South Africa's deputy Security Minister Susan Shabangu made headlines around the world today with her instructions to Pretoria police to "kill the bastards" – referring to the criminals in her country.
"You must kill the bastards if they threaten you or your community," Ms Shabangu is reported to have said to a crime rally – to which she received a standing ovation.
"You must not worry about the regulations. I want no warning shots. You have one shot, and it must be a kill shot," she told the police.
"I won't tolerate any pathetic excuses for you not being able to deal with crime. You have been given guns, now use them," she added.
I knew crime had gotten out of hand in South Africa, but I wondered how bad it had become to drive a government minister to make those sorts of comments – which in most parts of the world would outrage human rights activists.
Some quick research on the Internet revealed that, averaged over the past five years, there have been about 40 murders per 100,000 population in South Africa, compared to 1.7 per 100,000 in Australia and 2.7 per 100,000 in Malaysia – the two countries with which I am most familiar.
That’s a shocking statistic, and makes South Africa the murder capital of the world.
Of course, if you are a resident of Baghdad, you’ve got more chance of being killed there than in South Africa, but to include countries where there is a war or insurgency waging would be misleading (although interestingly the homicide rates that I saw quoted for Iraq on the Internet were less than double that of South Africa’s ‘peacetime’ rates).
(A few data sources also put Colombia’s murder rate slightly above South Africa’s but most have it at around 38 per 100,000, giving Colombia the number two spot).
South Africa has a population of about 44 million, so that means 17,600 people can expect to be murdered there each year.
According to various other statistics that I saw on other violent crimes, South Africa is not only the murder capital of the world, it tops the list for most other violent crimes as well.
I guess many South African citizens would therefore not have been outraged by Susan Shabangu’s comments, but sympathetic.
What is South Africa going to do when the 2010 World Cup is staged down there? Are they going to ask the murderers to observe a moratorium for a couple of weeks whilst all the football fans are in town?