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24 October 2017 11:25 (South Africa)
Opinionista Oscar van Heerden

The tale of two cities – fix our broken police services

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

As political elites, we are more interested in our own political survival, hence the politically motivated killings are of more importance to us than the senseless shootings and murders of drug wars and gang-related territorial fights. We are losing young men and children daily in Cape Town and it seems our government and more precisely the police service remain incapable of providing law and order to our communities. We are dying, Minister Mbalula!

While watching the excellent theatre production King Kong last week, and observing the character Lucky (the gangster leader) in charge at the Back of the Moon shebeen, I was reminded of the story of the Msomi gang of Alexandra township in the mid 1950s.

The Msomi gang’s leader, Shadrack Matthews, was notorious in the township, and was known for hacking his victims to death with an axe.

The Msomi gang terrorised the community on a daily basis, until The Spoilers (another gang) came along and said “enough”. Demanding protection money from communities, they set out to destroy the Msomi gang and, with the inadvertent help of the then local police, succeeded in its quest.

Matthews was arrested while driving his red and white 1958 Ford Fairlane in a sting operation led by the police and was subsequently found guilty. During a visit with him in prison his wife attempted to smuggle a pistol to him by hiding it inside a roast chicken. When wardens discovered the pistol, Matthews was sentenced to a further 12 years behind bars which effectively spelled the end of the Msomi gang at that time.

Meanwhile, the Spoilers became the new feared gang in the township, and instead of providing protection, terrorised the locals, and demanded all sorts of payments. It was an unbearable time in the townships in and around Johannesburg.

If you were wondering where the police were in all of this, well, the station commander at the time was in cahoots with the gangs, often providing safe passage when some of the gang members were arrested, making sure that criminal files disappeared ahead of court hearings, tampering with evidence and so much more. Communities could do very little about the situation because gang members knew them and their families well and would intimidate them.

The point is that organised crime was a problem then and remains a serious problem now. All because we continue to have corrupt men and women in blue.

Allow me to elucidate. In KwaZulu-Natal (Durban specifically) we have seen the most horrific political killings taking place over the last few years. There have been more than 200 deaths. The government and the ruling party have taken steps to appoint a commission of inquiry into these killings and to get to the heart of such barbarism.

On another side of the country over the same period, we have seen equal disregard for life, with hundreds of gang-related deaths in the Western Cape (Cape Town specifically), yet we don’t see a commission of inquiry into these killings. Why is that?

Is it because some lives are valued more than others? Or is it perhaps because the political interests in these two cities are what drives these interventions? Can it be that crude?

As political elites, we are more interested in our own political survival, hence the politically motivated killings are of more importance to us than the senseless shootings and murders of drug wars and gang-related territorial fights. We are losing young men and children daily in Cape Town and it seems our government and more precisely the police service remain incapable of providing law and order to our communities. We are dying, Minister Mbalula!

The 11 deaths in Marikana township in Philippi, Cape Town recently, is testament to the crisis escalating in the Mother City. Substance abuse is a key contributory factor in these communities and this is also reflected in the significantly high drop-out rate in our schooling system among our coloured boys in particular. Drug trafficking and the billions being made because of this illicit trade is a fresh breeding ground for corrupting our law enforcement officers.

So now that we have asked the political question as to why there is no action on this critical matter, let us turn our attention to the tools of the trade – the guns – of these marauding criminals.

Here, the tale of two fine and outstanding police officers – Major-General Jeremy Veary and Major-General Peter Jacobs – is relevant. Veary occupied the position of deputy provincial commissioner for detective services while Jacobs was provincial crime intelligence head before being demoted from their high ranking jobs to each go and manage cluster commander positions. Court action challenging their demotion saw the decision overturned but the question of why they were demoted in the first place remains.

Well, it turns out you are not actually supposed to investigate criminal activities when you are in the police services because at times this could lead to exposing fellow police officers being complicit in criminal activities. Silly them, to think they could investigate wrongdoing among their fellow officers without it having serious repercussions.

Veary and Jacobs suspected police involvement in the “disappearance” of small arms (pistols) from the police armoury which found their way into the hands of gangs, and decided to investigate. What they found was that it was not just small arms that were disappearing but that police officers were part of and complicit in serious organised crime.

And so when you scratch where it does not itch, like these two fine police officers did, you get demoted. Only in Mzansi, right?

And so the tale of two cities tells us that there is more to these crimes than meets the eye.

My appeal to the Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, is that if indeed you are an honourable man, do what is necessary and right in both of these cities. Make sure that the two Major-Generals are given the support they need to not only do their jobs but to get to the bottom of these crimes in the province.

In KwaZulu-Natal you do not have to wait for the outcome of the commission to take charge of the situation. Put a specialised unit together comprising of police officers that are not from the province and give them carte blanche to do their jobs and arrest all that are responsible for these killings regardless of whether they may or may not be politicians or members of the ANC.

Crime is crime and murder remains murder. Let’s bring these criminals to book. When looking at the recent crime survey conducted by Stats SA, all indications are that our people overwhelmingly feel insecure even with declining crime rates bar murder and sexual offences.

We will have failed in our quest for a safe society as guaranteed in our Constitution if our citizens are not free from fear. DM

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

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