South Africa


‘Fewer guns, fewer murders’ – Winde aims to fast-track search warrants in hunt for illegal firearms

Metro police gang and drug unit searches two men during an operation in Ravensmead. 15 April 2017. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks/Groundup

One of the key challenges in reducing the high crime rate in the Western Cape is the shortage of detectives and other staff, resources such as police vehicles, and the securing of criminal convictions, says Western Cape Minister of Community Safety Alan Winde.

Fewer guns means fewer murders”, said Western Cape Minister of Community Safety Alan Winde at a press briefing in Cape Town on Thursday 6 November.

The community safety department has launched a hotline where people can be rewarded R10,000 for anonymously reporting an illegal firearm which is handed over the police. Thus far more than 70 calls have been fielded. Half have information which could lead to the confiscation of illegal firearms and ammunition. Winde said he will meet judicial officials in an attempt to “fast track” search warrants to ensure there are no delays in confiscating illegal firearms reported to authorities.

In gang-ridden communities where gunshots are heard on a daily basis and children are often too afraid to play outside, go to the store or walk to school, Winde said that too many people are being caught in gang cross-fire and too many are victims of violent crime.

We can no longer allow crime to dictate the rules in our communities… crime statistics clearly show the horror of what we’re facing,” he said.

During the 2017-2018 period, the Western Cape recorded 10 murders a day and 10 attempted murders a day. There were also 19 reports of sexual offences daily and nine reported counts of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition a day. More than 80% of all gang-related murders in South Africa occur in the Western Cape and innocent bystanders are often hurt or killed in the crossfire.

Gun Free South Africa’s Adele Kirsten says the illegal guns tip-off line is a good initiative and local knowledge is crucial to finding out where illegal guns are kept. On the Cape Flats in particular, where young men are overwhelmingly the victims and perpetrators of gun violence, a key task for the SAPS is to recover and remove illegal firearms and ammunition.

But Winde said the police are facing an uphill battle, especially those stationed in gang-ridden communities where resources are few and far between. He said the national police department was not pulling its weight. If police stations were adequately resourced, there would be a decline in crime patterns.

Communities are crying out for visible policing and faster response times… [Police Minister Bheki Cele] has already shown that addressing crime in this province is not high on his priority list, and he excludes this province from his engagements,” said Winde. As an example, said Winde, the national police department held a press briefing to report back on the successes of the recently launched anti-gang unit and did not invite the province.

Cele’s spokesperson, Reneilwe Serero said the police minister’s briefing “was not a closed event” and Winde and his team could have attended if they had wished to.

Why must we invite them? Why must we invite the Western Cape to the press briefing? At no stage did we indicate the event was closed. Do they invite us when they host press conferences?” asked Serero, confused as to why Winde had raised this as an issue.

A recent report by EWN says that more than 110 gang-related arrests have been made since the anti-gang unit was formally launched at the beginning of November. The anti-gang unit is comprised of members from specialised units who weaken the capacity of gangs and disable the criminal economy linked to gangsterism and firearm supply lines. after national protests against gangsterism broke out in communities including Hanover Park, Bonteheuwel and Eldorado Park in mid-2018.

Winde acknowledges the achievements of the specialised unit but insists that general crime fighting efforts have been “crushed” due to national government radically depleting the number of police officers in the Western Cape. Nationally the average is one officer to every 369 residents. In Cape Town, there’s one police officer for every 560 residents, according to Winde.

It’s obvious that the resources allocation is wrong. The decisions made at the national level are wrong. Stop playing politics with crime; people deserve to have efficient, effective policing,” he said.

Kirsten said the urgent matter of crime and violence prevention should not be used as “political football” and national and provincial must work together, share information and intelligence “to develop a comprehensive picture of how gun violence manifests”, rather than mud-slinging.

Violence is a complex phenomenon and requires a multifaceted approach… The police’s job is to make sure that we all feel, and are, safe,” said Kirsten.

Serero told Daily Maverick that the national police department is well aware that under-resourced stations and a dire shortage of police personnel were not a problem unique to the Western Cape. She said high crime rates and under-resourcing was a national issue that the department was addressing by bringing more police officers on board in 2019.

According to Serero, 5,000 newly trained officers will be deployed in 2019 and their distribution will be determined by provinces in need, rather than equally spread among different regions.

Fully fledged police officers will be sent to provinces who have higher statistics of crime, there will be distribution by demand… it has nothing to do with politics,” she said.

Serero said her department is satisfied with the crime fighting that is taking place and even though “we are not out of the woods, we know that the people of the Western Cape will be safe and feel safe, and we’ll fight all levels of crime that come our way.”

Gun Free South Africa will release a report in early 2019 on the history of gun control in democratic South Africa. It expects an amendment to the Firearms Control Act in 2019.

Gun Free South Africa has been collecting data and information and trying to get a 20-year retrospective on what has and has not worked. As we go into 2019 we need to look at the current climate where we see 23 people shot and killed every single day. Our report will help policymakers understand the trajectory of gun control and what we need to do moving forward,” said Kirsten. DM


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