Gangsterism has regrettably been with us for many decades, and the moment cannot come soon enough when its impact on society comes to an end. While gangs are largely found on the Cape Flats in the Cape Town metro, as well as in other parts of the Western Cape, we are increasingly seeing links between local gangs and national and international criminal networks.
As we mark what gives us most pride in our heritage, we must do everything in our power to hasten the end of gangsterism as part of our lives. We have a responsibility to work towards dismantling it in its entirety. Gangs and their activities add no value to our communities. Rather, they terrorise, break down and destroy lives. There will never be a time where they can be regarded as community builders.
The crime statistics for the first quarter of 2023, from April to June, showed that of the 193 gang-related murders nationally, 166 occurred in the Western Cape. In fact, for the 2022/23 financial year, when there were 802 gang-related murders across the country, 675 occurred in the Western Cape. More than 80% of all gang-related murders in the country occur in the province.
The recent crime figures showed that 17 out of the 23 murders that occurred in the Mitchells Plain area were gang-related. Again, June 2023 started off with multiple shootings in Westridge, Mitchells Plain, Surrey Estate, Bonteheuwel and Manenberg. In four separate incidents, six people were shot, with four fatally wounded. The victims were two 18-year-olds and a 19- and a 20-year-old. Over the Youth Day long weekend, two more teenagers, 14 and 16 years old, were gunned down in Lentegeur, Mitchells Plain. I hope and pray we do not have to report on deaths occurring under similar circumstances after this coming Heritage Day weekend.
The picture painted by these statistics clearly shows that there is a great need to not only stop gangs, but to also dismantle their entire enterprise, while arresting and convicting those involved in any of the criminal activities perpetrated by gangs. I constantly think of the many families who continue to bury their children who have fallen victim to this scourge. Dismantling and aggressively clamping down on their operations would undoubtedly assist in ensuring that our murder rate is drastically reduced.
Victims in the prime of their lives
So many of those killed were young people in the prime of their lives. They should be attending school, empowering themselves for a brighter future; they should be in tertiary institutions preparing for their careers; they should be engaging and participating in events and activities that will assist them to grow as individuals, to ultimately become adults who will contribute positively to their communities. Instead, criminal, thuggish, heartless gangsters decided otherwise. Gangs must be stopped.
The current state of affairs of the Anti-Gang Unit (AGU), which falls under the South African Police Service (SAPS) is unacceptable. The many vacancies are not being filled, and the unit is inadequately resourced to combat gangs. Gang membership across the Western Cape is estimated to be in the region of 100,000. The current AGU approach lacks appropriate intelligence, adequate management and a coherent strategy.
The failure of the AGU to address gangsterism is one of the many reasons why the Western Cape government will not stop calling for the devolution of SAPS. It is only under a capable provincial government that we will be able to ensure a professional and well-resourced unit that will confront gangsterism head-on in our province.
The Western Cape government, has already stepped in where the national government continues to fail our residents. In 2019, we launched our Western Cape Safety Plan, which seeks to halve the murder rate by 2029. In 2020, officers of our Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (LEAP), which stems from the Safety Plan, were deployed to areas with the highest murder rates in the Cape Metro. These include areas such as Delft, Gugulethu, Harare, Khayelitsha (Site B policing precinct), Kraaifontein, Mfuleni, Mitchells Plain, Nyanga, Philippi East and Samora Machel. Other high-crime areas in which they are deployed are Atlantis, Bishop Lavis and Hanover Park, along with Lavender Hill, Steenberg and Grassy Park.
The crime statistics for January to March 2023 showed that the Western Cape had the highest reduction in the murder rate of any province, dropping by 14.1%. This was followed by a 5.5% reduction in the murder rate between April and June 2023. Successes are being achieved in part because of the LEAP programme, which sees officers deployed based on evidence and data, where the need is greatest. In Mitchells Plain, for instance, we currently have 68 LEAP officers supporting SAPS efforts to combat crime, particularly murders. In Delft, we have deployed 144 LEAP officers, which equates to almost 50% of the SAPS deployment in the area. We still have a very long way to go, but our interventions are making a difference; however, we could be doing so much more to reduce crime if we had more effective management and resourcing of policing at the provincial level.
We have Rural Safety Units deployed in the Swartland and Overstrand municipal areas. In addition to this, in these areas, along with Mossel Bay, we have also deployed K-9 units. All these units operate across districts which include the West Coast, Overberg and Garden Route. This ensures greater visibility and further strengthens the SAPS’ hand in combating crime throughout the entire province.
We will continuously look at various options and opportunities to expand our footprint and make an impact with the limited resources and powers that we have, because we want our residents to live in safer environments where they are free from fear. DM