With a multitude of tourists heading to South Africa for the World Cup, a question hangs on many lips: how dangerous is the country?
South Africa is a place where a lot of violent crime happens.
That much is hard to dispute.
Each day an average of nearly 50 people are murdered.
In addition to these 18,000 murders each year, there are another 18,000 attempted murders.
Murder is a staple of the news. In April, it was white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche. Earlier this month, it was Lolly Jackson, the flamboyant owner of the Teazers strip club chain, killed at a house in Kempton Park, just outside Johannesburg.
In the run-up to the World Cup, newspapers have been happy to convey a terrifying picture of South Africa.
One recently told its readers about “Cape Town’s culture of gangsters, drugs, rape, robbery and a murder every 25 minutes”.
So should football fans fear for their lives at the World Cup?
It’s a complicated picture, says Johan Burger, senior researcher in the crime and justice programme at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.
The first thing is that the South African murder rate is going down and not up.
“Contrary to what many people think, the murder rate, while still extremely high, is down by about 44% since 1995. That’s a huge decrease.”
The geographical and social spread of murder might also be relevant to visitors.
“What is important to understand about our high crime rate is that we know from research that approximately 80% of our murders happen within a very specific social context, mostly between people that know one another.
“There is something wrong within some of our communities in terms of the social interaction and the social conditions.”
In blunt terms, areas with problems have murder levels that can be wildly above the national average.
Kwa Mashu, a township outside Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, has the unfortunate honour of being dubbed South Africa’s murder capital by the media, with 300 last year. It took the unwanted honour from Nyanga, a township outside Cape Town.
These are not the kinds of areas that are regularly frequented by tourists.
Dr Burger says research done by other academics points to the social basis for a high crime rate in such areas.
“There are extremely high rates of unemployment in some areas. All of this leads to a large element of frustration. Often this is the thing that sparks violence.
“The gap between rich and poor is still widening and it leads to what is seen as relative deprivation. The people in the very, very poor communities, they see wealth.
“It is not just a gap, it is a visible gap. The situation is aggravated by poor service delivery. Many of our municipalities are in complete disarray, complete dysfunction. This then leads to dissatisfaction. People protest sometimes very violently.”
There are many other crimes apart from murder which are seen as problematic in South Africa.
The national figure of 203,777 episodes of “assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm” might be alarming. It’s hard to compare this with the UK where statistics are grouped differently, though the latter has a larger population (61 million compared with South Africa’s 49 million.)
But like murder, many offences are geographically weighted, says Dr Burger.
Of the 18,438 house robberies in South Africa last year, 8,122 were in the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg. The likelihood of being a victim is twice the national average there.
Carjacking is a category of danger that would be novel to most visitors from western Europe.
There are junctions which are signposted as carjacking blackspots, and there are areas where drivers will avoid stopping at red lights, particularly at night, preferring the risk of a fine to the risk of hijack.
“Many people may come in rented cars and then like everyone else they will run the risk of this,” says Dr Burger. He notes that “most of the time” carjacking victims are “threatened or violently removed… not seriously injured”.
Unlike most categories of violent crime, recorded instances of carjacking are on the rise in South Africa. The police do their best to fight it, says Pretoria News crime reporter Graeme Hosken.
“We have had a problem with gangs following tourists from OR Tambo airport [near Johannesburg] and the cops cracked down on that. I take precautions. I’ve been nearly hijacked myself on an open freeway.”
Keep your car locked while driving
Don’t stop for strangers or people who have broken down
A blue light does not necessarily mean they are police
If carjacked, do not offer resistance
Carjacking is geographically skewed with half of the 15,000 happening in Gauteng
“There’s another crime that poses some risk to visitors and that’s street robbery,” says Dr Burger.
“People are seldom seriously injured or stabbed or shot. In most cases people are threatened. Criminals will see the World Cup as a huge opportunity.”
People can take a number of steps to reduce their chances of being robbed in the street, he says:
Avoid advertising. Don’t show you have valuables on your person
Take precautions by trying to go to some of these places in groups of five, six, seven or more people
Most importantly, make a point of seeking advice
“The locals know which places people should avoid and the times people should stay away from certain areas.”
If England win their group and make it as far as the quarter finals, they will play in Soccer City, Johannesburg.
There are areas in the city that have a disproportionate level of crime. Ask a local and they may advise against travel to Hillbrow or Yeoville at night.
At the same time, people could also point out that every city has its bad bits.
“I wouldn’t go to dodgy areas in London, or the dodgy areas in Liverpool or Manchester,” says Hosken.
But of course the crime issue is high on the agenda for the World Cup organisers.
The South African Police Service has prepared a plan that includes extra officers, high visibility policing, and deployment of specialist teams.
“I’ve seen the police plan, it’s extremely impressive,” says Dr Burger.
But while there may be optimism about the police plans, there is still a deep sense of unease, says Hosken.
“The government says crime is going down, [but] 50 odd people are being killed every single day. There is scepticism about what is really happening.
“While crime might be going down, it is [often] extremely violent, armed robberies, hijackings. It is very in your face, it is very gruesome. The robbers will come in and not only attack a couple, [but] rape the wife, and severely assault the husband.
“People are worried about what the government is trying to feed them. The violence associated with crime is increasing.”
And while the South African police can point to decreasing crime and the efforts they are making, fighting the fear of violence is harder.