The politicisation of the challenges presented by gangsterism and related crimes on the Cape Flats was done the moment DA Premier Helen Zille appointed Alan Winde as the MEC of Community Safety.
The appointment, made in October 2018, came after Winde was chosen as the DA’s Western Cape Premier candidate for the 2019 general elections. It would only be those suffering from a severe bout of naiveté who would think that the DA’s elections selling-point would not focus on community safety and crime.
But just over a month after his move to community safety, the DA elections machinery is finding it a bit hard to defend the legacy left by former MEC Dan Plato – now Mayor of Cape Town – who was a complete disaster in the portfolio.
Using community safety as an issue to provoke and consolidate their electoral base is not as easy as the DA thought it would be, especially given its deliberate and disastrous neglect of the issue in the last decade.
The DA’s strategy in community safety and exploiting the provisions of Section 206 of the Constitution – which concerns provincial powers with regards to policing – has been marked by calls for the army, adversarial scrutiny of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and blaming national government for alleged serious policing issues in the province.
Yet what the voter doesn’t know is that the DA has also starved grass roots organisations such as community policing forums (CPFs) of funding, and has closed down provincially-backed programmes such as the Bambanani Volunteer Programme in fighting crime.
Elections are a moment when the electorate may hold those governing accountable.
The DA has even suggested that there was a deliberate decision taken on the part of the national government to reduce policing resources drastically once the party won the Western Cape in 2009. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is common cause that all departments, across national and provincial governments, have had their budgets affected by cuts in the fiscus. This past financial year has seen nothing different. If policing resources in the Western Cape have been cut, then it certainly is the case across the country, in all provinces.
For example, following from the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, the SAPS staff nationally has been reduced from approximately 194,000 to 193,297 in 2017/18. These figures will be reduced even further as retirements and other incidences occur.
Research from the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police indicates that while nearly 80% of these retrenchments have affected operational personnel, the other 20% function under the Public Services Act. As a result, the national ratio of police to civilian population stands at 1:375.
In the Western Cape, it is reported that by the end of October this year, there were 77 cluster level staff vacancies and 1,138 station level posts vacant. The province received an allocation of just over 1000 entry-level staff members with over 500 promotions and posts deemed critical.
In respect of the 1,000 entry-level posts, just over 80% were allocated to staff police stations, while the other 20% went into specialised units. For the five provincial police stations which deal with the highest level of crime, the government’s integrated resource plan will be used in order to address the challenges. The Western Cape and Gauteng account for half of the crimes committed in the country.
The parliamentary research goes on to state that international standards, as proposed by the United Nations, suggest that the police to civilian ration should ideally be 1:450. As we can see, South Africa is well within that ratio. When combining provincial and national capacity, in terms of police stationed in the province, the ratio for the Western Cape is 1:324 – again, well within the international standards, and well below the national average.
At the same time, the presentation made by SAPS at the end of November to the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police, reporting on the work of the Anti Gang Unit (AGU) in October and November of this year, is also important.
Integral in that presentation was the understanding that policing per se is simply not the silver bullet – an unfortunate pun in these circumstances – to solve the problem of gangsterism and related crimes.
The ANC has always understood the phenomenon of gangsterism to be more than just a security issue. It is also an economic issue, and it plays a huge social role in the lives of our people on the Cape Flats. (When we speak here of the Cape Flats, we include places as far-flung as Atlantis, Khayelitsha, Bloekombos and Wallacedene.)
Yet sadly, as seen by the apparent assassination of Cape Town lawyer Pete Mihalik, the truth is that gangsterism and its criminal tentacles will not limit itself to our poor communities. It will eventually reach the suburbs too.
As a result, the four pillars which under-gird the AGU strategy become important.
First, the SAPS management presented to the portfolio committee the need to facilitate effective inter-departmental co-ordination in preventing and combatting gangsterism. In other words, co-operation between the police, prosecutors, the courts, the Department of Justice, and even Correctional Services should be strengthened.
The second pillar is transparent and thorough communication with and through communities by means of social partnerships with community stakeholders, and regular community engagement. In other words: empowering and encouraging communities.
The third pillar of the AGU strategy is to understand the challenges of spatial design affecting our cities to work towards safer living spaces.
Finally, the fourth pillar is to ensure an effective and efficient criminal justice system.
While pillars one and four are similar and fall within the ambit of national government, pillars two and three can and must be pursued by provincial and local government. This is where the provincial government and the City of Cape Town have been a complete failure.
Within a matter of two months, however, the AGU could report a number of successes based on this four-pillar strategy. The unit has been able to target the main gangs including the Americans, 28’s, Dixies, Family Boys, Young Gifted Six Bobs, 26’s and the 28 Terribles, to name a few. A total of 13 top leaders of these main gangs have been arrested on various charges.
While it is important to emphasise that we need a multi-pronged and multi-sectoral approach to tackling gangsterism and its related crimes, we must not be dishonest about police numbers. The AGU has met with success through the work of its 212 personnel members, equipped with 81 vehicles.
Quibbling about police statistics only emphasises an adversarial attitude towards the police – when in reality we should be working with them in order to make our communities safer.
When the ANC was in power in the Western Cape, crime was reduced considerably because provincial and city authorities worked with – rather than against – the national departments of police, justice and correctional services.
At the heart of the ANC’s approach was pushing Section 206 of the Constitution to its limits, which enabled it to ensure the empowering of our communities. It is our communities that have lost their power through gangsterism, and it is only through supporting our communities that they can reclaim that power back. DM
Faiez Jacobs is the provincial secretary of the ANC in the Western Cape and Khalid Sayed is the provincial chairperson of the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape