South Africa

Beyond Khayelitsha: Just how unequal is distribution of police in South Africa?

By Marelise Van Der Merwe 8 April 2016

Last week, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) filed an application in the Equality Court against the Minister of Police, National Police Commissioner, Western Cape Provincial Commissioner and the Minister for Community Safety in the Western Cape, saying that despite the damning outcome of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, there was still an inequitable allocation of police resources between poor and wealthy neighbourhoods. This week, applicants say they’re just getting started, and hope this will only be the beginning of a national drive to change the way crime is fought in South Africa. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.

If Equal Education (EE) has its way, its application in the Equality Court will ultimately not only transform police allocations in the Western Cape, but all over the country.

Currently the case is about Khayelitsha,” EE’s Deputy General Secretary Nthuthuzo Ndzomo told Daily Maverick following a meeting with the organisation’s lawyers on Thursday. “But it’s a case which actually talks about the realities of high school learners all over the country – in Soweto, King William’s town and other places. It speaks to the reality of teachers in schools where they don’t feel safe, even when they go outside.

When something does happen, the response time of police is not quick. It is really stressful to them. I’m sure you know about Manenberg, for example. These are the realities we want this case to deal with.”

Last week, the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) filed an application in the Equality Court, on behalf of the SJC and EE (represented by Webber Wentzel) against the Minister of Police, National Police Commissioner, Western Cape Provincial Commissioner and the Minister for Community Safety, Western Cape, to demand equitable allocation of police resources between wealthy and poorer areas.

The application was made in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000.  

Currently the allocation of resources unfairly discriminates against poor, black African communities, in which the vast majority of our organisations’ members live and attend school,” the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) said in an initial statement on 1 April.

Ndzomo told Daily Maverick that EE would be placing a particular focus on the struggles of pupils and school staff due to under-resourced police stations in high-crime areas. “It was clear last week that that would be our focus,” he said. “In townships, we would like to draw attention to the crimes taking place while learners are going to school. While teachers are teaching, there are bullets flying into the classrooms. Teachers do not feel safe. Response times are frequently delayed, especially in Khayelitsha. It is not possible for police to get to the scene rapidly if there are incidents happening in seven schools at the same time. The response time is much different to the response time in Camps Bay or Rondebosch, where there are more police officers and fewer crime incidents.”

The impact of inequitable police distribution on education is severe, says Ndzomo.

One of the problems is that it’s not necessarily a citizens-vs-police war; often the officers themselves are also struggling due to their stretched resources. This is one of the things the application hopes to address, says Ndzomo – “that officers have the necessary resources”.

The applicants said at the time of filing the application that the SAPS had a constitutional obligation to allocate police resources in an equitable manner, but that this had not been done. On the contrary, they argued during the press conference the previous day, the proposed Makhaza Police Station in Khayelitsha had been identified as a priority area as early as 2004, but construction is only scheduled for 2018/2019 – 14 years later.

As Ndzomo points out, though, it’s not just Khayelitsha facing such a problem. The statistics paint a grim picture. Cape Town areas dominate the 10 worst precincts in several categories, including murder, attempted murder, common assault, malicious injury to property, theft out of a motor vehicle, illegal possession of firearms, robbery with aggravating circumstances, and arson. For the Western Cape overall, a number of categories see an increase in crime larger than the national average: for example, contact crime increased by 7 percent in the Western Cape while nationally it stabilised at 0.9 percent. Property-related crime decreased by 2.8 percent in the province, while nationally it stabilised at 0.8 percent, and total contact-related crime increased by 10.9 percent in the Western Cape versus the national average of 6.0 percent. Most notably, half the murders were contained in the top 10 precincts, of which Nyanga was the first. Nyanga is the murder capital, also being critically under-resourced, with one station policing six sectors.

Further details can be viewed by individual precinct here; suffice to say that there is, in many cases, an overlap between high crime and low allocation of police resources. Crimestatssa has a useful heat map that provides a fairly clear visual indication of where the crime hotspots are, cross-referenced with the location of police precincts, the picture is disconcerting.

In April 2015, Ndifuna Ukwazi, represented by Director Zackie Achmat, and the SJC, represented by General Secretary Phumeza Mjungwana, gave a presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police regarding the SAPS budget for the 2015/2016 financial year, highlighting the Khayelitsha Commission’s finding that the deployment of vehicles, officers and other resources was done in a “fundamentally irrational” manner. Two heat maps were presented, one of which illustrated the number of police officers allocated to a precinct, the other showing the number of murders taking place in that precinct.

A GroundUp report at the time summarised it: “The maps show that the areas in traditionally wealthy white suburbs closer to the city centre with the highest allocation of police officers had the lowest number of reported murders. In fact, the fifteen stations with the lowest number of reported murders had on average 1 police officer for every 232 people. The fifteen stations with the highest number of murders had on average 1 police officer for every 1,153 people.”

The presentation further quoted Khayelitsha Detective Commander Colonel Marais’ testimony before the Khayelitsha Commission:

We have weekends that from the Saturday morning until the Sunday night we have seven murders. And [Cape Town Central] have got 110 detectives and I have got 60 and I don’t think it is fair and I don’t think it is correct.”

