SA: The violent crime crisis and the war against women

SA: The violent crime crisis and the war against women

Date: June 7, 2022
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By Susan Tolmay,

Johannesburg, 7 June: On 3 June 2022,  Minister of Police, Bheki Cele presented the quarterly crime statistics for reported crimes in the period 1 January to 31 March 2022 which he noted were especially brutal for women and children.


The statistics present a number of worrying trends.  Overall, there has been a 9,3% increase in reported crimes in the country, which is troubling. But this number masks even more alarming spikes in violent crime, especially against women and children, with double digit increases in these crimes.


There were 6 083 murders in the first three months of 2022, 1 107 more murders or a 22% increase for the same period last year.  This works out to 77 murders a day.  Of these murders 898 (15%) were of women, an increase of 134 (17,5%) for the same period last year.  And the murder of children under the age of 17 years has increased 37,2% to 306 murders in the three month period.  Eighty percent of murders were of men or people who identify as male.


If I could make a tragic comparison.  There were more murders in South Africa over the 79-day period than there have been civilian deaths in the 100 days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, making South Africa a more dangerous place than a war zone. South Africans are at war with each other.

The biggest causative factors for murder are arguments/misunderstanding (not domestic-related)/Road Rage/Provocation followed by vigilantism/mob justice and retaliation/revenge/punishment, crimes largely perpetrated by men, and which point to some of the toxic masculinity displayed in society.

Masculinity is a social construct, rooted in power and patriarchy and built on the idea that men are supposed to act in a certain way according to certain notions of the ideal man, such as being physically strong, the protector of the family, he takes part in masculine activities and risky behaviours, and that he is sexually virulent.  Toxic masculinity is where the notions and ideals of what it means to be a man lead to dire consequences for the man himself, and/ or for the people around him and is one of the major reasons for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)

This toxic masculinity plays out in the home, the workplace, public space and politics and is evidenced in the shockingly high number of rapes and sexual assaults that take place daily.  In total, sexual offences increased by 13.7% to 13,799 – the majority of the reported offences being rape. In the first three months of this year, 10 818 rapes took place, that’s 137 rapes a day, or six rapes per hour. And that is just the rapes that are reported, but we know there is significant under reporting of rape and sexual violence.  Almost half, 4,653, of these rapes took place at the home of the rape victim or the home of the rapist.

Sex-disaggregated data on selected domestic violence related crimes during the reporting period tells a stark story of the war taking place in the home, where women are the majority of the victims. Women were 95% of rape victims and 96% of sexual assault victims. Eighty eight percent or 12,314 incidents of common assault in the home were perpetrated against women. Sex disaggregated data on victims of all crimes, as well as their sexual orientation and gender identity, and data on the perpetrators of these crimes, would shed more light on the gender dimensions of crime in the country.

But the high levels of femicide and SGBV is not a new phenomenon and feminist and women’s rights activists have been ringing the alarm bell for many years. In August 2018 thousands of women said enough is enough and embarked on demonstrations across South Africa to protest the scourge of gender-based violence, through the #TotalShutdown campaign. Since then there has been a lot of talk about how to address SGBV in the country.

In November 201,  the government partnered with non-governmental organisations to hold a National Gender Summit, which resulted in the development of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF), which was launched on 30 April 2020. In 2021 the president committed R12 billion of government funds, over three years, to implement the NSP on GBVF, an unprecedented show of a financial commitment to address GBVF.  What is not clear is how this money has been allocated.  But despite the government’s commitment to addressing gender-inequality the 2022 Budget speech makes no mention of addressing violence, discrimination and inequality of women.

Although these are all steps in the right direction, feminists and women’s rights activists are frustrated by the lack of progress in meeting the 24 Demands put forward by the #TotalShutdown, there is too much talk and too little action and accountability.

The latest crime statistics show, once again, that South Africa needs to urgently address the violent crime crisis in the country. If something is not done to understand and address the root causes of violent crime in the country, more women will die, and we will be telling the same story this time next year.

Susan Tolmay is the  Gender Links Gender and Governance Associate. This story is part of the Gender Links  news series.


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