As elections approach our politicians have suddenly awoken to the nightmares and fear the rest of us have been living with. Their slumber filled with dreams of electoral gains have now given way to the need to be seen doing something. Exhibit A: Mireille Wenger and Ebrahim Rasool slinging mud at each other and empty promises at us, while people are being murdered daily at an alarming rate in South Africa.
Both Wenger and Rasool are disingenuous in their claims about the extent to which the scope of Section 206, which allows for provincial oversight of the South African Police Service (SAPS), has been explored in the Western Cape.
Rasool is wrong to claim that the Western Cape Government hasn’t explored the scope of Section 206 in part because he fails to appreciate that cooperation and oversight aren’t the same thing. To Wenger’s credit, as chairperson of the Standing Committee on Community Safety, the Western Cape Government has done more to affect oversight than any other provincial government past and present. In exercising that oversight role the Western Cape Government, along with the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and others, secured a Constitutional Court judgment victory.
That judgment was against an attempt by the Minister and National Commissioner of Police to dismiss complaints brought to a provincial government by ordinary people who weren’t afforded justice, who live in fear and who have lost trust in the police service. Rasool would do well to read Minister of Police and Others v Premier of the Western Cape and Others. Premiers across the country should do so to.
Some of Wenger’s claims in regard to Section 206, however, have been undermined by Dan Plato. During his first council meeting as the new Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Plato said that: “If the national government does not urgently address (the issue of police resources)‚ we will take the legal route to force them to give our communities more police officers‚ because we are done asking nicely.”
Plato clearly hasn’t just awoken from a slumber, instead it would appear he was in a coma for the last four years. The legal route against national government has already been taken, just not by him or by the entire provincial department he led or the provincial government he was a part of. The fact that Plato isn’t aware of the legal action taken is of particular concern given that as the MEC for Community Safety he was the fourth respondent in the court case before the Equality Court exactly because of the oversight powers he had then.
The latest crime statistics revealed that just ten of the Western Cape Province’s 150 police stations accounted for 48% of murders committed in the province in 2017/2018. These 10 stations are in the City of Cape Town, are predominantly poor, black and violent and all 10 are under-resourced when compared to wealthier predominantly white and safer suburbs. This is an indictment on the SAPS but also on Plato who for four years, confronted with this reality, “asked nicely” instead of acting decisively with the powers afforded to him then. His assertive language now, in the moment where the explicit powers of oversight he previously had are no longer available to him, ring hollow and smack of electioneering.
Wenger, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Western Cape Government are right when they say policing is a national competence and that police resource allocation is determined nationally. They, however, do immense harm to predominantly poor black communities outside of the Western Cape when they constantly assert that the Western Cape is an under-resourced outlier.
SAPS argues that our national ratio of one police officer for every 369 people is above international standards. The Western Cape Government argues its ratio of 1:509 shows bias. These ratios have no intrinsic or crime fighting value if one pauses for a second to reflect on the ratios at a precinct level across the country where crime fighting should happen. The ratios at a police precinct level can fall anywhere between the extremes of one police officer for every 1801 people and one police officer for every 54 people.
Further, Wenger’s claim that 85% of police precincts in Cape Town are under-resourced merely serves to enforce a formula that the Khayelitsha Commission, the Civilian Secretariat of Police (the Secretariat) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) found to be flawed. 85% of an answer to a flawed formula holds no value.
Multiple organs of state have called for the overhaul of the nationally applied Theoretical Human Resource Requirement or THRR. The SJC, Equal Education and the Nyanga Community Police Forum hope that judges in the Equality Court will soon pass similar judgment on the THRR in the court case they brought.
Wenger, the DA and the Western Cape Government’s demonstrable lack of political will to tackle the THRR and to ensure that police resources are allocated to where they are really needed is likely because it won’t sell well to their political base. They’d rather claim that “85% of stations are under-resourced in Cape Town” than argue that some of the police personnel currently allocated to white suburbs should be reallocated to poor black communities. This politicking is insidious, opportunistic and will ultimately not result in police being allocated to where crime happens because it only further validates the THRR as a sound point of departure.
A specific flaw identified in the THRR by both the Secretariat and the PSC is around its factoring in of gangs. Both bodies have pointed out that the formula doesn’t account for the frequency of gang violence, the size, the nature of the particular gangs and gang activities. This has obviously resulted in coloured communities on the Cape Flats not receiving the police resources they needed. The reintroduction of the Anti-Gang Unit, although useful, won’t address this systemic issue and won’t put police permanently back on the streets and on the frontline.
Rasool, the African National Congress (ANC), the national government, Wegner, the DA and the Western Cape Government’s inaction and indifference to the mounting adverse findings against the THRR is inexcusable. That this inaction and indifference is party-political is unconscionable.
South Africa is a scary place to be living. Statistics South Africa’s Victims of Crime Survey can attest to this. More fear-mongering, more lies, more electioneering, more party-political posturing and more empty promises won’t change this. People living in South Africa deserve elected officials to reflect honestly on their past, present and future plans, policies and motives and to then commit to ensuring that South Africa gets the professional, intelligence-led and independent police service it so sorely needs where it is needed most. DM
Dalli Weyers is Co-head of Programmes at the Social Justice Coalition.