All the main parties agree it is a problem.
The governing Africa National Congress (ANC) – in power since 1994 – is frank about the situation.
Its manifesto – published ahead of the general election on May 8 – says that drugs, violence and gang activity “are wreaking havoc in many communities”.
“Gender-based violence has reached crisis proportions,” it also states.
In its manifesto for the last election in 2014, the ANC had promised: “We will work to further reduce levels of crime, specifically contact crime like murder, rape and grievous bodily harm.”
So has any progress been made since then?
Since 2014, official data shows a general decrease in all crime – with a slight uptick in the most recent year.
This is from the Victims of Crime Survey, based on extensive interviews carried out annually by the government’s statistics authority.
This is the case with both household crime, which includes burglary and vehicle theft, and individual crime – violent and non-violent crime experienced by a person, such as robbery and sexual assault.
But what about the most serious crimes like murder?
South Africa had the fifth highest murder rate in the world in 2015, according to data compiled by the United Nations (UN).
Since the last election, the number of murders has continued to rise each year.
Murder rates are regarded as a reliable, well-documented crime statistic.
There were just over 20,300 murders last year, over 3,000 more than in 2014.
An upward trend began in 2012 and last year had the highest number in 15 years.
Also, there has been a drop in the number of murder cases solved or concluded because there was no case to answer.
Analysts say there has been a fall in the effectiveness of the police – despite an increase in funding.
“The capacity of the police has declined dramatically,” says Gareth Newham, crime expert at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS Africa).
Corruption has weakened the country’s crime-fighting capacity, a government-initiated commission of inquiry heard in April this year.
The ANC says it is cracking down on what is called “state capture,” attempts by private interests to influence public institutions in their favour.
Incidences of murder vary across South Africa’s nine provinces, and the factors driving killings can be heavily localised.