A demand for answers

2015-05-05 06:00

Residents came out in their numbers to challenge several government departments at an imbizo.

After months of frustration with low conviction rates at the local magistrate’s court and countless complaints that “police are not doing their work,” residents finally had an opportunity to get answers from the responsible parties.

Representatives from, among others, the police, home affairs, justice department, social development and correctional services formed a panel to face questions from residents.

“How can we help you put an end to the crime in your area?”

This is the question officials urged the more than 100 residents to ask while holding government departments accountable for perceived flaws at a recent service delivery imbizo.

But residents had many more questions.

The meeting was held at the Strandfontein Secondary School hall on Thursday 19 March and attended by residents from Strandfontein and Mitchell’s Plain. It was arranged by the Strandfontein Social Development Economic Forum (SSDEF).

Errol Theron, of the SSDEF, says it was important to hold the meeting in Strandfontein.

“We are always passed by. They hold meetings in other areas but never here in Strandfontein,” he says.

Regional director for Legal Services Seehaam Samaai admits this is true, saying meetings are scheduled according to the needs of residents and crime issues.

In comparison to Tafelsig, the need in Strandfontein was not as great, Samaai said. She read a speech on behalf of Hishaam Mohammad, group regional head of the department.

“The departments represented are not here by chance,” she said.

“We all form part of the safety and security cluster and work together.”

Questions related to bail hearings, arrests and sentencing.

Strandfontein Community Police Forum (CPF) chairperson Sandra Schuter cited a case in which a written confession was part of the case against a 25-year-old man (“Fury after bail is granted”, People’s Post, 9 December 2014). “A boy was stabbed to death and the investigating officer was able to obtain a confession from the man, yet the case was thrown out due to insufficient evidence. He was released on R500 bail. How can that be when there is a statement?” she asked.

Rochelle Harmse of the National Prosecuting Authority explained that this was a “contentious issue that could not be debated at the platform”.

She added: “A confession is not enough. We need evidence to back up the statement to charge a suspect.”

She advised residents to visit the court with questions. “Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court is one of the few courts that has an information desk. Make use of it.”

The poor conviction rate was also brought into question. The issue is nothing new. At a meeting held by the provincial department of Community Safety in Lentegeur last year residents were angered by the poor conviction rate (“Residents have their say”, People’s Post, 6 November).

At the time Cluster commander Major-General Abraham Goss explained police were doing their jobs and that they understand the residents’ frustrations.

People’s Post previously reported that the police themselves challenged the poor conviction rate.

They held several meetings with court officials (“Case under investigation”, People’s Post, 25 November).

“This has been an issue for a long time,” Goss said at the time.

His statements followed numerous high profile cases being “thrown out of court”.

At the meeting anger mounted and residents took every opportunity to attack police for criminals walking free.

“Bail is not our department,” Goss said. “The issue was raised in a meeting with court officials because too many people are saying the same thing.”

Another matter of concern was that of vigilantism, in which residents are believed to have taken the law into their own hands (“Fury at suspect’s release”, People’s Post, 10 March) and (“‘Street Justice’ flare up?”, People’s Post, 17 March).

Goss said at the time: “[Residents] are losing faith in the police because they give us information, we make an arrest and send them to court and then the next day they are out.”

Other issues included drug houses, truancy, custody, rehabilitation, parole, drug addiction and youth development.


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