South Africa

Cape Flats

Anti-gang unit doing a good job but much more co-operation needed, top cops told

South African Police members of the new Anti Gang Unit (AGU) march during the launch of the new unit in Hanover Park, Cape Town, South Africa 02 November 2018. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

Civil society and law enforcement agencies need to work together for Cape Flats gangsterism to be eradicated. This was the main outcome of a Tuesday meeting between civil society representatives and a full contingent of police officials who were forced to listen to stories of how crime affected their communities and what could be done to defeat the gangsterism embedded in communities for decades.

Despite the good work done by the South African Police Services (SAPS) anti-gang unit, a meeting between senior police officials, including Police Minister Bheki Cele, and civil society representatives heard that a focus on greater involvement by government departments and other entities was needed to eradicate gangsterism.

Tuesday’s meeting in a hot room in Parliament made for uncomfortable observation as speaker after speaker said that while they were happy about the unit, especially in Cape Town’s gang-infested communities, they needed more support from other departments and entities to fight not only gangsterism, but other crimes too, in these communities.

The unit was formally launched amid much fanfare in Hanover Park in November 2018 by president Cyril Ramaphosa, alongside police minister Bheki Cele, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and government and parliamentary officials.

A full unit is operational in the Western Cape and task force teams operate in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, with plans to roll out the programme nationally by 2021.

SAPS’s latest crime statistics showed the Western Cape had the highest murder rate as a result of gang violence, shifting attention to the province, and especially communities on the Cape Flats which are most affected by gangsterism, crime and substance abuse.

In the Western Cape, there were 889 dockets opened by the anti-gang unit, with 448 already taken to court and 441 dockets still under investigation.

SAPS Major-General Leon Rabie said that five alleged hit men had been arrested, who were linked to various cases.

Cosatu’s Tony Ehrenreich, who told the meeting “we accept that there cannot be only a policing solution”, wanted a broader approach to solving deeper socio-economic issues such as extreme poverty that led young people especially to gangsterism.

Ehrenreich said young people who see gangsters with material possessions that they lack would conclude that the lifestyle was “bling” and they “live the life” denied to their parents, who didn’t have access to any economic opportunities.

Our experiences are that drugs are the main source of income in these situations,” said Ehrenreich, who wanted more job opportunities for young people drawn into selling drugs for income.

Cosatu also wanted a re-look at the way the justice system worked for gang-related crime — as Ehrenreich put it, “in fact, the conviction rate is about 12%”.

Lucinda Evans, a community activist from Lavender Hill, also called for a change in the justice system.

Her T-shirt, which read “An injury to one vagina is an injury to all vaginas”, shocked the meeting, as much as the stories she told of victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults who were failed by police and the justice system.

When are we going to put words into action?” she asked, pointing out that “when there are no shootings, girls are getting raped” in Lavender Hill.

She spoke extensively of how sexual assault survivors needed specialised support from the police and the court system.

Avril Andrews, from Moms Move for Justice — a support group for women who had lost their children as a result of being caught in gang crossfire — referred back to the #TotalShutdown march held in October 2018, which called for an end to gangsterism in Cape Flats communities.

Read Daily Maverick’s report on that march here.

When will our demands be heard?” asked Andrews, who questioned why despite memorandums being handed over constantly, nothing positive was being done to change the problem of gangsterism in communities.

Police Minister Bheki Cele, who sat making notes and listening to speakers, said: I think there was a fire burning in Western Cape, so we had to come here.”

Cele said that because of the anti-gang unit, children could now play in streets he visited in Uitsig, when previously “they were shot in the street”.

Community involvement is a 50% solution,” added Cele.

National Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sithole said “as I listen, everyone is prepared to work with the police — civil society, government agencies” and concluded the day’s meeting with “let us close the gap, let us work together”. DM

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