The 2021 Global Organized Crime Index ranks South Africa as one of the highest-scoring countries in the continent in terms of criminality levels and as the highest-scoring in the southern African region. These high levels of criminality are stoked by endemic gang violence, with groups particularly active in the drug trade and extortion rackets, compounded by accessibility of illicit firearms. The prevalence of targeted killings should be considered as a subset of these violent organized criminal markets in South Africa.

The fact that there is a commercial market for violence has been recognized by the South African state: several commissions of inquiry into violence have been established, including the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political assassinations in KZN. Several task forces investigating and prosecuting violence have also been established.

However, despite the high levels of targeted killings in the country, and even though there is recognition of this criminal market by the state, there is no dedicated state-level database that disaggregates targeted killings, which are instead grouped under the umbrella category of murder in the police annual crime reports, and there is still no consistent collection of data on the topic. Given this lack of disaggregated data pertaining to targeted killings, the GI-TOC has developed a database quantifying and categorizing assassinations, which records cases since 2000.

This report assesses and analyzes the problem of targeted killings by paid hitmen in South Africa by drawing from the latest iteration of this database, part of the Global Assassination Monitor project. It examines the reasons behind the latest targeted killings, measured between 2021 and 2022, and analyzes their characteristics and the illicit markets in which they occur.

The report builds on the GI-TOC’s tracking and analysis of targeted killings in South Africa since 2000 in order to construct the evidence base that can provide a platform for a call to action.