You can't lie about murders - Mthethwa
Giordano Stolley and Hlengiwe Nhlabathi
Pretoria - The country's murder rate has showed its largest decline since 1995, falling below 17 000 for the past year, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in Pretoria on Thursday.
"This is a significant achievement. Of all crimes, this is one category that you cannot cheat," he said as the country's national crime statistics for the year ended March 31 were released in Pretoria.
There were 16 894 murders in the year ended March 31, compared to the 18 148 murdered the previous year, representing a 7.2% drop in absolute numbers and 8.6% in the murder ratio to 34.1 murders per 100 000 South Africans.
The South African Police Service's (SAPS) crime statistician, Commissioner Chris de Kok, said research had shown that most murders involved people who knew each other, such as spouses. A considerable number involved alcohol consumption.
The number of attempted murders dropped by 4.9%, from 18 298 cases to 17 410 cases.
Sexual crimes, which now include the rape of men and pornography, fell 4.4% to 68 332 cases and resulted in 26 311 arrests.
A total of 64 670 people were the victims of street robberies, a drop of 10.4% on the previous year.
De Kok put this down to increased police visibility, but said criminals had adapted and as a result house and business robberies had increased 1.9 and 4.4% respectively.
The increases had, however, slowed and most of the business robberies targeted small enterprises such as spaza shops and informal traders.
There were 13 902 car hijackings, which represented a 6.8% decline on the previous year.
Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal were the worst affected with 7 444 and 3 715 cases respectively. Both provinces showed decreases compared to the previous year, of 2.8% and 8.5% respectively.
Other decreases were in cash-in-transit heists, down 7.3%, with 52 arrests, and bank robberies, down 8.8%.
Mthethwa said the decrease in various crimes was due to a combination of factors, including an emphasis on "crime intelligence".
"All units have to be intelligence-driven."
He indicated that partnerships with communities also played a major role.
Some crime areas showed increases.
Drug-related crimes went up by 17 668 cases to a total of 134,840, with 44.8% of them in the Western Cape. In 2004 there were 62 689 drug-related offences.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol also increased with 62 939 cases, against 56 156 last year.
There were 84 842 commercial crimes, an increase of 9.5% in absolute numbers.
This could be a sign of increasing financial pressure on the middle-class as a result of the weaker economy over the past three years, said the Crime and Justice Programme at the Institute for Security Studies.
Political parties and the banking industry on Thursday cautiously welcomed latest statistics.
The Democratic Alliance said South Africans had to leave room to be "cautiously optimistic".
There could be an even greater improvement in statistics next year as a result of the special measures taken by police during the Soccer World Cup tournament, it said.
The Christian Democratic Party welcomed the announcement that the country's murder rate had fallen, but questioned the accuracy of some the crime statistics released.
Inkatha Freedom Party police spokesperson Velaphi Ndlovu, commended the police, but said that more still needed to be done.
The banking industry also welcomed the drop in cash-in-transit heists and bank robberies.
The number of cash-in-transit heists dropped to 358, from 386 last year.
"We are cautiously optimistic that the continued efforts by the police to strengthen their partnerships with business and other sectors in the fight against crime will yield desired results," said South African Banking Risk Information Centre chief executive Kalyani Pillay.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, said a certain amount of scepticism would prevail because of the government's refusal to release crime statistics on a more regular and timely basis.
He said the latest statistics were already six-months-old and that the country could only celebrate when there had been several years of steady improvements and fewer South Africans were victims of crime.