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Cape Town’s fight is with criminals, not politicians – devolving some policing is the right thing to do

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Geordin Hill-Lewis is the Mayor of Cape Town.

In our call for the devolution of certain policing powers, the City of Cape Town is seeking more powers for the municipal police staff that we already have, rather than seeking to assume any control over the SAPS directly.

In a recent Daily Maverick article, “Push for devolution of Western Cape policing powers may have pragmatic footing but no legal standing” (29 September 2022), Professor Pierre de Vos says there are “both principled and practical reasons to justify the devolution of police powers” to provinces and municipalities.

He notes that there are “significant legal and political obstacles to any devolution of police powers”, the latter “for as long as the ANC governs at a national level”, but that “political dynamics around this issue might change” in the event of a new governing coalition nationally come 2024.

In Cape Town we believe there is not only a constitutional case, but a human case, to devolve these powers immediately. I have assured both the ministers of police and justice, and President Ramaphosa that our fight is with criminals, not politicians.

Residents should not have to live in daily fear of violent crime, and children should feel safe to play outside. That is the Cape Town we are striving towards, where there is freedom of movement for residents and a chance at a better life.

It is on this basis that I have been engaging the ministers of police and justice about more policing powers for our municipal law enforcement officers.

More policing powers

I need to make it clear that in our call for the devolution of certain policing powers, the City is seeking more powers for the municipal police staff that we already have, rather than seeking to assume any control over the SAPS directly.

There is a good case for the provincial government to assume a degree of control over the SAPS directly, with enhanced abilities to shape policy and accountability. I know our colleagues in the province are pursuing this and I support them fully.  

Our case is different. As a well-resourced, functional metro, Cape Town already has municipal law enforcement, Metro Police and traffic officers on the ground who are immediately available to do more in helping the SAPS to fight crime.

Our officers are already succeeding in taking many guns and drugs off the streets. More policing powers would enable them to compile prosecution-ready case dockets for presentation to the SAPS and prosecutors, especially on key crime categories such as guns, drugs, gangs and metal theft.

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The SAPS sorely needs this assistance given that 71% of Western Cape police stations have seen a decline in police personnel in the past five financial years.

There has been a net withdrawal of more than 500 SAPS officers in our region since 2018, and even a recent additional SAPS deployment was 821 officers fewer than was budgeted for.

Given the underresourcing of the SAPS, our officers are increasingly the first responders to reports of crime in the metro. They are also well-trained, well-equipped and motivated to do more in helping the SAPS keep communities safe.  

City safety investments

The City has already deployed more than 1,200 law enforcement officers in areas impacted by high crime rates under the Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (LEAP), together with the Western Cape Government.

As of 31 July 2022, LEAP officers had made 8,500 arrests since their first deployment in February 2020, and taken more than 220 guns off the streets. Including the efforts of Metro Police and the Traffic Service, the City has removed close to 400 firearms in total off the streets in the past year. With these achievements, our officers are already helping the SAPS reduce murders and other violent crimes.

The City is investing in a further 230 new Law Enforcement and Metro Police officers in this financial year alone, and hundreds of millions in crime-fighting technology, with a record R5.4-billion safety budget in 2022/23.

Increased investment has seen our officers more than triple their arrest rate in recent years, with 50% of these arrests being drug-related. 

We are also able to deploy technology and safety investments that the SAPS cannot.

Daily policing operations are increasingly enhanced with various camera-based technologies, including CCTV, now supported by manned aircraft systems, drones, automatic number-plate recognition, gunshot location tech, dash cams in vehicles, and body-worn cameras. This network will constantly feed data back to our operational command via our cutting-edge “EPIC” software system.

In the coming months we will convert the current Transport Management Centre in Goodwood into a Joint Services Operations Centre from where our entire crime-fighting apparatus will be run.

In short, the City has a lot to offer the SAPS and the national government as a partner in making Cape Town safer.

Legal basis for devolution

There is a continuum of devolution options and the City is advocating to start with what is already in the justice minister’s power to implement – the immediate extension of peace officer powers under the Criminal Procedure Act.

The justice minister has already used this mechanism, in 2018, to extend the powers of municipal law enforcement beyond just local by-law enforcement, enabling them to play a more active crime prevention role for certain crime categories.


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From there, devolution can be furthered by an amendment to the SAPS Act, particularly to broaden the scope of the Metro Police beyond crime prevention to include investigative powers.

