South Africa

POLITICS VS POLICING

‘Rats run all over Western Cape police station’: DA hits back after Bheki Cele says province is most resourced

From left: Western Cape Minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Police Minister Bheki Cele. (Photo: | Western Cape Premier Alan Winde. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

Tensions between the DA and the ANC over policing in the Western Cape have increased in the run-up to the local government elections on 1 November.

DA leaders in the Western Cape say more police are desperately needed in the province, while Police Minister Bheki Cele says it’s the most-resourced in the country. Between these conflicting stances, the fact remains that crime needs urgent tackling as lives are being lost — a recent example being the murder of a child in a suspected gang shooting.

On 29 September a bullet struck a four-year-old girl while she was inside her home in the Cape Town suburb of Ottery.

She later died in hospital.

It was suspected the young girl, named in news reports as Scarlett Cottle, was the inadvertent victim of a gang shooting — children getting caught up in criminals’ crossfire is, horrifically, nothing new in the Western Cape.

About a week later, Police Minister Bheki Cele, addressing residents of a Cape Town suburb, stated that the province was the most-resourced in South Africa.

Fresh ANC vs DA clash over police

This infuriated the DA in the Western Cape, stoking ongoing tensions between the DA and ANC relating to policing and crime in the province, which is effectively South Africa’s gangsterism capital.

These tensions have increased in the run-up to the local government elections on 1 November.

As it stands, the Western Cape is DA-run and is able to support law enforcement, while the ANC heads the national government and therefore the South African Police Service (SAPS). Over the years this has resulted in finger pointing, with the DA effectively saying the ANC is not successfully clamping down on crime in the province and the ANC pointing the finger back at the DA, saying it needs to pull its weight.

There have also been accusations of certain politicians and police officers getting too close to gangsters.

Policing in the Western Cape is exceptionally fraught — police have previously claimed that a rogue intelligence unit is operating in the province and the September 2020 assassination of detective Charl Kinnear in Cape Town raised even more suspicions of officers siding with criminals.

This is the backdrop to Cele’s recent comments about policing in the Western Cape that have deeply annoyed the DA, with its provincial leaders hitting back with not just insults, but also a volley of statistics.

They have also made reference to the fact that in December 2018 the Equality Court “declared that the allocation of Police Human Resources in the Western Cape unfairly discriminates against Black and poor people on the basis of race and poverty”.

To try and defuse the situation, Cele should perhaps provide more detailed statistics relating to the Western Cape to verify what he has said.

Alan Winde, the province’s premier, on Thursday said that according to the SAPS budget, the Western Cape received the fourth-highest allocation.

Daily Maverick confirmed that based on a police report presented to Parliament on budget matters, R845,906,000 was allocated to the Western Cape for 2021/2022 — this was the fourth-highest amount allocated to provinces, with Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape allocated more.

This does not seem to support Cele’s stance that the Western Cape is the most-resourced province in SA; however, the police have already provided other statistics to apparently back him up.

‘Too few boots on the ground’ — DA

Winde and Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz held a press conference on Thursday during which they detailed the province’s 2020/2021 Policing Needs and Priorities report — this is compiled annually to try to guide the police in improving their work.

After input from the City of Cape Town and the SAPS it should eventually end up with the police minister for consideration.

Fritz said that after a previous attempt to get “policing resource constraints” dealt with, “we want to make clear today that this option of pursuing an intergovernmental dispute remains firmly on the table for the Western Cape government.

“The latest comments by the minister do not provide us with the confidence that the national government is sticking to these commitments.”

Contrary to Cele’s recent comments, the 2020/2021 Policing Needs and Priorities report painted a harrowing picture of the status of policing in the province.

There were 151 police stations across the Western Cape.

Fritz said: “We found there are too few police boots on the ground… there’s a deteriorating situation with boots on the ground.”

In 2011/2012 there were 199,335 active police officers in the province, but 11,987 were no longer in the service by March 2020.

“Trained, seasoned” police officers were leaving the police service, and Fritz said Cele stated there had been no recruits for two years because of Covid-19.

In August 2021 Cele was quoted as saying: “The impact of Covid-19 has been hard on the SAPS. The police service is bleeding members through attrition, and the virus has resulted in the inability to take in new police recruits for 2020 and 2021.”

Fritz said absenteeism was exacerbating the staffing issues.

He further stated there was a “massive shortage” of 548 detectives in the Western Cape and nearly half the detectives in the province had caseloads of about 200 dockets, whereas a caseload was normally supposed to be between 50 and 60 dockets.

Poor training of detectives was also an issue flagged, with the majority not undergoing a full domestic violence training course. 

The police-to-population ratio, Fritz said, was skewed in the province.

Daily Maverick has established that according to the 2019/2020 SAPS annual report, the national police-to-population ratio is one police officer per 400 citizens.

Fritz, during the press conference on Thursday, said that in the Cape Town suburb of Bothasig — “one of our better police stations” — the ratio was one police officer to 100 citizens, whereas in Ravensmead, which was more of a crime hotspot, it was 1:895.

“So, what [we] immediately see [is] a kind of disparity.”

Other police-to-population ratios in the province included 1:800 in the Cape Town suburb of Grassy Park, and 1:731 in Harare, Khayelitsha.

Fritz said he was not calling for fewer officers in Bothasig, but more officers recruited in other areas, like Ravensmead.

“We don’t have enough boots on the ground in this province,” he insisted. “That is a fact.”

He said he often made unannounced visits to police stations, some of which were “in dire need of an upgrade”.

At the Kwanonqaba police station in Mossel Bay, Fritz said there were reports that “rats are running and eating the wires that are supposed to help detectives to work on laptops and computers”.

He found there was “insufficient storage space”, which made it easier to understand how dockets could go missing.

