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Cape Town fight is with the criminals, not the politici...

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Cape Town’s fight is with criminals, not politicians


Geordin Hill-Lewis is the Mayor of Cape Town.

The time has come to put more powers in the hands of capable, accountable, responsive and transparent local governments. And this extends to policing and keeping people safe. 

The City of Cape Town is steadily assuming a bigger role in crime prevention, together with SAPS. We intend to do all that we can to make Cape Town a much safer place, a place of hope where every person is increasingly able to live without fear. This is a top-tier priority in our strategic plan for this term office, known as the IDP (Integrated Development Plan). 

As a city, we must refuse to normalise violent crime. It is not normal to feel unsafe walking in your own neighbourhood. It is not normal to worry about your child being caught in the crossfire of gangsters on their way home from school. And it is not normal for citizens to barricade themselves behind barb wire and electric fences. 

We will do everything in our power to change this situation — and this includes advocating for more policing powers so that we can really take the fight to violent criminals. 

Since 2019, the City and Western Cape Government have together funded 1,000 extra Leap (law enforcement) officers deployed to the 11 worst crime hotspots in our city.

Now, more funding will go to 230 new officers in this financial year, and R66-million will go to expanding our training college so we can produce more officers over three years.

Increased municipal law enforcement investment has more than tripled the arrest rate in the past five years, with 50% of those being drug-related arrests.

Very little of this would’ve been possible without the expanded powers afforded to municipal law enforcement by the 2018 Peace Officer Declaration, published by the Minister of Justice under the auspices of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act. 

In terms of that declaration, our officers may now conduct arrests, searches, and investigations into various offences related to firearms, drugs and trafficking, laws governing building safety and protecting public property, municipal by-laws, traffic, and liquor. 

Prior to these powers being granted by the declaration, our officers could do very little to help on these crime categories, even as SAPS struggled to get a grip. 

We are not asserting our policing and crime prevention role for its own sake, but on behalf of every Capetonian who deserves to feel safer in their neighbourhood. Importantly, we are expanding municipal law enforcement lawfully, and in line with powers conferred to us by national legislation.

Under the Constitution, policing is primarily a national competency. Yet, chronic under-resourcing of police has led to a net withdrawal of over 500 SAPS officers in our region since 2018. Even a recent additional SAPS deployment is 821 officers fewer than was budgeted for, with SAPS electing to retain a top-heavy structure at the cost of fewer cops on the beat every year. Despite the O’Regan Commission recommending an overhaul of the entire method of resourcing by SAPS some eight years ago, nothing has changed.

Thinly stretched policing and detective resources have resulted in low conviction rates — on gangs, guns, and drug crime especially. The result is a justice system that is failing the victims of crime, with many harrowing stories of preventable tragedy.

Despite the bravery of many police officers, SAPS is losing the fight against violent criminals. Our fight is with those criminals, not with politicians or other spheres of government.

But even as our constructive working relationship on the ground with SAPS has solidified over time, an ANC-Good Party parliamentary chorus has arisen in unison to question the lawfulness of peace officer powers conferred on municipal law enforcement (Justice minister and Good party firm that Cape Town cop unit a ‘rogue operation’, Daily Maverick, 14 June 2022).

Make no mistake, this coordinated attack has nothing to do with improving safety and everything to do with politics.

I have no interest in getting involved in a political skirmish. What I am interested in is finding ways to take the fight to the violent criminals who terrorise our communities.

However, given the aspersions cast, it is important that the public has all the facts about lawful peace officer powers afforded to municipal law enforcement.

Municipal peace officer powers 

All municipal law enforcement officers in Cape Town are designated peace officers under the gazetted 2018 Declaration, inclusive of being certified traffic wardens. 

SAPS issues each officer with the necessary competency certification enabling their appointment as a peace officer, as required by Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act. 

Officers complete comprehensive peace officer training, including curricula determined by the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (Sasseta). 

Our officers exercise only those powers afforded to them by law, and often assist SAPS with crime prevention and investigative support. 

