THE Eastern Cape has for the fourth consecutive year emerged as the most murderous province in the country.
Speaking in parliament where he released the latest crime statistics yesterday, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa revealed that the province had over the past four years seen an increase in murders, resulting in the highest murder rate per 100000 people across the country.
Between April last year and March this year, a total of 3278 cases of murder were reported – a 2.8% increase per 100000 residents from a total of 3187 murders the preceding year.
The Eastern Cape has also bucked the national trend by showing an increase in serious and violent crimes such as hijackings and house robberies.
Robberies – both house and business robberies – have spiked across the entire province over the past year.
According to the 2011-12 figures, a total of 1747 house robberies were reported, an increase of 191 cases compared to 2010-11.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, 566 house robberies were reported.
Business robberies in the province have also skyrocketed, with an increase of 515 armed robberies compared to the 2010-11 period.
Over the past year, 2173 business robberies were reported across the province.
This marks the highest number of business robberies since 2003, when only 346 were reported.
Car hijackings were also up in the province, from 527 reported cases in 2010/11 to 644, while sexual offence-related cases dropped from 9380 cases in 2010-11 to 9239.
The national trend saw hijacking drop from 10627 cases in 2010-11 to 9475 this year, and sexual offence-related cases from 66196 in 2010-11 to 64514.
The decrease in hijacking was attributed to the police Crime Intelligence Unit and was described by Mthethwa as being a "more organised" crime linked to the export of hijacked vehicles across South Africa's borders.
Sexual-related crimes – which include rape, molestation and sexual assault – saw a national decline from 66196 cases to 64514.
The Eastern Cape followed the downward trend with a decrease from 9380 cases last year to 9239 this year.
In the Southern Cape, robberies with aggravating circumstances along the Garden Route are on the rise.
Aggravated robbery increased in George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Oudtshoorn, with 530 cases this year compared to last year's 388. Sex crimes also increased from 618 to 648 cases.
Despite a national and provincial decrease in reported rape cases, Mthethwa said it was still unacceptably high. "More resources and better training of police mechanisms are now being put in place.
"A working relationship with the judiciary has been established to have such cases prioritised.
"The correctness of the decision we took in the past few years is indicated in the major victories that this unit [Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences] has managed to score over the last two years," Mthethwa said.
Institute for Security Studies crime analyst Dr Chandre Gould said the increase in murders pointed to socio-economic problems within the province that had to be addressed.
"Crimes like murder and assault are ones that the police cannot do much about," she said.
"The majority of these murder cases stem from assaults linked to drug and alcohol abuse. For this to change, there needs to be some degree of change to the socio-economic conditions.
"What is very worrying is the increase in business robberies. Small businesses make up 68% of South Africa's workforce and these are the businesses that appear to be targeted."
Gould said a further breakdown of figures revealed that 13% of the culprits arrested for armed robberies were still in school and more than 30 % were employed.
"This is very worrying and measures must be put in place to drastically curb these robberies."
She said the spike in hijacking and home invasions in the Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela Bay could be linked to the displacement of crime from other provinces.
Eastern Cape police spokesman Brigadier Miranda Mills said 60% of the crime figure for the province could be attributed to East London, Nelson Mandela Bay and Mthatha.
She said these areas had been identified as "priority stations" and crime prevention efforts in the areas would be "increased significantly".
Efforts to curb the rising murder rate would see a clampdown on illegal taverns and shebeens.
"In terms of robberies, we have seen that small and informal businesses are being targeted, especially foreign-owned businesses because of the high cash flow and poor security measures in place," Mills said.
Countrywide, spaza shops are targeted and make up about 35% of the total.
"We are committed to cutting crime even more and, with the help of the public, we will succeed," she said.
Nationally, murder decreased from 15940 in 2010-11 to 15609, while home invasions dropped by 123 reported cases from 16889 to 16766.
According to Mthethwa, research by police indicated that about 65% of the murders nationally started off as assaults resulting from arguments, mostly fuelled by alcohol and drugs.