Is crime rate in South Africa high because of homosexuality?

Member of Parliament for Ningo Prampram, Samuel Nartey George, has said crime rate is high in South Africa because the country has legalized homosexuality.

He made the claim in an interview he granted Nigerian TV station, News Central after Ghana’s parliament passed a Bill that criminalises homosexuality.

“Even on the African continent, which country has the highest crime rate? South Africa. Why? It’s because they have embraced homosexuality. It’s one of the growing factors in that country,” the MP said in the interview.

Fact-Check Ghana has verified this claim and presents the facts below.

In 1957, a paper titled Crime in South Africa: Some Aspects of Causes and Treatment was published by Dr Robert Williamson, a Professor of Sociology and Psychology at Los Angeles City College, in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. The paper established that crime, even as of 1952, was a major issue in South Africa.

Citing the official yearbook (Census data) of South Africa (then the Union of South Africa), Dr Williamson indicated that “of a total of 1,163,388 convictions for both ‘serious’ and ‘non-serious crime in 1952, 156,373 were of whites or Europeans, 868,007 of natives, 114,080 of Coloured, and 24,928 of Asiatic.”

He attributed the disproportionate crime rate among native South Africans to several factors. Principal among them was the racially discriminatory apartheid policy. The policy promulgated “discriminatory laws relating to liquor production, distribution, and consumption; and most important the ‘pass laws,’ which define his [native South African’s] mobility and access to employment, education, and residence,” the paper reported.

The poverty of the natives and the movement from rural to urban centres at that time resulted in an uptick in criminal activities, the paper noted.

“Unemployment, migration, and other forms of social disorganization account for the poverty as demonstrated by the squatter camps of cast iron, tin, or odd lumber. As with most part of the world, urbanization itself is a variable in the causal sequence, as there’s maximum opportunity to experience frustration, conflict, poverty, gang life, and other forms of personal disorganization,” the paper added.

Sex offences, in general, he found were “inconspicuous compared to other categories.”

The sociologist and psychologist, however, indicated that homosexuality as “found in the mining compounds, due to the isolation of the male on labour contracts,” was because of the apartheid laws.

“The one refuge for the African is the weekly pass of several hours to the city and its beer halls. With the two-to-one ratio of African men to women in the cities (four to one in Johannesburg), the indices for prostitution and homosexuality are high.”

For her 2012 Master of Social Work thesis at the Department of Social Work and Criminology, Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria, Julianna May researched the Triggering and Contributing Socio-economic Factors to Aggravated Robbery: The Perspective of offenders at Baviaanspoort Maximum Correctional Centre. 

The respondents for the paper said aggravated robbery had increased since the political transition in 1994. This, they said, was a result of freely available illegal firearms. The socio-economic factors, according to the respondents, were: poverty, unemployment, inequality, substance abuse, intra and interpersonal factors. Some respondents indicated that crime was easier than working for a living.

After analysing data put out by the South African Police Service, the World Bank Group decided to assess the determinants of crime in the country in an empirical study in 2017. Among all the causes, the study focused on the role of unemployment, income and inequality. It found a positive relationship between income levels and violent crimes in South Africa.

In 2019, the World Bank Group released another report titled: Background Note: Crime, Violence, & Exclusion in South Africa Society.

The report indicated that:

“There is broad consensus among policy experts and researchers of crime and violence prevention that violent behaviour is provoked by a complex interaction of physiological, psychological, and environmental factors. There are, therefore, no direct “causes” of violence; there are instead individual characteristics related to biology, personality, and environment that increase a person’s risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence.”

The World Bank Group concluded that the causes of crime in South Africa were:

“Inadequate laws governing firearms; policies that maintain inequality or discrimination based on race or gender; culture of male sexual entitlement; pro-violence norms.

Poor policing; access to firearms, drugs, and alcohol; poverty; tolerance of interpersonal violence.

Witnessing violence in the home or community; beliefs that condone interpersonal violence; poverty; age; gender; alcohol or drug use; Patriarchal or physically violent family environment; substance use by parents.”

Although the report mentions gender as a cause of crime in South Africa, that reference is not about sexuality. The explanation given is about “equitable gender relations” between men and women and how this relationship can “escalate civil conflict” among other things.

A research article titled Crime in South Africa was published in the journal Crime Law and Social Change in 2020. The paper, published by Qakathekile G. Mathuthu at Ndlela University of South Africa, found several factors as the fundamental reason crime rate in the country was high. They included: corruption in the justice system, unemployment, tribalism, poverty, the massive gap between the majority poor and the minority rich, a patriarchal society, and the recruitment and training of police officers.

Although the enormous amount of research published on the causes of the high crime rate in South Africa does not include homosexuality, there has, however, been an increase in hate crimes targeted at the LGBTI community in South Africa in recent times. This follows the coming into force of the Civil Union Act, 2006 which legalised same-sex marriage.

A paper published in 2019 highlighted how violence, abuse and discrimination are militating against the control of HIV/AIDS among the LGBTI community.

Even though South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, the LGBTI community, the research found, faced “considerable challenges, including societal stigma, homophobic violence (particularly corrective rape)” among others.

Three years earlier, the BBC reported on the killing of Motshidisi Pascalina. She was murdered because she was gay, according to the news report.

On January 18, 2022, the queer community in South Africa wrote to the Deputy Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery. Their letter raised concerns about the increasingly targeted crimes against LGBTQI+ persons. The letter indicated that between February and October 2021, 20 LGBTQI members were murdered.

The minister expressed concern about the increasing attacks against the LGBTI community in the country.

“These attacks are extremely concerning and put the dignity, well-being and safety of all people of different sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics in South Africa at heightened risk.

“Individuals in these vulnerable communities continue to be subjected to hate crimes and gender-based violence (GBV). At the same time, we are also seeing allegations of homophobia and bullying of LGBTQI+ learners at schools in our country,” he said.

Although South Africa legalised same-sex marriage in 2006 and is the only African country to do so, research from diverse sources shows that homosexuality has not been a major cause of crime in the country. Indeed, the data shows that the crime rate in South Africa had been high years before the passage of the Civil Union Act which legalised same-sex marriage. Hate crimes against individuals from the LGBTI community in South Africa have rather added up to the rate of crimes in the country but are not the reason why the country has a high crime rate.

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