In some cases, township detectives were allocated as many as 158 dockets per officer.

This is not to say authorities are not amenable to change; at the beginning of April 2016 a press statement on police, the DPCI Budget and new policing structures was released nationally. “The Portfolio Committee on Police will next week focus on the R80-billion budget the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Directorate for Priority Crimes (DPCI) have been allocated towards the 2016/17 crime prevention efforts,” it read.

Allocation of resources to different police stations will […] be a major focus during this week. The committee says there is a need to get assurances from police management that necessary resources and human capital will be made available to ensure that historic imbalances are addressed. Appropriate resource allocation should also ensure that new settlements that are fast growing get the necessary policing attention. Constant evaluation of demographic trends and timeous shifting of resources need to be addressed.”

In 2015, Western Cape Minister of Community Safety Dan Plato slammed co-respondent National Police Minister Nathi Nhleko for allegedly reneging on promises to intervene in the Western Cape’s rising crime levels.

“An analysis of the 2014/15 crime stats clearly demonstrates how criminal activity is escalating in the Western Cape,” he said.

Where SAPS is most under-resourced, crime is highest. A major driver of criminal activity is the scourge of illegal liquor outlets, alcohol and drug abuse. This requires a comprehensive response from the authorities.

It is more essential than ever for specialised units, including the gang and drug units, to be reintroduced to curb gangsterism and drugs in the Western Cape. National Police Minister, Nathi Nhleko, has seemingly changed his mind since the commitment he made in May 2015 to ensure the reintroduction of these units.”

In the meantime, DA member of the provincial legislature Daylin Mitchell has called for the SAPS to reinstate anti-gang units in the Western Cape following reports that gangsters are using Uzis and R5 assault rifles.

Ndzomo, however, says that for citizens, talk is cheap, politicking is tiresome and change is long overdue.

One of the things that came out of the commission, and from various studies, is that people in townships have lost faith in the justice system,” says Ndzomo. “This is due to the fact that police officers do not or cannot arrive on time, and from the fact that dockets go missing or cases go missing and you have to reopen them. Cases take forever. Officers take forever to give their full attention, given the amount of cases they have to deal with.”

This is not only the case in peri-urban areas and in townships, says Ndzomo, but also in under-resourced rural areas. “Some of the feedback we have received from learners is that they are getting raped, mugged and stabbed walking to school,” he says. “You find that sometimes they change schools because of the conditions their schools face – a high-risk school provided by the education department. They may try to go to a school not regarded as high-risk, but because of their social background they may not be able to change schools.

There is additionally a high dropout rate amongst boys. Many boys are victimised if they are not part of a gang – there are stabbings and beatings. Parents may relocate their children to escape, but not all of them can.”

The SJC’s Mlungwana pointed out last week that it had been two years since the Khayelitsha Commission, and “as a last resort we are going to court”, she said. “We’ve tried to engage; we’ve written letters; we’ve protested; we’ve had meetings with the state and police, and clearly they are not in the position where they want to review the matter.”

When Daily Maverick spoke to the SJC on Thursday, they had just received their completed affidavit with expert testimony from Jean Redpath of the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative (CSPRI), who investigated in depth police resource allocations at the time of the Khayelitsha Commission. Redpath noted:

I found that the average was 283 police personnel per 100,000 of the population. The most resourced was 2,636 per 100,000 in the policing area Table Bay Harbour, and the least resourced area 111 per 100,000 in Harare. All three Khayelitsha policing areas demonstrated less than the average allocation, with Khayelitsha at 190 per 100,000 and Lingelethu-West at 275 per 100,000. In the case of Lingelethu-West, had I used SAPS population figures, an even lower ratio would have pertained. Indeed, I noticed that a number of areas which to my knowledge are similar to Khayelitsha in that they have large informal settlements and/or serious violent crime, also demonstrated figures which were much lower than the average. Indeed most areas with fewer than 200 police per 100,000 people appeared to be such areas.”

Redpath’s list of 20 areas with fewer than 20 police per 100,000 included Harare, Lwandle, Belhar, Nyanga, Ocean View, Delft, Cloetesville, Grassy Park, Macassar and Gugulethu – all of which are high crime areas.

For the moment, the matter is still in its early stages. The demand, as was widely reported last week, is for the minister and the acting National Commissioner to revise the system of allocating human resources through an open, consultative process in order to ensure outcomes that are rational and nondiscriminatory; make the theoretical and actual allocation of police human resources publicly available; remedy the alleged discriminatory allocation of resources within the Western Cape; and declare that Provincial Commissioners have the power and the obligation to deviate from the theoretical human resource allocation in order to provide a fair and equitable distribution of police resources. What the outcome will be, though, remains to be seen, not least because the respondents are keeping mum. The Ministry of Police said last week that it would respond in court, while Daily Maverick’s query to the office of the Acting Police Commissioner went unanswered before deadline.

The applicants, however, are girding their loins for a long fight. “Those in affluent areas are getting better services,” says Ndzomo. “If we wanted to fix inequality in 1996, this is something we should have dealt with then.” DM

Photo: A member of the South African Police Service fires rubber bullets on striking community members in Zandspruit, an informal settlement west of Johannesburg, South Africa, 17 March 2016. EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND.

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