South Africa's murder rate rose again last year, official statistics showed Tuesday, with over 20,000 people killed across the country -- about 57 a day -- as police admitted they were struggling to keep control.
A total of 20,336 people were murdered in the 12 months to March this year, a rise of 6.9 percent over the previous year and one of the sharpest increases since the end of apartheid 24 years ago.
"Fifty-seven a day -- that's how (many) South Africans are murdered. It borders close to the war zone, while there is a peace. And there is no war in South Africa," Police Minister Bheki Cele told lawmakers in Cape Town.
"The figures that always scare me are murder figures," he said.
"South Africans must not take it as a norm that they can be hijacked, robbed and killed every day."
Cele admitted that the figures revealed that the police had "dropped the ball" in their crime-fighting efforts.
Presenting the figures to parliament, Norman Sekhukhune, the police official responsible for crime statistics, said the murder rate had increased for six consecutive years.
Lawmaker Francois Beukman, who heads the police oversight committee in parliament, described the numbers as "alarming and totally unacceptable."
The statistics included details that there were 62 "farm murders" in the last year -- a racially sensitive issue in South Africa, where some white farmers say they face a wave of deadly attacks trying to force them off their land.
U.S. President Donald Trump last month ignited a firestorm of debate when he claimed on Twitter that there was a "large-scale killing of farmers" in South Africa -- where the government fiercely rejected his accusations.
- Gang violence, turf wars -
The province with the highest number of murders was Western Cape, which includes Cape Town -- the country's top tourist hub -- followed by Gauteng, the seat of the capital Pretoria and the economic hub of Johannesburg.
The rise in murder rate was partly down to gang violence and lethal turf wars over the control of lucrative taxi mini-bus routes that transport many poorer South Africans to work.
Police also revealed that they recorded at least 18,233 cases of attempted murder.
"This is indeed war-zone levels," said Mmusi Maimane, head of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party.
"Our police need better training, equipment and resources... We need a better criminal justice system so that murderers are locked up and keys thrown away."
South African police often come under fire for failing to bring down crime levels, while police chiefs saying they need at least 62,000 more officers.
"We are concerned with the one of the biggest increases in murder since the advent of democracy in 1994," Gareth Newman, director for crime and justice program at the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies (ISS) told AFP.
"However, we welcome the fresh approach of the new top leadership of the police to recognize and tackle this problem."
Attacks on cash-transporting security vehicles rose sharply by 56.6 percent to 238 cases.
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