OPINIONISTA

Mireille Wenger: Never mind turkey, there never was going to be Christmas: How the ANC has politicised policing in the Western Cape

It cannot be a coincidence that as soon as the DA came to power in the Western Cape, the national government slashed police recruits to this province by two thirds.

Ebrahim Rasool’s piece “Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas — why the DA is panicking about the police’s anti-gang unit in Cape Town” refers. The DA has in fact welcomed the eventual and long-awaited re-establishment of the specialised police anti-gang unit. It is something we have been calling for since these units were shut down by disgraced former police commissioner Jackie Selebi. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why Selebi shut down these units — they were too effective, and the ANC was happy to stick with Selebi’s decision for close to two decades. Not only has the DA been calling for these units, but so too has the DA-run Western Cape Government. The Western Cape determined specialised units as a Policing Need and Priority — a constitutional imperative that requires the national police minister to consider. The units were identified as a policing need seven years ago. But policing is an entirely national government competency. Provinces have no operational control over the SAPS, but do have an important oversight role and make recommendations to the police minister in determining police policy for the province.

So while we absolutely welcome this new development, Mr Rasool should not be disingenuous. After years and years, and promises to re-establish these units by both former police ministers Nhleko and Mbalula, why all of a sudden, six months before a provincial and national election, is the anti-gang unit launched — and launched as an ANC event with posters doing the rounds proclaiming the launch as “part of the ANC’s call to effectively deal with gangs and crime on the Cape Flats”? But where was the ANC over the last 10 years during which close to 3,000 people have been killed in gang-related murders? And where was the ANC’s commitment to deal with gangs and crime on the Cape Flats when the DA exposed in 2015 that the conviction rate for gang-related murders in the Western Cape was 3%?

Mr Rasool laughably says that the DA has not made “a single attempt to explore the scope allowed by Section 206 of the Constitution”. The truth is Western Cape is the only province to fully utilise the full extent of Section 206 of the Constitution. Under the DA, the Western Cape is the only province in the country that has created oversight legislation from Section 206 in the form of the Community Safety Act, which defines what oversight is, and what the South African Police Services (SAPS) obligations are to assist us in performing this mandate effectively.

It is the only province that has established a Police Ombudsman. It was the first (and possibly the only) province to conduct Court Watching Briefs to check that cases make it to court and track if cases are dismissed because of police inaction, for example if the forensic evidence is not collected, or if the detective does not appear in court.

Bizarrely, Rasool criticises us for not using Section 206, and at the same time criticises the establishment of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry. The commission was a direct instrument of Section 206 which under subsection 5 states that in order for provinces to conduct their oversight, they may investigate or appoint commissions of inquiry into any complaints of police inefficiency or a breakdown in community-police relations. It was established after 78 people became victims of vigilante killings because of strained community-police relations and which the Constitutional Court unanimously determined was the province’s right and responsibility.

But perhaps this is all fluff to steer away from the real issue — the severe politicisation of the police by the ANC and the deliberate under-resourcing of the police in the Western Cape. During the ANC’s tenure in the Western Cape between 2005 and 2009, the police recruited 6,299 new recruits to the SAPS.

By sharp contrast, during the DA’s tenure between 2010 and 2014, the SAPS recruited only 2,300. Why was the ANC-run SAPS so biased in its recruiting of police? It cannot be a coincidence that as soon as the DA came to power in the Western Cape, the national government slashed police recruits to this province by two thirds?

The latest information available shows that South Africa’s police-to-population ratio is 1:369 — one police officer for every 369 citizens. But in the Western Cape, there is only one police officer for every 509 citizens. Why? Why is the Western Cape so badly under-resourced? The canine unit has half the number of dogs it ought to have, 85% of stations are under-resourced in Cape Town, and police reservists have declined by 84% since 2008. Yet manpower will be pulled away to form this anti-gang unit.

Police stations are already so constrained that in some cases there is only one officer on duty to man an entire police station, and crime-affected communities have no visible policing because there simply isn’t enough manpower.

If the ANC were truly committed to fighting crime in the Western Cape it would address severe under-resourcing which it has no intention of doing. So Mr Rasool can forget about the turkey, the ANC never intended to let the Western Cape have Christmas. DM

Mireille Wenger MPP is chairperson of the Standing Committee on Community Safety in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament and DA Western Cape spokesperson on Community Safety.

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