“Unhygienic and unsafe working conditions… Rats running all over that place,” Fritz said, describing the situation.

Both Fritz and Winde therefore felt Cele’s comments of last week were insulting.

‘Western Cape most resourced in SA’ — Cele

Cele made the comments on Friday, 8 October, during a “ministerial imbizo” in the Cape Town suburb of Mitchells Plain, parts of which are gang violence hotspots.

During his address, he controversially attributed an increase in hijackings in areas including Nyanga and Khayelitsha to potholes. Cele basically said potholes were enabling hijackers to strike.

He also said some of the highest crime figures were recorded in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and that these two provinces received the most police resources.

This is what really rankled the DA.

A police press release on the Mitchells Plain imbizo said the SAPS “has, to date, injected the most resources to the two provinces, compared to all other provinces countrywide”.

The press release then quoted Cele as saying: “Out of all the provinces, the province of the Western Cape is the most-resourced over and above the allocated provincial budget. We have, through our analysis of crime trends, [taken] decisions to set up special operations such as the Anti-Gang Unit (AGU); there has also been the introduction of special operations like Operation Thunder and Operation Lockdown and a task team investigating extortion and taxi violence.

“Many of these interventions are unique to this province and are producing results; communities can agree that life may not be perfect but it’s certainly improving since they were established.”

The SAPS press release said 200 extra police officers were channelled to the Western Cape during 2021 and that since 2018, the SAPS had used more than R350-million in the province.

All of this is what caused the DA to lash out.

‘Cele is misleading, electioneering and should resign’ — DA

On 9 October, the day after Cele made the comments, Fritz and Winde issued an initial replying statement saying he was being misleading.

“Any person who lives in the Western Cape’s crime hotspots knows all too well that there is not enough SAPS support to fight crime, despite the hard work of many officers on the ground,” Fritz and Winde said.

“It is our poorest communities, mostly in the Cape Flats, which are left with inadequate police-to-population ratios because of a failure by the national government to properly resource them.”

They said Cele’s statements could only be put down to “last-minute electioneering”.

“[Cele’s comments] only distract from the very serious under-resourcing issues that many areas in the province face. If the minister of police will not acknowledge them, we can only assume he is not planning to address them.”

A day later, the DA’s mayoral candidate, Geordin Hill-Lewis, called on Cele to resign “in disgrace” following his “deranged rant”.

“While Cele continues to play cheap politics with the lives of Capetonians by cutting SAPS resources, I have already pledged to deploy hundreds of additional law enforcement officers and fight for expanded local policing powers,” Hill-Lewis said.

“The people of Cape Town are tired of being failed by the national government. They are tired of a national police force that cannot and does not want to keep them safe, and a clownish police minister who blames potholes for his own failures and tells victims to stop complaining about crime spiralling out of control,” he added.

Historic DA vs ANC police spats in Western Cape 

This mudslinging comes after other DA-ANC spats involving policing in the Western Cape.

In October 2018 then-premier Helen Zille called on Cele for more police resources.

“It is our considered conclusion that the effectiveness of the police service, in the combating of certain crime categories and communities in the Western Cape is currently below the threshold of service required of SAPS in terms of Section 205 of the Constitution,” she said then.

“One of the central reasons for this is the consistent under-resourcing of SAPS personnel in the Western Cape — at visible policing level, in crime intelligence, in detective expertise, and in public order policing. In our view this is the major factor which has resulted in the disastrous crime statistics, once again.”

The DA/ANC Western Cape friction over police extends further than resources.

In December 2020 Cele took on Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security JP Smith after Cele closed down a film shoot at Cape Town’s Camps Bay beach, citing Covid-19 regulation issues. 

Smith had insisted there was no problem with the shoot — that it was above board. The matter became a legal one, with Cele subsequently backing down and the City of Cape Town withdrawing a court application for an interdict.

Outgoing Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato had backed Smith and described Cele’s beach actions as “bully tactics”.

“Instead of policing beaches with heavily armed police officers and intimidating innocent sunbathers, the national police minister should be in our most crime-affected communities, making sure that gangsters are caught and put behind bars, making our communities safer,” Plato said.

Meanwhile Smith, in response to Cele’s recent comments about the Western Cape’s police resources, released a statement this week in which he said Cele “ranted… incoherently at yet another ANC rally masquerading as a police imbizo”.

Smith questioned how much the gathering cost taxpayers.

It was not the first time Smith had questioned a police community meeting.

Six years ago, in 2015, the DA also labelled an event that police had called an imbizo in Khayelitsha as an “ANC rally”.

Smith deemed that event illegal, saying the City of Cape Town had not permitted it to proceed.

At the time Nathi Nhleko was police minister. 

Crime-fighting caught in crossfire of policing and politics

The recent increased sparring between the DA and ANC over Western Cape policing has happened beneath the umbrella of a deeply fragmented SAPS.

National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole faces potential suspension and, in a matter that has a more sinister tone, the death in July of Deputy National Police Commissioner of Crime Detection Sindile Mfazi is under investigation — suspicions that he was poisoned surfaced after it was initially reported he died due to Covid complications.

In July 2021 the Portfolio Committee on Police issued a statement saying “the general instability” within the SAPS “is a cause of grave concern”.

“An effective and agile police service requires adequate human resources, especially at police station level to render services to the people,” the statement said.

During the Thursday press briefing on Western Cape policing needs, Winde touched on the reality beneath politicking.

He said: “More than 3,000 people are murdered in our province every single year. Think about that number; I mean, that is unbelievable… this is a very, very serious issue.”

Crime is indeed a serious issue. 

Full focus needs to be on thorough policing and not political point-scoring, especially when dealing with a province in which it is not unusual for a child to become a statistic and add to a climbing murder toll due to gang violence. DM

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