There are numerous aspects of Premier Alan Winde’s “Western Cape Safety Plan — Working Document” that are to be welcomed. The document’s framing of the underlying causes of crime and violence is sound. The document’s welcome, pointed focus on evidence-led, data-driven, flexible and adaptive implementation will hopefully apply pressure on the South African Police Service (SAPS) to adopt the same.
The enhanced enforcement numbers and investigative capacity to be provided by the province, if strategically deployed, is likely to also have a positive impact. We trust that the province, unlike the SAPS, will regularly make deployment numbers public.
That said, in reading the document one is mainly left with a sense of déjà vu, a sense of more of the same.
More of the same doesn’t instil confidence when the list of the “top 10 stations” for murder, accounting for almost half of all murders in the Western Cape annually, has remained unchanged since 2013/2014. All 10 of these stations are to be found in the City of Cape Town.
One of the safety interventions identified by the province aims to address the spatial segregation inherited from apartheid, “which has had the perverse effect of not only fracturing social cohesion”, “but also providing fertile breeding ground for criminal activity in under-resourced areas”. Yet, despite this stated intervention, the Western Cape Government, under Premier Winde, argued in court just last week against a prime opportunity to redress spatial segregation through the provision of well-located land for social housing on the Tafelberg site in Sea Point.
Similarly, despite the plan identifying safety interventions required in and around schools, Premier Winde chose to reappoint Debbie Schäfer as the MEC of education. The MEC’s tenure is best described by the fact that she responded to a tweet about the stabbing of one learner by another, after being bullied, with a see-no-evil monkey emoji. This response serves as a metaphor for an MEC who has refused to see and acknowledge the lack of safety infrastructure at schools across the province.
The MEC has obfuscated, has ignored, has welcomed the SAPS dispersing learners with tear gas and rubber bullets and has consistently shifted the blame for a lack of safety at schools with countless “what-abouts”. In 2016 the MEC described learner testimonials of violence in schools as “loose papers” and “vague allegations”. Pointedly, the MEC, with the national government and the eight other ANC MECs of education, sought to appeal against a judgment, secured by Equal Education, that would require her department to comply with deadlines set out in Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure legislation.
These minimum norms and standards include physical infrastructure aimed at reducing violence on school grounds. Thankfully, the Constitutional Court refused to hear that appeal, saying “it bears no prospects of success”. Sadly, the prospect of improved learner safety remains unlikely when the individual tasked, in part, with ensuring their safety, has to date chosen not to see and acknowledge the lack of safety and has repeatedly shown no interest in doing her part.
In keeping with physical infrastructure, the safety plan further identifies necessary interventions to increase safety in public spaces through urban planning and environmental design. It makes specific mention of public lighting.
Since 2005, the City of Cape Town has promoted and funded the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) programme. Six years ago, in 2013, the Western Cape Provincial Government also entered into a funding agreement with the VPUU programme.
Despite this clear commitment to the principles of crime prevention through environmental design and despite, one would assume, sound evidence and data pointing to effective outcomes (VPUU continues to be funded), three of the police stations in the top 10 (Nyanga, Khayelitsha and Harare, Khayelitsha) continue to be characterised by poor environmental design because all three still have inadequate public lighting.
In 2014, the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry found, in a report submitted to the Western Cape Provincial Government, that public lighting in Khayelitsha was ineffective and inadequate. Five years later, the City of Cape Town had to concede that not much had changed. A report tabled in an Energy and Climate Change directorate meeting in 2019 found “that in many areas [in Khayelitsha] the lighting [is] fairly poor and not in compliance with national standards.”
The document also rightly argues for a co-ordinated intervention to address the prevalence of substance abuse. Substance abuse is not only a factor in many violent crimes, but also a contributor to the high number of road deaths — meaning that sound interventions to reduce substance abuse could have a marked impact.
This, however, is not the first time the province has conceived of a co-ordinated intervention on substance abuse.
Previously, the Western Cape Government had six “Game Changers” that were meant to be “bold, focused and innovative interventions” “impacting people’s lives and catalysing change”. One of these was the Alcohol Harms Reduction Game Changer that focused on reducing alcohol-related harms.
Information on most of the game changer units is limited. At present, it isn’t even entirely clear if all of them are even operational. Interestingly, despite its clear relevance to the Western Cape Safety Plan, the Alcohol Harms Reduction Game Changer is not mentioned in the document.
If the premier’s plan is truly evidence-led and data-driven, what are the bold, innovative interventions that catalysed change and impacted on people’s lives, conceived of by the game changer units, that should be taken forward? Was/is the appointment of game-changer heads or team leaders (some reportedly receiving annual salaries in excess of R1-million each) worth the investment? Is there evidence of a clear impact that supports the cost of setting up the game changers? Given that the mandates of many of the game changer units appear to have replicated some of the mandates of existing units within the provincial government, was/is there value-add?
From the outside, it would appear that there has been almost no legislative oversight of the game changer units because they ostensibly sit/sat within the premier’s office. Was/is this centralisation useful and under the new safety plan will the Safety Cabinet Secretariat also not have direct legislative oversight?
These questions deserve answers because if the Western Cape Government is intent on not simply delivering more of the same in its safety plan, it has to weigh the evidence and crunch the data of what has gone before. It also has to show a commitment to transparency and accountability.
Even though Premier Winde has only been in his position since May 2019, he has been a Member of the Executive Committee in the Western Cape Provincial Government for the past decade. This means that what reads as more of the same in the Safety Plan now, is more of the same that was undertaken while Winde has held executive office in the province.
A new safety plan intent on having a measurable impact cannot just simply repackage what has been said before — it has to honestly reflect on lessons learnt and mistakes made in order to chart a way forward. DM
Che Guevara hailed from an Irish family.