DM168

REFLECTION

Policing the police: Fixing the SAPS crisis is of paramount national importance

Zia, Alaan, Zayyad and Zidan Moti were kidnapped in Polokwane while on their way to school. (Photo: Supplied)

South Africans are becoming more vulnerable while criminals are becoming more daring.

South Africa has always been a violent country where vulnerable groups – children, women and the elderly – live in constant fear.

That we are the rape capital of the world has ceased to shock us, as we have worn that badge of ill repute for many years now.

I know of a number of female friends and family members who carry pocket-sized Tasers when they go jogging alone or in small groups.

To live in fear of strangers is our daily life as we drive with our windows rolled up and car doors locked at all times – like prey waiting for the predator to strike.

It has become the norm for victims of house burglaries or car break-ins to report the crimes to the police, not in the hope that their stolen goods will be returned or that the perpetrators will be caught, but rather for insurance purposes. Armed with a SAPS case number, a victim of crime is able to lodge a claim with their insurance to replace their lost items. For the poor, who are uninsured, they merely lament their ill fortune and perhaps save towards replacing the items. They do not even bother to report it to the police, as it serves no purpose. This tells us that there is little or no faith in the police.

South Africans are becoming more vulnerable while criminals are becoming more daring.

The news of the Moti family having reportedly paid a hefty ransom of millions of rands to secure the release of their four children will only serve to embolden criminals. The unverified figure suggests that as much as R50-million was paid to the kidnappers.

However, the Motis did what any caring parent would do for their children. No amount of money will ever compare to the life of a child – let alone four siblings from the same family.

The SAPS was quick to issue a statement confirming the return of the siblings, after their parents had issued their own – announcing their safe return.

For the family to have paid a ransom means that they did not believe that a police investigation would secure the siblings’ return. Even criminals know that our police do not have the investigative capacity to crack such cases.

Just this week another case of child kidnapping happened in Mayfair, Johannesburg, where an 11-year-old girl was abducted while being dropped off at school.

This copycat behaviour points to a gap that criminals have identified – weak policing and the lucrative economic benefits it presents for them. Criminals are opportunistic by nature. Any opportunity to make a quick buck will be exploited.

As with the Moti siblings, who were snatched on their way to school, the 11-year-old was abducted from the school gates while waiting in line to be sanitised. This means that schools have become targets.

It will start with elite schools, as criminals believe the stature of the school is congruent with the social status of the pupils’ parents or guardians.

If this kind of behaviour persists then we are well on our way to becoming like Nigeria, where kidnappings for ransom are a lucrative business for local bandits. They target schools where groups of children are abducted and ransom is demanded from their parents.

It has been reported that more than 700 students have been abducted from various schools in northern Nigeria over the past 11 months. The most obvious thing to say is that we should secure our schools, but that does not address the problem fully.

What we need is tough policing and specialist units that can crack these cases – in the same way that cash-in-transit gangs were dismantled around 2010. The resurgence of cash-in-transit robberies in recent times also points to a weakness that has since developed.

Currently, the government has focused its energies on reviving our ailing economy. Boosting the economy is crucial, but fixing the police is paramount. There is no economy to speak of without law and order. If we do not feel safe in our homes and on our roads – and now the schools have become a target – what else is left for us?

President Cyril Ramaphosa is sitting on the pending suspension of national police commissioner Khehla Sitole – after adverse findings against the police chief by the high court and his failed appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal.

In a climate in which there is such uncertainty at the highest level of the police, such confusion can only serve to destabilise the police service and embolden criminals.

As things stand, our general impression as a society is that things are getting worse.

Ramaphosa must prioritise the police. DM168

Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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All Comments 2

  • What a mess this police service is. And what will Cyril do? My guess is absolutely nothing. It’s the easiest route to re-election as president of the ANC. What a crying shame this government is.

  • People with the means will leave this country, eventually there will be nothing left to steal and kidnap.
    Those who left SA will be blamed, but at least they will be happy and safe.
    The worst life imaginable, is a life where you are waiting to be the next victim of crime or murder.

    South Africans have become a nation oppressed by criminals, and there is no hope in sight, not any of our lifetimes.