Currently, the City is only able to establish prima facie evidence of criminal activity within our scope – especially gun, drug and metal-theft-related crime. Evidence gathered by the City is handed to the SAPS to take further to prosecution.

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However, the exclusion from the mandate to investigate crime limits our Metro Police officers from fully supporting the evidence-gathering and prosecutions process to ensure convictions. 

It is clear that the Constitution is enabling of devolution given that Section 99 allows for the assignment of functions by ministers to provincial and municipal spheres.

Bringing policy closer to communities

When it comes to the determination of policy for the SAPS, we are simply asking that the City be able to formally determine city-specific policing needs and priorities in the form of a subsidiary policing plan to be adopted as part of the national policing plan of the future.

Policing policy devolution is constitutionally envisaged, with s206(2) stating that national policing policy “may make provision for different policies in respect of different provinces”. Provincial governments may also be assigned subsidiary policy-making power under s206(4) (B) and (C).

However, since 1996 the minister has never issued a policy statement that sets out the different policing priorities or programmes for the different provinces. This is despite the fact that crime patterns differ, requiring varying strategies – in our region particularly for firearms, drugs and gang crime.

Nothing that is on the table conflicts with the constitutional provision of a single police service, nor any explicitly designated authority of the national minister.

We have an enabling Constitution for devolving critical state functions closer to communities in a way that makes us all stronger. We do not need, nor do we want, to secede to achieve better outcomes for Cape Town’s communities.

Whether in the current national political dynamic, or a new one after the 2024 election, the City of Cape Town will not abandon the cause of residents living in fear of crime while there are constitutional and immediate ways to devolve more policing power to make communities safer. DM

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  • L Dennis says:

    Thank u DA for putting the citizens first. Praying for our beautiful country.

  • Roy Haines says:

    Well done Mayor Hill-Lewis, you are the best mayor that Cape Town has had in many years. Keep up the good work and I sincerely hope that you succeed in your endeavors.

  • Frank van der Velde says:

    I recently had the privilege of having a conducted tour of the Goodwood Transport Management Centre and witnessed firsthand the implementation of the cutting edge “Epic” technology; I saw examples of gunshot location technology in action; I saw ambulances, fire services, vehicle rescue services and police services rapidly dispatched with the aid of the over 8000 working CCTV cameras in the City. In short I slept well that night. Thank you Alderman JP Smith and Mayor Hill-Lewis

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    South Africa is does not have a federal constitution but a unitary constitution that puts certain government responsibilities as a national competence. The DA might have a federal structure but the country does not have that. To seek to have federalism by stealth and ultimately the Republic of Western Cape has to be condemned with the contempt it deserves including the notion of Provinces that have their own constitutions. The DA in the national parliament acts as the representative of the Western with the “where the DA governs” mantra. What we need as a country is the removal of the pick and pay general and his commissioner and a clear strategy to deal with crime throughout the country. The SAPS needs a competent leadership at political and operational level that would be able to deal with the scourge of various crimes with proper policing skills at all levels with the ability to deal with drugs, gangsters and the emerging mafia in society and the state.
    Once you have certain powers devolved, it is to actually undo the edifice of 1994 and create bantustans that are emerging something that is inimical to our national liberation struggle. We cannot deal with incompetence by tearing the constitutional fabric and distorting it to suit the DA views.

    • John Smythe says:

      You raise some good points, Cunningham. But whether you like it or not, you have to separate the DA from the City of Cape Town. Mayor hill-Lewis doesn’t once mention the DA in his article. His interest is Cape Town only. And I, for one, am thankful that the CoCT is a well-functioning world-class operation. It has its challenges. The townships, homeless, poor and crime immediately spring to mind. And they’re working on what isn’t an overnight fix. It’s made more difficult by the fact that more and more people are streaming into Cape Town – it’s better here than anywhere else in the country. South Africans aren’t streaming into Johannesburg or any other city at the same rate. Those cities aren’t well run. The people don’t first check that the mayor is an ANC or DA member. If the other municipalities in the country don’t have a plan to make a case to national government, then that’s their problem…. whether DA or ANC. Mayor Hill-Lewis and his world-class team are delivering and will continue to deliver better and better. They’re spearheading the way forward in SA. But they need national government to separate itself from being ANC and rather than having ANC first, then the people (al la Zuma), they should rather look at the people first. What do the people want? They want the leaders to create a world-class operation. Not a circus. That’s how they can make things work better. Focus on the people. Not the party.

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