13 July 2017

South Africa: Femicide in South Africa - Three Numbers About the Murdering of Women Investigated

Photo: Trevor Bohatch/GroundUp
Gender violence protesters hold up a sign with a scissors and a noose on it (file photo).

After the murder of young Johannesburg woman Karabo Mokoena (22) - allegedly by her ex-lover - the usual discussion about how to end femicide in South Africa followed. Africa Check vetted 3 figures used by a government minister.

South Africans "must be extremely worried" about the number of women being murdered in the country, Minister Nathi Mthethwa told a femicide imbizo at the end of June.

"South Africa femicide rate is 5 times more than the global rate," Mthethwa, the minister of arts and culture, added. Key findings from the "many surveys which have been done on this matter" included that "in South Africa, every 8 hours a woman is killed and at least half of these women die [at] the hands of their intimate partners".

A reader drew our attention to the claims. Africa Check then contacted Mthethwa's spokesman to get his source, but at the time of publication, it was still outstanding. (Note: We'll update the report should we hear back from spokesman Lisa Combrinck.)

Claim: "... every 8 hours a woman is killed"

Verdict: incorrect

To get the latest figures on femicide, Africa Check spoke to Major-General Sally de Beer, the South African Police Service's head of corporate communication.

Between April and December 2016, the police recorded a total of 14,333 murders, De Beer told Africa Check. Of these, 1,713 were women.

This works out to a woman being murdered every 4 hours in South Africa. (Note: When women murdered by intimate partners are considered, the most recent data points to one murder every 8 hours, as we explain next.)

Claim: "... at least half of [murdered] women die [at] the hands of their intimate partners."

Verdict: unproven

De Beer told Africa Check that "the crime registrar office of the South African Police Service does not keep intimate-partner-violence statistics, as this is not a legally defined crime".

The most recent data we have on intimate partner femicide in South Africa is from a study published in 2013, of which Dr Naeemah Abrahams, deputy-director of the South African Medical Research Council's Gender and Health Research Unit, was the lead author.

The researchers collected autopsy data of women aged 14 years and older from mortuaries across the country between 1 January and 31 December 2009. This data was then corroborated with interviews the researchers conducted with police investigators "to verify the cause of death, to identify relationships with perpetrators and to collect other crime investigation data".

Abrahams and her co-authors defined intimate femicide as the murder of women at the hands of their "current or ex-husband or boyfriend, same-sex partner or a rejected would-be lover".

The study indicated that the police could identify the perpetrator in 1,792 of the 2,363 cases the researchers identified. In 1,024 of the murder cases (43%), the murder was committed by an intimate partner, with the rest either not involving an intimate partner or an unknown perpetrator.

As some of the unidentified perpetrators could have been an intimate partner, it is possible that at least half of the murdered women could have died at the hands of someone they were intimately involved with. But at this stage - and since the police don't keep this data - we can't say for sure.

Claim: "South Africa's femicide rate is 5 times more than the global rate."

Verdict: mostly-correct

Stephanie Burrows, a technical officer in the World Health Organisation's Violence and Injury Prevention programme, told Africa Check that the organisation's latest murder estimates provide data for 2015.

The organisation collected data using a questionnaire which was completed by respondents "working on violence prevention" in various ministries and institutions. Data was collected for the years 2000 to 2010.

Using this, the organisation projected murder figures for 2015. Burrows noted that the estimated global rate of femicide for 2015 was 2.4 per 100,000 women. South Africa's rate for the same year was 9.6 per 100,000 women. This would mean that South Africa's rate is 4 times that of the global average when considering the latest estimates.

When actual data for 2010 is considered, we see that the country's femicide rate was then 5.1 times higher than the global average.

Year SA rate/100,000 women Data source WHO global average rate/100,000

1999 24.7 MRC -

2000 21.4 WHO 3.3

2005 17.3 WHO 2.9

2009 12.9 MRC -

2010 13.4 WHO 2.6

2015 9.6 WHO 2.4

The rate of femicides needs to be contextualised within the broader murder rate. Abrahams told Africa Check that a high femicide rate was plausible as we "have high homicide anyway".

The Institute for Security Studies' Crime and Justice Information Hub manager, Lizette Lancaster, added that South Africa's "murder rates more than halved" between 1994/95 and 2011/12. "Therefore, it is very likely that our femicide rate also decreased. Of course, the overall murder rate increased by almost 13% in the past 4 years."

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