Safety should be top priority

2019-07-09 06:01

When visiting a bereaved family in Uitsig some weeks ago, I was struck by how gangsterism, criminality and criminal impunity are undermining the sense of safety and security of families and entire communities. While I was there, I was told not to stand outside the boundary walls of the house as I would be in the “firing zone”. I was told that the abandoned building in front of the bereaved family’s home was often used as a hiding spot for rival gangs before a shoot out. I was told that residents of this particular street knew the cars and license plates of each resident because if a “different” car pulled up, this could very well mean that bullets were about to start flying.

Uitsig and the experiences of this family are a microcosm of a rapidly deteriorating situation in many communities across the province, particularly in the so-called 23 gang stations. It is for this reason that I am working tirelessly to put together, in partnership with my department, communities and other levels of government; a comprehensive and sustainable set of measures aimed at building safer communities. However, we cannot begin building safer communities if the perpetrators of crime are allowed to operate without consequence.

For this reason, the provincial government has supported the call from communities to deploy the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), not for purposes of cheap political point-scoring, but because the first responsibility of the state is to provide the conditions for the safety of its citizens. The deployment of the army as a peacekeeping force on the Cape Flats would free up police to do investigative work that will help put syndicates, gang leaders, drug dealers and murderers who terrorise our people daily, behind bars. The argument that the SANDF is not trained to fight crime is simply a red-herring.

An import part of the work I do is engaging with communities to determine what makes them feel unsafe. What has been made clear to me is that communities feel a lack of police presence and visibility. They are frustrated by the time it takes for police to arrive on the scene and they are angry with the inequitable allocation of police resources. Our communities’ sense of safety and trust in policing will only be restored when police resources are mobilised consistently. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case.

Despite this, I want to acknowledge the brave officers who work tirelessly, often putting their lives at risk, to make our province safer. Many of my intended measures as the (provincial) minister of community safety aim to support the great work done by police.

Some of these include collaborating with police and Metro Police on the neighbourhood watches programme and Community Policing Forums (CPFs) to strengthen community trust, support and cooperation.

Above all, we need to find creative and sustainable ways to prevent our young people from a life of gangsterism. We need them to see that a life as a gangster is not a desirable path. When visiting communities across the province, I often notice young children playing without adult supervision, some during school hours. These children are often targeted by gangsters and drug dealers as runners or shooters. We need a “Whole of Society Approach” to rebuild safer communities. We can no longer turn a blind eye and say that such matters are not our responsibility.

As we approach the upcoming CPF elections, I look forward to interacting with candidates who will build fruitful relationships with both their local neighbourhood watches and police to root out crime. In turn, individuals who notice crime must immediately report this to the police. Meanwhile, my department will continue to provide oversight over police to ensure that they are a trustworthy institution, working for the good of the community.

After one month in my role as minister for community safety, I believe that through coordinated efforts, using all of the tools at our disposal, we can get the province back on track and drastically reduce the influence of gang criminality. Our commitment in this regard is to continue working to restore relationships and rebuild trust between communities and those stakeholders tasked with keeping them safe.

Albert Fritz MEC for community safety
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