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South Africa murder rate lowest since apartheid: police

South Africa’s murder rate fell to the lowest level since the end of apartheid, an annual crime report showed Thursday, though police are struggling to rein in violent crime in shantytowns.

“The continued reduction in murder indicates that government is succeeding in its efforts,” police minister Nathi Mthethwa told a news conference.

Outside of war zones, South Africa remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with a murder rate surpassed only by Latin American nations embroiled in gruesome battles with narco-traffickers.

During the year that ended in March, police said 15,940 people were killed, down 6.5 percent of the previous 12 months, continuing a steady decline since the first multiracial elections in 1994.

In the 1995-1996 fiscal year, the first full year of statistics after the polls, South Africa suffered 26,877 murders.

For international comparison, murder rates are given as ratios per 100,000 residents to equalise differences in population. Last year South Africa’s murder rate was 31.9 per 100,000 people.

That’s still four times the global average in the latest UN data, but far lower than Central American countries like El Salvador, where the number was 71.

In the United States, one of the most violent rich nations, the number is around five.

The latest South African crime statistics report covers the year ending in March and included the period around the 2010 football World Cup, when police dramatically stepped up their efforts.

National police chief Bheki Cele said lessons from the World Cup were extended throughout the year, with increased police visibility and improved training.

“These were instructions given to police in improving training and approach. New (specialised) units were also created,” he told reporters.

Violent crime generally was down in South Africa, with murder, assault and sexual offenses falling 6.9 percent, Mthethwa said.

“While we are happy that this category generally has declined over the last two years, we remain concerned about the number of rapes that occur in the country,” Mthethwa said.

Rape cases rose from 55,097 to 56,272, though the minister indicated the 2.1 percent increase could have resulted from better reporting of the crime.

“We cannot seriously say we are winning the war against rape. We have however taken various steps in addressing this scourge,” he said.

“As we continue to improve our criminal justice system, we could see more reporting by victims.”

The police report also underscored that South Africa’s shantytowns skirting major cities remain the epicentre of the crime scourge, with more than 70 percent of murders and 75 percent of rapes taking place among people who know each other.

About 12 percent of killings in South Africa were committed in self-defence, the report said.

“The battle against crime cannot be separated from the war on want,” Mthethwa said.

“In the main, incidents of contact crime such as murder, grievous bodily harm and rape occur among acquaintances in poor communities where living and entertainment environments do not allow for decent family and social life.”

A new trend also emerged in the report, with a 61 percent increase in small bombs used to break open ATMs to steal cash, the report said. A majority of those cases were in Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria/