CAPE TOWN, Sept 23 – South Africa’s murder rate is down but still averages some 50 killings a day, the government said Tuesday in a crime report that does little to ease security fears for the 2010 football World Cup.
"You can’t be happy when 10 people are killed, let alone 18,000 people. When people in their own houses can’t be safe, you are not happy," said the tough-talking new police chief Bheki Cele.
"It is no use just to cry and fold your arms. We will be putting very strong mechanisms to make sure we respond."
The release of the statistics came as the US embassy and other US government facilities around the country shut down Tuesday due to security concerns, which were not revealed.
Cele said South African intelligence services had been in touch with American officials over the issue. "That issue is under control," he said.
Murders in South Africa fell by 3.2 percent to 18,148, the new statistics showed for the year ending in March.
Violent crime generally was down 2.8 percent, but house robberies jumped 27 percent — affecting nearly a quarter million homes.
Overall crime was up by 0.2 percent, in a nation already one of the most violent in the world, said Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
"We simply cannot tolerate a situation where people do not feel safe in their homes," he said.
While most murders are committed by someone who knows their victim, crime in South Africa generally remains violent and random.
"A greater proportion of murders, rapes and other crimes take place among acquaintances, particularly in poor communities where living conditions do not allow for decent family and social life," said Mthethwa.
But he added: "To a large measure, crime in our country has a uniquely random and violent character."
Sexual offences were up 10.4 percent, attributed to a change in legislation broadening the definition of rape.
The report said 27,750 rapes were committed, though only a fraction of such crimes are ever reported.
Successes included a 29.2 percent decrease in bank robberies, and decreases in street robberies and assaults.
The report admits South Africa failed to achieve a seven to 10 percent reduction in murder, promised in 2004, but said the murder rate had decreased by nearly half since 1994.
The Western Cape — the only province not run by the ruling African National Congress — lost its dubious status as the country’s murder capital with massive drops in crime, cutting murders by 23.4 percent.
Main opposition Democratic Alliance shadow minister on crime Dianne Kohler-Barnard said with the 2010 World Cup nine months away, this was no time for "empty promises".
"We need more police, and better training; we need to deal with the backlog of 20,000 forensic laboratory samples," she said.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, elected in April, has prioritised the fight against crime, with thousands of new police being trained ahead of the World Cup, a month-long event that is expected to bring tens of thousands of fans and focus worldwide attention on the country.
Legislation allowing police to use greater firepower against criminals will go before parliament before the end of the year.
Mthethwa said government is also improving police training, re-opening specialized units on sexual offences, boosting intelligence and reviewing the criminal justice system.
The more open discussion about security under Zuma stands in contrast to former president Thabo Mbeki, who incited public anger by brushing aside concerns over crime.