PRETORIA, South Africa — South Africa’s murder rate, one of the highest in the world, has dropped by 8.6 percent to its lowest level in nearly two decades, according to statistics released yesterday.
Authorities credited better policing for the decline. Officers had increased their efforts in preparation for the World Cup in June and July, when South Africa hosted hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the number of murders had dropped below 17,000 for the first time since authorities starting keeping nationwide statistics in 1994.
Attempted murder was down by 6.1 percent, sexual offenses by 4.4 percent, and armed robbery by 7.5 percent, he said.
Mthethwa cited better coordination among crime-fighting agencies, the profiling of most-wanted criminals, and the introduction of tactical response teams.
Critics have questioned whether some police departments are keeping accurate reports. Mthethwa said of all the crimes, murder “is the one category you cannot easily cheat.’’
“In other words, the fact that such a crime is counted based on the actual bodies makes it more reliable,’’ he said.
Annette Hubschle, a researcher from South Africa’s independent Institute for Security Studies, said while some numbers might be missing, “it is clear that there have been improvements.’’
The main opposition Democratic Alliance party, usually scathing in its assessment of the African National Congress government’s efforts to reduce crime, said the figures were reason for cautious optimism.