Cape Town, Durban, Gqeberha, and Johannesburg are among the 50 most violent cities in the world, with the former three featuring in the top 30 alongside global peers such as Tijuana, New Orleans, and Baltimore.
This was revealed in the Mexican Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice’s annual ranking report of the world’s most violent cities.
The report aims to show how violent Mexican cities are compared to their global counterparts, with nine of the top ten cities in Mexico. The cities are ranked according to the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
Cape Town, Durban, Gqeberha, and Johannesburg are the only cities in the ranking not from North America or South America.
Cape Town is the most violent South African city, ranked 12th in the world, with 2,998 murders among a population of 4.7 million – a ratio of 63 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
Durban ranked 15th with a ratio of 59.37 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Gqeberha was 18th on the list with a ratio of 56.99, and Johannesburg 34th with a ratio of 41.43.
Policing expert Dr Guy Lamb told Newzroom Afrika many factors are driving violent crime in South African cities, predominantly access to illicit firearms.
However, Lamb said the results of any study of this nature are distorted as it relies on crimes being reported, so the reality is likely worse than indicated.
Murder statistics are typically the most reliable as they are the most reported crime compared to other forms of violent crime.
Furthermore, violent crimes across most cities, including the South African cities listed, are highly concentrated in specific areas. The majority of inhabitants do not feel violent crime.
This is particularly true in Cape Town and Gqeberha, where most violent crime is conducted by gangs resolving interpersonal disputes in specific areas.
Despite highly concentrated violent crime, a city’s image and reputation are still damaged by its association with violent crime.
Lamb warned that this is a characteristic of the most violent cities globally, and gang violence is increasing in South Africa and spreading to other cities, particularly Durban.
This is driven by widespread access to firearms, often acquired illegally, and large quantities of ammunition, increasing the likelihood of interpersonal disputes becoming violent.
“Of course, police corruption has contributed to the uptick in violence. There are a few individuals among the police who took thousands of confiscated weapons and sold them on to gangs for personal gain,” Lamb said.
However, a large portion of crimes in South Africa are driven by socioeconomic factors that have to be addressed by government policy.
“If these are not addressed, the police can only take it so far.”
The police has proven itself able to combat organised violence from gangs in the past, but it has lost focus on preventing the illegal sale of firearms.
Lamb said Cape Town has managed to turn the corner and has seen a reduction in violent crime over the past few years, while other South African cities have experienced an increase.