Public Safety

Unemployment also contributed to rising crime and violence against women. South Africa had one of the world’s highest murder rates—six times higher than America’s rate and 20 times higher than Britain’s; between 1994 and 2009, 275,000 murders occurred in the country. In 2009 alone, around 50 murders, 100 rapes, 700 burglaries, and 500-plus violent assaults were officially recorded every day. (Moreover, while the murder figures were believed to be accurate, it was estimated that only 1 in 10 rapes was reported to the police.)

That is not to say that the government ignored the problems and that no improvement in some of the crime rates occurred. A police report in September 2009 showed the crime rate for serious offenses had fallen by a fifth, the murder rate by half, and rape by a third over the 15 years since

1994. However, violent house robbery doubled between 2004 and 2009, and armed robbery at businesses also increased significantly.11

Public Health

One of the gravest public health issues in South Africa has long been the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. It is well-known fact that former President Thabo Mbeki denied the existence of HIV/AIDS, as defined by medical experts, and suppressed the widespread use of the drug AZT. Mbeki believed the root cause of HIV/AIDS was poverty, allowing him to ignore the pandemic in his country. That was when South Africa became the country with the largest number of AIDS victims for a middle-income developing country. Indeed, all of the poorest African countries at that time reported lower AIDS rates; the only country with a higher AIDS rate was Botswana.12

Harvard University researchers have since estimated that 365,000 premature deaths due to AIDS could have been prevented had the government acted sooner and provided antiretroviral drugs. By 2008, the overall death rate related to HIV/AIDS had increased to 756,000 from 573,000 in 2007. At that rate, policy makers predicted, deaths in South Africa could eventually outnumber births.13


The government’s commitment to social services was reflected in the 22 percent increase in government expenditure on such services from 1994 to 2009. The government also improved the physical infrastructure—including water, sanitation, housing, electricity, and communication—of a greater number of South Africans. In 2004, it offered housing subsidies to two million people. Meanwhile, the number of households with electricity more than doubled between 1994 and 2000, from 32 percent to 70 percent. More than four out of 10 South Africans, however, still lacked modern sanitation.14

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