Violence-ridden communities in SA ‘drowning in drugs’, desperately need more police on the streets
Poor police visibility and severed relationships between police and residents are common in townships throughout the country. The solution, say activists, is more boots on the ground.
Two weeks ago, Khayelitsha was in the news again following the deaths of 11 people, in two separate incidents, within a week. Poor visibility, lack of police resources and a broken relationship between the police and residents are the main reasons for the spike in crime, according to the Social Justice Coalition (SJC).
“A report we are busy finalising shows that informal settlements are getting more violent day by day,” said SJC spokesperson Khensani Motileni. “What we desperately need is visible policing in informal settlements, to allocate police in functional cars, access to lighting, to install CCTV cameras, and basic service delivery.”
A closer look at Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal and Alexandra in Gauteng has painted a similarly grim picture.
The message emerging from these townships is that the government has forgotten them. Community leaders warn that if no urgent action is taken by Police Minister Bheki Cele, senior citizens, women and especially young people will feel the brunt of drug and gang kingpins.
Last month, six people were shot dead in the Zamani informal settlement in Umlazi. In January, five people were shot dead in Eldorado Park in Gauteng. Their bodies were found next to the Golden Highway. Recently, about R100,000 worth of drugs was confiscated by police in a raid, but by the time they reached the station, the drugs were gone.
Linda Twala, known as the “father of Alexandra” and recipient of the Inyathelo Award for Lifetime Philanthropy, summarised crime in Alexandra: “Children are drowning themselves in drugs.”
“What I usually advise people to do rather than charge a person selling tomatoes, people who are trying to make a living, why can’t we start with druglords, those selling drugs and people that are destroying our future leaders?
“If we have people that are selling drugs then they have an agent in our townships. We should first deal with those people there.”
High unemployment was a contributing factor in why young people found it more attractive to sell drugs or be involved in some sort of crime, he said.
Twala said crime had reached the point where criminals were taking people’s homes. “If you are a woman staying alone they take your house. Gangsters simply walk into the homes of single mothers and demand your house,” he said.
“We need a vigorous education drive or a vigorous prayer so that maybe we can visit our ancestors, because if Mandela, Steve Biko and all the other great leaders were with us today, all those things that are happening would never have happened.
“Police urgently need to beef up police service because, really, we lack police visibility in our areas and at times police can’t control people when they come in multitudes.”
The quarterly crime statistics in KwaZulu-Natal showed crime was getting worse, said Sharon Hoosen, the DA’s community safety spokesperson in the province.
Cele released the statistics for the October to December 2021 quarter on 18 February. They show that Umlazi, Inanda, Plessislaer and KwaMashu-East, all in KZN, recorded the highest number of attempted murders.
Inanda police station had the highest murder statistics in the country, with 83 cases, followed by Umlazi and Delft in the Western Cape, with 81 each.
Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape is the rape capital of the country, with 92 recorded in the quarter. In Umlazi, 85 women were raped.
Cele said police units were on board in tackling rampant organised crime in KZN, the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Cape Town.
About the spike in crime in KZN, Hoosen said: “Crime is high because of a number of reasons. One is that we don’t have visible policing on our streets, which is a major problem. We don’t have enough boots on the ground to try to ensure that crime is actually prevented.
“The police force has become more reactive and when it is time for them to react they actually don’t react fast enough because they don’t have sufficient resources.”
Hoosen put a question to the provincial legislature regarding the number of functioning vehicles and the allocation of new vehicles to stations in KZN and got a response last week: “No resources have been redirected to police stations in Inanda and Umlazi. Vehicles stay in garages to change batteries for 50 days, to fix a minor starter fault for 113 days. Those are vehicles that should have been on the road patrolling the streets instead of in garages collecting dust.”
On an oversight visit to South African Police Service (SAPS) stations in KZN, the DA’s safety and security committee found that officers work in containers and prefab offices with no water, electricity or toilets, she said.
This lack of resources and manpower was exposed during the July 2021 unrest when there were only two water cannon in the province.
“SAPS even ran short on rubber bullets and that was kept quiet… How can the police minister declare war on crime when your own departments are not performing as they should be. In fact, criminals have free rein in KZN at the moment,” Hoosen said.
Police were more scared of trying to resolve and fight crime because the criminals were better equipped and had more numbers than police, she alleged. “You can’t have two officers going into an informal settlement with 11,000 people.”
Police allegedly colluding with criminals was also a grave concern: “We have corrupt police officers, we had the Moerane Commission in 2018 due to the political killings, nothing has been implemented and politicians are still dying.
“Community members, who know the perpetrators, will not come forward because for one they cannot trust the police,” she said.