The City’s Safety and Security investigations Unit, in particular, conducts the following investigations, all of which must result in the evidence being handed to SAPS: 

  • Establishing prima facie evidence of criminal activity within our scope — especially gun, drug, and metal theft-related crime;
  • Attacks on City frontline service staff and vandalism/theft of critical public infrastructure;
  • Gang activity and drug dealing in the City’s affordable rental units;
  • Watching briefs on court cases involving an arrest made by law enforcement, especially for firearm, drug, and gang-related matters; and
  • Internal investigations into staff misconduct within Safety and Security.

In general, the City collates data and statistics on a daily basis to ensure all municipal law enforcement operations are evidence-led. This is simple best practice to enable the efficient use of limited resources and does not extend to investigative methods exclusive to SAPS or intelligence agencies, such as the interception of communications with court permission, or taking fingerprints. 

Towards functional federalism 

While expanded peace officer powers have enabled the City to play a greater crime prevention and policing role, the situation we all now face with regard to a failing national government means we need to devolve even more powers to where they can still be effectively applied, i.e. to our officers, especially to combat gang, drug, gun, and metal theft-related crime.

Section 156(4) of the Constitution, states that a municipality must be assigned a function when there is agreement between the national and local governments; and where there is adequate capacity at the municipal level to perform the function. 

This is what I call “functional federalism” — the devolving of powers to competent local authorities where the national government is struggling to deliver, including policing, passenger rail, electricity supply, and the rejuvenation of our small boat harbours. 

National government officials sitting in Tshwane don’t know what is best for Cape Town — or any city for that matter. They are too far away from the problems on the ground and, frankly, they have run out of ideas. 

The time has come to put more powers in the hands of capable, accountable, responsive and transparent local governments. And this extends to policing and keeping people safe. 

South Africa’s problems — even the scourge of violent crime — are not impossible to solve. We just need to work hard, to innovate and to rise above the petty point-scoring. DM 


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All Comments 4

  • Keep up the good work, Mr Mayor. The ANC is a ‘dead horse’ in the Western Cape and the GOOD party can be ignored. The welfare of citizens is far more important than trying to score political points which merely serve to bolster personal egos.

  • Mayor Hill-Lewis’s argument would be even stronger if it were to recognise that policing that is based primarily on enforcement, however effective in its own right, is not on its own ever likely to produce the peaceful and liveable neighbourhoods and communities that we all sometimes dream of. The history of formal state-sanctioned policing since its beginnings in England in the early 1800s has seen an increasing swing away from its origins in prevention and problemsolving to a still-dominant assumption that enforcement is what policing is all about. Experiments in ‘community policing’, attempting to renew the ‘social’ dimension of policing, have, however, become widespread since the 1960s. In a just published article on ‘Policing the Pandemic’, Professor Clifford Shearing (UCT) and his co-authors state that ‘it is no longer viable to design a police strategy in isolation’, that ‘an exclusive focus on enforcement is harmful’, and that ‘a community-based and problem-orientated approach is the basis for joined-up solutions in law enforcement and public health’. This is particularly relevant in the case of a local/municipal police service as in Cape Town, in which the policing arm is institutionally linked to a range of socially powerful departments such as housing, health, social development, amenities etc. Indeed, the City of Cape Town has the opportunity to set a striking example of joined-up and effective policing in the Global South and beyond.

  • Well done sir! Its so unusual in this country to read about a politician doing the job he is supposed to do, and doing it well. Very refreshing and inspiring to read this piece. We need a lot more people like Geordin Hill-Lewis in positions of political power in SA.

  • Congratulations to you Mayor Geordin for showing the ‘good’ boy to be nothing but sour grapes and emphasising that Cape Town’s priority is delivery and not scoring political points. Gone are the days that we were elected for our abilities and not our party affiliations.
    What would be appreciated, now, is for the ‘good’ boy to persuade his ‘good’ Minister (de Lille) to deliver to Cape Town the promised wherewithal to permanently house, for example, those ‘temporarily’ crammed into illegally small tin shacks after the Dec 2020 fire which left thousands homeless in Masiphumelele

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