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Perceptions of Safety Decline in South Africa

Perceptions of Safety Decline in South Africa

More respondents report being crime victims this year

by Magali Rheault

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- South Africa often receives the dubious distinction of being the crime capital of the world. Such a negative image may be a key obstacle to the country's goal of attracting 10 million foreign visitors by 2010, when it will host the soccer World Cup. The South African Police Service in a recent release acknowledged that the country experiences high levels of "contact crimes" such as murder and assault. While such news does little to dispel the image of pervasive violence, what are South Africans' experiences of crime and how do they compare with those of their neighbors in the region? Findings from a recent Gallup Poll show that South Africans report relatively high levels of personal experience with crime, in comparison with those reported in many other parts of the world. However, respondents in other countries in the southern Africa region report similar, if not higher, levels of victimization.

According to a 2007 Gallup Poll, 22% of South Africans say they or another household member had money or property stolen in the past year, compared with 25% of Zambians and 38% of Mozambicans. Additionally, 13% of South Africans report having being assaulted or mugged in the past year, which is on par with the 10% of Zambians and Zimbabweans who say they were the victims of such crimes. Further, Malawians (27%) are twice as likely as South Africans to report being assaulted or mugged.

Almost 6 in 10 South Africans (56%) say they have confidence in their local police force, which is similar to percentages observed in other countries in the region (although 82% of Malawians say they trust their local police). But South Africans are noticeably less likely than respondents in other southern African countries to say they feel safe in their communities. Less than one-third of South Africans (31%) say they feel safe walking alone at night, compared with 42% of Zambians and 52% of Mozambicans.

Of note, however, is the decline in South Africans' perceptions of safety from 2006 to 2007. Last year, 41% of South Africans told Gallup they felt safe walking alone at night, compared with 31% this year. Additionally, more respondents say they were the victims of a crime. In 2006, 15% of South Africans reported having money stolen from them or their families and 8% said they had been assaulted or mugged. This year, South Africans' self-reported experiences of such crimes were 22% and 13%, respectively. Except in Malawi, where self-reported assault rates are up, South Africa is the only country in the region where reported personal experiences with these two types of crime increased significantly between 2006 and 2007.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults in South Africa, aged 15 and older, in July-September 2007. Poll data from Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were collected in June-July 2007 and are also based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older.

Results from 2006 are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older in Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and were collected from March through November.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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