Launch of the 2020 State of Crime and Safety in SA Cities Report

Launch of the 2020 State of Crime and Safety in SA Cities Report

by Urban Safety Reference Group [USRG]
11 September 2020

The UN System-wide Guidelines on Safer Cities and Human Settlements highlight “supporting the role of local governments in building cities and human settlements where all people are safe and enjoy equal rights, opportunities and fundamental freedoms” as a key priority. Drawing on these Guidelines, among other international and national pieces of policy, the Urban Safety Reference Group (USRG), is premised on providing a platform for structured collaborative learning, exchange and advocacy among city practitioners and other government stakeholders on issues of urban safety.


The State of Crime and Safety in SA Cities 2020 is an interim update and is a precursor to the 4th edition State of Urban Safety in South Africa Report, planned for 2021. With the aim of enabling continuity in evidence-based planning and implementation by city administrations and other actors with a role in the promotion of safer cities, this edition analyses the state of crime and violence in nine of South Africa’s major cities: Johannesburg, Cape Town, eThekwini, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, Mangaung, Buffalo City and Msunduzi.


The data on which the analysis is based comes from the annual crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the financial year from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019. A key limitation of data released at national, provincial and police precinct levels is that it does not show the actual distribution of crime.  This report addresses the evidence gap by aggregating data to the city level to give a more accurate representation of where crime is concentrated, and the context-specific interventions needed. Furthermore, the report overlays structural risk factors to strengthen the case for approaches that are long-term and move beyond law enforcement to address the social, economic and spatial drivers of crime and violence.


This edition continues the tradition of previous reports since 2016, in providing a longitudinal view of crime trends in South Africa’s major cities. The continuous time series of city-level crime statistics spanning 14 years, from 2005/06 to 2018/19 is a contribution to evidence-driven and preventive responses to crime and violence, bringing about safer communities in the country’s urban centres.


In recognition of all factors at play, this report foregrounds the significance of institutionalising urban safety as a cross-cutting theme and ensuring that it is embedded in the design, development and management of all public services.


Informal settlement upgrading processes and the planning and implementation of public spaces such as streets and parks, for instance, require transversal approaches that centre safety concerns from the outset and not as an after-thought. Planning and design elements such as street lighting, adequate recreational and sanitation infrastructure, designated informal trade areas, together with effective community engagement make the difference between vibrant and safe settlements and spaces, versus those that are dormant, plagued with social ills and in which the vulnerable (particularly women and children) are unsafe. Both these public services rely on the deliberate integration of spatial development, economic, social and environmental functions.

Crime trends profiled in this report show increased murder rates across many cities.  While the edition does not provide a demographic breakdown, national statistics show that male youth, many of whom reside in cities, make up the largest proportion of both perpetrators and victims of crime – including murder. On the other hand, South Africa is grappling with rates of gender-based violence that far outstrip global averages. One need not look too hard to find official (directly by SAPS) and other (through traditional and social media) reports of a sharp spike in GBV cases, especially during this Covid-19 lockdown period. These reports and analyses further iterate the need for consolidated policy and implementation tools that identify root causes and intervene in practical ways, other than law enforcement or criminal justice, to dissuade criminal and violent behaviours.


The State of Crime and Safety in SA Cities Report 2020 is a flagship product of the UrbanSafety Reference Group (USRG). The USRG was established in 2014 as the first institutionalised forum in South Africa that enables practice-based learning on the theme of urban safety and violence prevention to inform urban policy, planning and management. It is convened by the SACN with the support of the Inclusive Violence and Crime Prevention (VCP) Programme. The VCP Programme is a joint South African-German intervention steered by the South African Department of Cooperative Governance and various other departments and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).


For further information on the USRG or the State of Crime and Safety in South Africa Report 2020, please contact: South African Cities Network


For more information on urban safety and related topics, please visit:
Twitter: @safer_spaces
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Siphelele Ngobese is the Inclusion and Well-Being Researcher in the Inclusive Cities Programme at the South African Cities Network. To contact her email