Sunday, 20 September 2009

Did 142 academics & others get it wrong on crime?

James Myburgh

15 September 2009

Victimisation surveys fail to support claims made in open letter to Canadian govt

JOHANNESBURG - Last week some of South Africa's most prominent academics appended their signatures to an open letter protesting the granting of refugee status in Canada to a white South African, Brandon Huntley (see here). The refugee panel board apparently found (inter alia) that the ANC government was failing to protect the white minority from criminal violence perpetrated by black South Africans.

The 142 signatories included Melissa Steyn, Intercultural and Diversity Studies, University of Cape Town; Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor, University of Salford; Max Price, Vice-Chancellor, UCT; Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor, University of the Free State; Thandi Sidzumo-Mazibuko, Acting Vice Principal, UNISA; Crain Soudien, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UCT; Adam Habib, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Johannesburg; and, Arnold van Zyl, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Stellenbosch.

In the letter, addressed to the Charge d'Affaires of Canada in South Africa, the signatories protested that "it is simply untrue that white people are being targeted disproportionately. Black South Africans are much more likely to be victims of crime, largely because they are less able to afford the protections and security measures which most white South Africans, as still privileged citizens, are able to acquire."

Given the eminence of the signatories, their sheer weight in numbers, and its apparent plausibility, this assertion has gone largely unquestioned. But is it true? A number of crime victimisation surveys have been conducted over the past decade. Do they support, or contradict, the claims of this combination of learned academics?

What the crime victimisation surveys say

In March 1998 Statistics South Africa conducted a comprehensive ‘victims of crime survey' (see here). This found that whites were somewhat more likely to fall victim to crime than other race groups. 16,5% of white respondents said they had experienced at least one individual crime in 1997, as compared to 16,8% of Coloureds, 14,1% of black respondents, and 11,4% of Indian respondents. Black and Coloured respondents were slightly more likely than whites to have experienced violent crime as individuals (but not households.) The differential between black and white individual victimisation rates (2,4%) was fairly low.

Table 1. Individual crime victimisation (Jan to Dec 1997)

One (or more)

Black: 14.1
White: 16.5
Coloured: 16.8
Indian: 11.4


Black: 85.9
White: 83.5
Coloured: 83.2
Indian: 88.6

Source: Statistics South Africa survey, 1998

This survey was conducted in the period during which the ANC transitioned from its policy of ‘reconciliation' to the aggressive pursuit of ‘Africanisation.' In 1998 the ANC began the implementation of its dual policies of taking control over the levers of state power and asserting ‘African hegemony' within them. The ANC leadership now also began to express virulent anti-white rhetoric.

For instance in a speech in February 1999 the then Minister of Health, Nkosazana Zuma, accused the white minority, and their political representatives, of arrogantly refusing "to acknowledge that they need to cleanse their hands, which for decades have been dripping with the blood and tears of millions of victims....They have shown no remorse or contrition and pay scant regard to the suffering, pain and humiliation for which they have been responsible."

It is an open question whether such racialist propaganda would have given the green light to criminals to cross over the colour line en masse. However, at the end of 1999 an HSRC survey found that 39% of white respondents had experienced crime over the previous year, as opposed to 16% of black respondents. As the HSRC research report noted, "When analysed by population group, distinct differences emerge. White and Indian respondents report substantially higher victimisation rates than black or coloured respondents" (see here- PDF).

Table 2: Reported crime victimisation (Nov 1998 to Nov 1999)


Blacks: 84
Whites: 61
Coloureds: 82
Indians: 68


Blacks: 11
Whites: 19
Coloureds: 10
Indians: 15

More than once

Blacks: 5.8
Whites: 20
Coloureds: 8.6
Indians: 17

Source: HSRC, national opinion survey 1999

In 2003, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) conducted a further victim of crime survey, designed to be compatible with the 1998 Statistics South Africa one. This found that "Black (64%) and coloured (62%) South Africans were much more likely to feel very safe during the day than whites (35%) and Indians (11%)."

Despite being "still privileged citizens" whites and Indians were less able to secure their own homes than other race groups. The report on the survey noted: "In terms of who is most at risk of housebreaking, white (14%) and Indian (14%) households were more likely to say they were burglarised than were blacks (7%) and coloureds (4%)...Most of the burglaries discussed by respondents occurred at night (70%), but were as likely to occur when the residents were at home (50%) as when they were absent (50%)."

More recent surveys continue to suggest that the prosperous racial minorities were still more likely to fall victim to crime, despite the extensive security measures that they may have invested in. In April/May 2007 Markinor asked crime victimisation questions in its regular omnibus survey. These found that a disproportionate number of whites (20%) and Indians (22%) had fallen victim to crime over the past six months, as compared to black (9%) and coloured (9%) respondents.

Table 3: Victims of crime in intimate circle (Sept 2006 to March 2007)


Blacks: 32
Whites: 56
Coloureds: 31
Indians: 66


Blacks: 68
Whites: 44
Coloureds: 69
Indians: 34

Source: Markinor survey, March 2007

56% of whites and 66% of Indians said they knew someone in their intimate circle who had fallen victim to crime over the past six months.

Table 4: Individual crime victimisation (Sept 2006 to March 2007)


Blacks: 9
Whites: 20
Coloureds: 9
Indians: 22


Blacks: 91
Whites: 80
Coloureds: 91
Indians: 78

Source: Markinor survey, March 2007

The ISS's 2007 crime victim survey, conducted in Oct-Nov 2007, also found that white (29%) and Indian (32%) respondents were more likely to report having fallen victim to crime over the past twelve months than black (22%) and coloured (25%) respondents.

Table 5: Individual victims of crime Oct 2006 to Oct 2007


Blacks: 22
Whites: 29
Coloureds: 25
Indians: 32


Blacks: 78
Whites: 71
Coloureds: 75
Indians: 68

Source: ISS, National Victimisation Survey, 2007

In a report on these results Michael O'Donovan noted that "contrary to popular perception, the likelihood of being a victim of a crime rises with income. The high rating accorded police by African respondents in general is largely a product of their low victimisation rates which, in turn, reflect higher levels of poverty within the group."

This finding, O'Donavan notes, "is in accordance with other data, like the official crime statistics, which also indicate that poorer areas enjoy lower rates of serious crime. Obviously the levels of victimisation vary by social group, and different communities will be susceptible to different crimes. Poor communities, for example, may experience higher levels of assault and rape, but will not be as vulnerable to vehicle hijacking, bank robberies or business burglaries. Both SAPS statistics on serious offences and the NVS surveys show that wealthier communities and individuals are, in general, more likely to be the victim of crimes."


Thus, all these surveys show that, over the past decade, white (and latterly Indian) South Africans have been "much more likely to be victims of crime" than black South Africans. It is possible that there are other surveys out there which contradict the findings above. Politicsweb did contact four of the signatories asking for the sources for their claims on crime. At the time of publication this had not been supplied.

The results of the surveys above do however accord with other survey results which have found an extremely high fear of crime among these particular racial minorities. If one follows the logic of the signatories of the open letter - that whites and Indians should be less vulnerable because of the "protections and security measures" they are able to afford - what does it say if they are, in reality, more likely to fall victim to crime?

Another question is why over a hundred of our top academics appended their signature to a document without (apparently) interrogating its factual accuracy?

Source: Politicsweb

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