South Africa murder rate shows sharp fall

South African policeman holding a gun (file photo)
Image caption Greater police visibility has helped reduce crime, the government says

The murder rate has fallen by 8.6% over the past year in South Africa, latest statistics show.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the total number of murders was now about a third lower than 14 years ago.

He also said that 46 of South Africa's 50 most wanted criminals had been arrested.

South Africa has long been seen as one of the world's most violent countries but hosted the World Cup this year with few major incidents.

The latest figures cover the year up to March 2010 and so do not include the June-July football tournament, when hundreds of thousands of foreigners visited the country.

"We are really encouraged in the significant decline in the murder rate," Mr Mthethwa said.

He said the number of murders was below 17,000 in the past year, for the first time since national statistics started being complied in 1994, compared to almost 27,000 in 1995-96.

Street robberies and sexual offences also showed declines of 10.4% and a 4.4% respectively.

Police have attributed the decreases to greater co-operation between the police and community policing forums and increased police visibility.

Analysts say they are pleased with the latest crime statistics.

"The crimes stats that we are seeing have given us a message of hope," said Johan Berger of the Institute of Security Studies.

Mr Berger said the World Cup preparations may have contributed to the fall in crime levels because of extra measures taken by the police in preparation for the tournament.

Mr Berger, however, said South Africans may not have noticed much difference yet.

"Based on studies we have done it takes time throughout the world for the public to begin to feel the effects of a decrease in crime, there may be a downward trend for sometime but it doesn't immediately translate to residents feeling safer in that country," he said.

There has, however, been an increase in "crimes of need" such as stock theft and shoplifting, which were put down to unemployment and poverty.

There has also been a 2.7% increase in house burglaries.

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