At the beginning of the week of 9 September 2019, the South African Minister of Police released the 12- month official crime statistics for 2018/2019. The statistics show a disturbing increase in “contact crimes” (including murder, assault and rape) as well as an increase in commercial crimes. On average, 52 cases of homicide were reported daily during the period. Public surveys consistently show that South Africans consider crime, poverty and unemployment to be the most serious issues affecting them.

Almost without exception, the incidents of violence against foreigners that have been affecting Gauteng since the beginning of September were justified by the perpetrators as attempts to rid their communities of crime. The logic is simple – crime threatens everyone. Foreign nationals are responsible for crime. Therefore foreigners must leave. In the polemic around the issue, Nigerians have been particularly singled out as being responsible for crime, and in particular for dealing in drugs. There is, however, no evidence to support any of these assumptions.

Official crime statistics do not give a breakdown by nationality. But statistics of the Department of Correctional Services do. By 31 March 2019, South Africa had a prison population of 162 875 ( Out of the total, 4 982 were foreign nationals – a mere 3,05%. Of the foreign nationals in South African prisons, 426 (or 8,5%) were Nigerians. Of the Nigerians in prison, 186 were sentenced. The rest were awaiting trial. This means that Nigerians (including those sentenced and those awaiting trial) account for a mere 0,26% of South Africa’s total prison population.

By contrast, there are currently more than 400 South Africans convicted and serving sentences in Brazilian prisons for drug related crimes ( This is only in Brazil. There are many in Thailand and other countries serving sentences for drug related crimes as well. Brazil, like South Africa, has serious drug related problems. But we are yet to see public violence in Brazil against South Africans.

The statistics are self-explanatory. There is no evidence to indicate that foreign nationals are disproportionately responsible for crime in this country. Relative to their numbers, the statistics indicate that they commit fewer crimes.


Johan Viljoen


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