Analysis of murder in SA’s deadliest provinces calls for policing rethink

A new policy brief on soaring murder rates says government and police should prioritise murder-reduction partnerships.

14 NOV 2023  

Pretoria, South Africa – Murders have been increasing consistently in South Africa over the past decade, reaching a high of 45 deaths per 100 000 people in 2023. On average, 75 people were killed every day over the last year.

Between the birth of democracy in 1994 and 2012, the murder rate dropped by 55% to its lowest level of 29.5 per 100 000. Since then, socio-economic stagnation and dysfunctional criminal justice institutions have contributed to a 53% escalation in the rate.

In terms of the raw figures, the number of murders increased by 77%. In the 2022/23 financial year, 27 494 murders were recorded, up from 15 554 in 2011/12.

But despite this crisis of violent crime, the government has not publicly acknowledged the need for a focused response to the problem, which is devastating lives, families and communities.

Murders are not randomly distributed across the country. Four of South Africa’s nine provinces recorded 83% of all murders. At a local level, half of these violent crimes occur in only 12% of the country’s 1 162 police precincts. 

New Institute for Security Studies (ISS) research examined provincial differences in murder trends. Published in an ISS policy brief, author and ISS Consultant David Bruce found that:

  • The Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng lead the country on per capita murder rates.
  • These four provinces also recorded the highest increases in murder rates since 2011/12.
  • In 2022/23, the risk of being murdered was highest in Eastern Cape, with a rate of 71 killings per 100 000. Next highest were KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape, both with annual murder rates of 56.
  • Since 2011/12, rates have risen most dramatically in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, followed by Gauteng.
  • Unlike the other three most-affected provinces, murder rates in Western Cape decreased marginally in the last five years.

‘A proper assessment of the factors driving murder trends in these four provinces would enable the development of practical, context-specific interventions that work,’ said Bruce. ‘This kind of strategic approach would also reduce related forms of violence and violent organised crime.’  

The policy brief is part of ISS’ efforts to motivate the government and the South African Police Service (SAPS) to emphasise reducing murder and associated forms of violent crime, as part of their approach to improving public safety.

Rather than large-scale, high-visibility policing operations that have failed to reduce crime for over a decade, a different strategic approach is required. ‘Ideally, specific police commanders in high-murder areas should be provided with the appropriate resources and tasked with establishing partnerships to implement practical, evidence-based interventions with measurable objectives,’ said Gareth Newham, Head of Justice and Violence Prevention at the ISS.

A reduction in murder would not only save lives and prevent trauma, but help improve conditions for local economic development and South Africa’s attraction as an investment destination.  

For media inquiries, contact:

David Bruce, ISS: email:


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