DA campaigns to extend Western Cape coastal patrols

2019-04-01 19:08
Members of the City of Cape Town's maritime unit in the Hout Bay harbour. (Jan Gerber/News24)

Members of the City of Cape Town's maritime unit in the Hout Bay harbour. (Jan Gerber/News24)

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The DA wants to build partnerships between the Western Cape government and coastal municipalities to establish coastal patrol units – such as the one the DA-governed City of Cape Town has – to patrol beachfront waters and secure them against poachers and drug smugglers. 

The DA has been campaigning in the Western Cape to devolve policing powers to provincial and municipal level. Policing is currently a national competency, with the Constitution prescribing "a single police force", and establishing a provincial police force would require a constitutional amendment.

On Monday, DA premier candidate for the Western Cape Alan Winde and campaign spokesperson for crime John Steenhuisen joined Cape Town's mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith at the Hout Bay small boat harbour, where Smith introduced them to the Marine and Environmental Law Enforcement Unit.

The unit was introduced in 2013 and its 11 members cover a 300km stretch of coastline from Silwerstroomstrand on the West Coast to Kogel Bay.

Smith said the City's Law Enforcement department is criticised for encroaching in areas beyond its mandate of by-law enforcement and traffic policing.

Service delivery 

"That is true," said Smith. "We are getting into spaces that should be national government's core business."

He said the city cannot simply ignore what is happening.

"We have no choice but to step into these spaces with gaps left in the service delivery of national government," said Smith.

He said this is largely caused by the withdrawal of 4 500 police officers from the province over the last four years, ineffectual enforcement strategies, a lack of effective detectives and a lack of specialist units.  

Smith expressed appreciation for the introduction of a specialised gang unit but said if it had been introduced 10 years ago, it would have saved many lives. 

With regards to the marine enforcement unit, Smith said the city became so anxious about what it saw happening with protected marine resources that it had to establish the unit.

"In the last year alone, these guys have been responsible for 45 arrests, 2 154 fines and notices to appear in court, 47 integrated operations with other services, 78 joint operations with SAPS (the South African Police), they've impounded 14 632 marine resources, they've patrolled for 4 869 hours and checked 813 vessels," Smith said. 

Winde, also MEC for community safety, said there is a linkage between poached abalone and drug cartels, with abalone used as a trading mechanism. 

"Much of the drug trade move(s) in and out of our small harbours and also small vessels, not only poaching in our waters, but also going out and meeting other vessels in our waters." 

Dealing with crime along the South African coast is the responsibility of the national government, both through the police and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The city's marine unit, therefore, cannot police South African waters, but municipalities have the right to protect their waters to one mile offshore.

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"It's where we have to step in, because it is just out of control. Out of control how these billions and billions worth of illicit economy... end up in drugs fuelling the gang violence, the murders and stopping our children and families in many areas just leading a normal life," said Winde.

Steenhuisen said if South Africa had an "honest and professional" police service, the city would not have to step into the gap continuously; this shows how important it is to devolve policing to a provincial level.

"An issue like poaching is not an issue that affects a province like Limpopo, the North West or any of the landlocked provinces, it's something that is quite specific to the Western Cape," Steenhuisen said. 

"What this means is the national policing plan cannot possibly cater for the local, provincial dynamics in the Western Cape. It makes complete sense that policing is devolved to provincial level. It would enable the premier, his cabinet and the MEC for safety to direct resources to where the crimes are and to where the linkages with drugs, poaching and criminal activity intersect."

He said provincial police would also enable the province to recruit more honest, professional police officers. 

Winde and Steenhuisen went on the water with members of the unit.

A few minutes after their return, a member of the ports authority showed up in a bakkie, claiming that it was illegal to be on the jetty.

Taxi violence 

In contrast to the tranquillity of the harbour setting, Hout Bay on Monday was also the scene of fatal taxi violence.

Winde said the two main taxi unions were fighting over routes. 

"There has been a number of shootings in the area the last while." He said police were investigating.

"What happens is normal, law-abiding citizens can’t get to work, can't go to school, can’t go about their daily lives. This cannot be normal. We've got to change that."      

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