Armed robberies shoot up in South Africa ahead of World Cup

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Armed robberies rose dramatically in South Africa last year, crime statistics released on Tuesday showed, as the country grapples with some of the highest crime rates in the world ahead of its hosting the World Cup finals.

The murder rate, one of the highest in the world for any country not at war, stayed almost constant, at 18,148, or an average of 49.7 people killed every day, down just under two per cent.

Sexual offences, though, rose to 71,500, almost 200 a day, an increase of 12 per cent. No separate figure was issued for rapes.

The biggest jump in violent crime was in the statistics for armed robberies, with attacks on business premises leaping 41.5 per cent and those on houses going up 27.3 per cent.

The fear of crime is ever-present in South Africa, and afflicts both rich and poor in a country still deeply affected by the legacy of apartheid.

In the wealthier suburbs of the country's biggest cities those who can afford to live behind high walls and electric fences, their burglar alarms connected to armed response services who arrive within minutes of a siren sounding.

In poorer areas, residents are known to take matters into their own hands, beating and sometimes killing suspected criminals.

Recognising the widespread unhappiness about the phenomenon, Jacob Zuma, the populist new ANC president, has promised to make fighting crime a priority, in stark contrast to his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, who argued that people's fears were based on misperceptions.

Nonetheless, it is an enormous task. Bheki Cele, the hardline new police commissioner, who has called for police to be allowed to "shoot to kill" criminals, said: "Am I happy, no, I'm not happy. You cannot be happy when 10 people are killed let alone 18,000." The police minister Nathi Mthethwa pointed out the murder rate had decreased slightly, but said crime in South Africa had a "uniquely violent and random character", adding that the rise in house robberies was a major concern.

"It is one of the crimes that are the most intrusive and personalised," he said.

"We simply cannot tolerate a situation where people do not feel safe in their homes." But the opposition Democratic Alliance accused the ANC of failing to tackle the problem, saying that the disbanding earlier this year of the Scorpions, a high-profile anti-corruption unit that had investigated several politicians, among them Mr Zuma, sent the wrong signal.

"With the 2010 World Cup fast approaching, the usual rhetoric and empty promises must once and for all be brought to an end," said Dianne Kohler-Barnard, its shadow police minister. continues here

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