Eldred de Klerk, a policing expert and a director/senior associate of the African Centre for Security and Intelligence Praxis, portrays township violence as part of the fabric of the affected, desperate communities, violently uprooted, violently thrown together, and family and community institutions violently destroyed. Years of dehumanisation would see violence begetting violence, he said.
“Violent crime is not evenly distributed, with most of it concentrated in segregated neighbourhoods experiencing endemic poverty and generations of disinvestment that breeds the criminogenic mix that makes them more vulnerable to physical and sexual violence,” he said.
De Klerk’s view is that policing is a verb and a range of choices, budgets spent and activities and programmes undertaken by more than the institution of the police. Accepting the former premise, the type of policing model and measures that need to be introduced to arrest the levels of violence in the affected communities, would suggest that every family, community, public and private institution has an interdependent role to play.
David Bruce, an independent researcher and consultant for the Institute for Security Studies, said more nuanced policing and violence prevention were needed, rather than the one-size-fits-all approach reflected in police strategic and performance plans.
South Africa’s murder rate, he said, was mainly driven by the high rates in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KZN. Murder in the Western Cape is concentrated in Cape Town, with gang violence prevalent in specific parts of the Cape Flats. But in the Eastern Cape the gang violence problem is concentrated in the northern suburbs of Gqeberha. This province’s violence patterns differ from those in the Western Cape.
In KZN, the major metropolitan area of eThekwini accounted for 41% of murders in the province in 2019-20. Gauteng, which has three major metropolitan areas – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni – had a murder rate of 26 per 100,000 in 2020-21. The Western Cape had murder rates of 55 per 100,000 and KZN 42 per 100,000.
“South Africa needs a new, more effective set of arrangements that align crime and violence responses to the varying characteristics and needs in different parts of this country,” said Bruce.
On 23 March, in an effort to deal decisively with crime and promote accountability at the country’s police stations, a ministerial instruction was issued to the SAPS to adopt a Police Station Focus-based policing approach.
Cele has, for the first time, led a series of visits to police stations as part of the Ministers and Members of Executive Councils (Minmec) effort to get first-hand knowledge of criminal hotspots.
On 24 and 25 March, the Police Ministry, members of the executive council, heads of departments for community safety and liaison, and provincial commissioners from all nine provinces, as well as SAPS senior management visited some of the stations identified as the biggest contributors of contact crime in KZN.
Cele said the aim of these visits was for the delegation to understand some of the dynamics in the policing precinct that affected service delivery, as well as to formulate immediate and long-term interventions as part of the Police Station Focus approach. DM168
Case study: Khayelitsha
In just one week in Khayelitsha, 11 people were killed in two separate incidents. Following their deaths, Cele met the Khayelitsha Development Forum and other residents to discuss the scourge of violence ravaging the sprawling Cape Town township.
Social Justice Coalition spokesperson Khensani Motileni underlines that policing in Khayelitsha differs totally from policing in Sea Point, for example.
“If I’m in Sea Point and see a law enforcement officer I would feel safe, but if I see a law enforcement officer in Khayelitsha I would feel totally different because you would be scared of them demolishing a house, unlawfully evicting people or harassing you,” she says.
It is imperative, she adds, to foster a relationship in which residents can feel confident to approach law enforcement or police officers. That trust was crucial to effective policing.
Another problem is a shortage of police stations in the broader Khayelitsha, Motileni adds. If there is no police station near communities, how will they know where to report crime, and why would residents even bother to report the crime?
The coalition recently pointed to a study published in 2021 in the African Journal of Emergency Medicine that revealed that young people living in Khayelitsha had a greater chance of dying violently than the global average.
“These statistics are a constant reflection of a failed system. There is a crisis of access to efficient and quality police services in Khayelitsha,” the coalition said.
In previous years, the coalition has drawn attention to the findings of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, which was held in August 2014, into allegations of police inefficiency. The commission found that the structure of informal settlements made routine visible policing patrols difficult, since most informal neighbourhoods were not accessible by vehicles.
Another finding by the commission was that the system of human resources allocation used by the SAPS had resulted in two of the Khayelitsha police stations (Harare and Khayelitsha Site B) being significantly understaffed and underresourced. The need for a police station in Makhaza was also highlighted.
To resolve crime effectively, the coalition recommends that an intelligence-led and evidence-based policing system be put in place. It adds that the high levels of violent crime cannot be read outside the inadequate public lighting in many informal settlements.
In addition, the coalition seeks a commitment from the police minister and the national police commissioner to develop visible policing guidelines for informal settlements. DM168
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