Simon Williamson

Closer to the people

2013-04-26 07:49

Simon Williamson

Philosophically it was difficult to disagree with DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko last week when she said during a campaign speech, "politics is local-based. Local government is the closest level of government to the people. We do not view it as the poor relation of government, but the main driver of delivery."

It doesn't take an academic to work out that local government will always be more in touch with the population (not all of whom are voters) than the high-end bigwigs who staff the higher structures.

That’s obviously a relative term - some local governments are rubbish at governing, but they still have far more of an idea of what is going on around them than rulers who live far away.

I shouldn't need to provide examples, but one need look no further than the high-priority national taxpayer gift of Nkandla to President Jacob Zuma, which we managed to sort out far quicker than housing for people who are not the president, the economy, employment, or the communications ministry's Bring Your Boyfriend To Work Day. What about Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's kind offer to drink champagne on our behalf to celebrate last year's 100-year anniversary of the ANC?

Or when Helen Zille couldn't understand why there was criticism when she wanted to introduce the army to crime-ridden areas of Cape Town, and decided to Fight Black when she was criticised for calling people moving to the Western Cape from other provinces "refugees"?

Step in the right direction

This sort of nonsense is why the recently passed Western Cape Community Safety Bill is a nice, if small, step in the right direction - in principle. Although passed through the provincial legislature with only Democratic Alliance and (a singular) African Christian Democratic Party votes, the bill's intention is to haul policing, crime prevention strategies and police oversight down a level of government - from national to provincial.

Admittedly there are problems with the bill. It is foggishly vague in some key places, gives no indication of how much it will cost, clashes with other laws at some points, and the Constitution, and will almost certainly take a trip through the courts. The bill is unlikely to remain precisely as it was passed.

But parts of it are correctly idealistic.

Section 7 of the bill compels the provincial minister in charge of community safety - in this case former Cape Town mayor Dan Plato - to set up "specialised units in response to specific categories of crime".

Specific responses to specific threats seems to me like the logical way to fight crime, and is the type of solution one can compile when one is more in touch with what is going on in specific places.

As things stand, police strategy comes from up high. As the ANC response to the Western Cape Community Safety Bill said: "This is a competency of the National Commissioner of South African Police Service." But logically, having a province set up its own priorities surely makes more sense? I'm not a betting man, but I'd put at least one commercial rand on the Western Cape being more aware of its security and policing needs than staff at the Union Buildings.

Power of the book

Currently the provincial police commissioner is answerable to the national commissioner, and not to the province (although he or she is constitutionally obliged to brief the provincial parliament once per year, and a no-confidence motion can be undertaken by provincial structures (all of which winds up in the national commissioner's office)).

The South African Police Service is indeed a national structure, but why should that mean a province, or even a municipality, not have the most significant input into its own security needs? As things stand, there are community policing forums, and municipal input, but that information is required to climb the whole way up the ladders of government, trundle through an approval process, and then if approved come all the way back down.

Section 3 of the bill contains laws that would allow the provincial Department of Community Safety to "oversee the effectiveness of policies and directives implemented by the police service in terms of appointments, training and policing". In other words, a more local government would have more power in determining its own policies.

Naturally, the folks in the Ministry of Police don't like having their power toyed with, and they have the power of the book behind them.

Section 206 (2) of The Constitution says, "The national policing policy may make provision for different policies in respect of different provinces after taking into account the policing needs and priorities of these provinces," which kind of establishes the principle of the tippy-top of government deciding what is good for who.

And section 206 (4) says the "provincial executive" (in this case Plato), "is responsible for policing functions assigned to it in terms of national legislation; and allocated to it in the national policing policy," - in a nutshell, Plato can do what the national government tells him he can do. And that stands for the other eight provinces too, all of whom have their policing policies bent to the whims of Pretoria.

The tentacles of SAPS that are supposed to be liaising with members of the public in order to put policing needs together are Community Police Forums - as made clear in the SAPS Act of 1995. However, the responsibility of establishing these belongs to the Provincial Commissioner - appointed by the national commissioner, according to the SAPS Act (and therefore a national appointment). The Western Cape Community Safety Bill passes similar responsibilities onto the province’s MEC for Community Safety.

Small move

Earlier I said the Western Cape Community Safety Bill was good "in principle". I don't think the Democratic Alliance is necessarily the best government to address crime, judging by its prior ideas.

But I do believe that the healthiest policies and strategies regarding the police will be crafted as far down the government ladder as possible.

The Western Cape legislature is attempting to haul it down by one rung. And although it's a small move, it’s certainly in the right direction. Towards us.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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Read more on:    anc  |  da  |  kgalema motlanthe  |  helen zille  |  lindiwe mazibuko  |  jacob zuma

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