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October 09, 2012

Crime Study: South Africans Fear Housebreaking Most

by Nadia Samie

A new study that examines perceptions of crime in Africa’s largest economy indicates South Africans fear burglary, or housebreaking, the most.

South Africa has long had one of the highest crime rates in the world. Despite a recent drop in violent crimes, most South Africans still have fear.

The latest crime-perceptions study by government-appointed Statistics SA indicates that six-out-of-10 households are worried about housebreakings and robbery more than any other crime.  

Thirty-thousand rural and suburban households in all nine provinces were polled for the 2012 “Victims of Crime” report.

Perceptions

Kefiloe Masiteng, the deputy director-general of Statistics SA, explains the purpose of the survey.

"The objective of the Victims of Crime is to get a sense of people and the populations’ perceptions of crime and how it manifests itself.  Then there are also issues in terms of the effectiveness of the services that they get from the police and the courts," said Masiteng. "And then they also give a sense of what crimes are more feared, and what is more common. This is the information that is supposed to be used to make sure that the policy-makers in the crime and justice system are able to understand how the people feel, so they are able to respond correctly."

In suburban parts of South Africa, it is normal to see homes with burglar bars on every window and a security gate on every door. Most families - if they can afford to - also employ a private security service, which will patrol the area, monitor the house’s alarm system and provide armed response 24 hours a day to a housebreaking.

With that in mind, it does not come as a surprise that burglary is greatly feared. Masiteng broke down the survey’s main findings.

"What has been very clear is that about 59 percent of households in the country perceive housebreaking or burglary to be one of the most common crimes. It’s followed by home robbery and street robbery, and then pick-pocketing. So people are more scared of those four. The other one that came into that rank, at 38.8 percent of households, was murder, as one of the most feared types of crimes."

Public 'feels' vulnerable

The survey was released just a week after the release of the official police crime statistics, and the figures show citizens' perceptions here are not affected by government efforts to reduce crime.   

While police figures show a decrease in certain crimes, South Africans typically indicated they feel less safe in their homes than they did a year before.

Masiteng said what is important to note is that the police figures represent actual crimes, while her survey represents the way citizens actually feel. She said the crime perception among communities will only drop once the actual crime figures come down more significantly.

The perception study also indicates that many South Africans fear walking alone.

Twenty-nine-old Gail Swartz said it depends where in the country you live.

"I live in Cape Town, SA. I live in the City Center. And what crime I fear the most is petty crime in the CBD [Central Business District], said Swartz. "But my concerns on a bigger scale are for family and friends who live in the suburbs, where an increase of housebreak-ins and possibly murder occurs."

No faith in police

Bryan Pritchard lives in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. He said he feels relatively safe, but only because of the precautions he takes.

”Well, the suburb that I live in is basically in the upper-class side of Johannesburg, where I feel it’s quite safe to walk in the evenings. That being said, because there is an armed response driving around in the evenings," said Pritchard. "But in the same light, I don’t feel safe without my alarm being set, without security gates being closed, and being basically being locked into my cage in the evenings, otherwise I don’t feel safe. Monthly, I spend about U.S. 45 dollars on security for my house and vehicles.”

The Victims of Crime perceptions study also has found that many South Africans have lost faith in their police service. Some respondents said they simply do not bother to report crime, as they do not believe anything will ever come of the case.

Masiteng said those perceptions, however, are not universal.

"People feel that yes, there is a lot of trust around the police and how they respond. But you still have about 34.6 percent of households that say they are not very confident with the way that police respond to the crime scenes. Some, about 15 percent, just simply said they feel the police are poorly organized, and are lazy to do their work," said Masiteng.

Also, many families are opting to keep their children away from parks and outside recreation areas, and refuse to use public transport, fearing it would put them and their loved ones at risk.