After six years of recording annual decreases in murder, the latest South African statistics for the 2012/13 financial year show a notable increase in the murder rate.
A total of 650 more murders were recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) than in the previous year, which works out to almost two more murders every day on average.
In addition, the police recorded increases in a majority of other violent crimes that South Africans fear most, such as attempted murder and most categories of robbery.
There were 1 504 more attempted murders, 4 684 more aggravated robberies and 16 582 more burglaries during this period than the previous year.
This means that on a daily basis in 2012/13, an average of 45 people were murdered, 49 homes were attacked by armed gangs and 718 homes were burgled.
While these figures show the average annual and daily picture, crime patterns change quite substantially from one month to the next.
The bad news is that violent and property crimes tend to increase substantially during the festive season when compared with the rest of the year.
An analysis of the monthly national crime data for the five years from April 2006 to March 2011 reveals that murder and serious assault increase by as much as 50% during December each year, while incidents of burglary increase by 8%.
House robberies increase in the months leading up to the festive season, starting in October and remaining high in December, until dropping by about 11% in January.
It is for this reason that the SAPS launched its annual national festive season operations – ‘Vas Vat’ and ‘Tsilela’ –in the Western Cape on 21 November 2013.
These operations will target drug dens, shebeens and taverns and will include roadblocks to crack down on drunk driving, among other offences. Police patrols will also be conducted in crime hotspots.
There are a number of reasons why crime rates increase over the festive season. Traditionally, this time of year sees more consumption of alcohol and other recreational drugs.
SAPS research shows that most cases of violence occur when acquaintances, friends or family members have arguments that spiral out of control, especially when people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In many cases, crime hotspots are therefore nightclubs, taverns, shebeens or, most notably, the homes of victims or perpetrators. For example, research by the Medical Research Council (MRC) shows that 56% of female murder victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
Criminals follow opportunities in terms of people and places. In the case of house burglaries, the opportunity is greater when people are away at work or on holiday.
House robberies are also more likely to occur over the summer holidays when people tend to let their guard down and spend more time outside with their doors open.
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