residents in their homes than trying to defeat their alarm systems.

In an informal analysis provided for The Witness, Gareth Newham, head of crime and justice unit at the Institute for Security Studies, said a dramatic decline in serious assaults and an even more dramatic rise in aggravated robberies suggested a major shift in the origins of murder.

Numbers that the ISS has extracted from SAPS statistics show that many fewer young men are being killed by their peers in “domino effect” assaults — yet there have been 1 458 more murder victims overall in the past two years.

While drunken fights are hard to predict or prevent, experts say professional robbery gangs that kill can and should be stopped through detective work.

However, SAPS crime intelligence reports, the kind used to catch professional robbers, dropped by 33% last year, and 1 200 detectives left the force in 2013/2014. There are no recent SAPS data on which crimes led to murders.

Dianne Kohler-Barnard, a member of the parliamentary committee on police, said many more victims in businesses and homes were boosting the murder statistics.

Victims of the trend include prominent Durban North wedding planner Stephen Edmonstone (62), who was killed by robbers at his home in Umgeni Park in August. John and Hester Noble from Shongweni were tortured by a large invading gang before being strangled. The family of Peter Hackland (61) testified last week about how two robbers attacked his Ixopo home in broad daylight and killed him.

Fifty-three South African families were attacked in their homes each day in the past year. There were 21 000 aggravated robberies of all kinds in Kwa­Zulu-Natal in the same period, a 4,2% jump.

Kohler-Barnard said: “Before, thieves would break into your home while you were out at work or while you were sleeping. Now there is a major trend in which robbers are deliberately breaking in when they know people are home and many are happy to harm the people inside. People have fancy alarm systems now and robbers are just using a gun to defeat them. We saw this coming five years ago.”

See page 2 for more

Murdered Ixopo farmer Peter Hackland (right) and his wife, Cecile

PHOTO: FILE

John and Hester Noble

PHOTO: FILE

Stephen Edmonstone (checked shirt)

PHOTO: FILE

While there were 1 653 fewer house burglaries in the past year, there were 1 334 more cases where armed gangs invaded those homes. The statistics confirm that criminals are staking out homes, and deliberately attacking them when their owners return.

Meanwhile Newham revealed the shift in murders associated with this in these telling statistics:

•“In 2009, 65% of murders occurred due to “social behaviour” – mostly arguments between young men that escalates into murder. Only 16% murders came from crimes like robbery. “

•“Since 2011/2012, serious assault has decreased by 9 478 cases, or a 5% drop.

•“However, in this time period there has been an increase of 1 458 murders - a 9% increase”

•“(And) during the same period that assaults went down, aggravated robberies increased by 18 148 cases - an increase of 18%.

Newham said: “The most concerning shifts have happened since the 2011/12 financial year.”

However, the ISS expert warned that other factors, “such as increased vigilantism, or gang or taxi violence”, could also have contributed to the change.

“We won’t know (for certain) until . . . the SAPS (shares) crime data with research institutions.”

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