“We want these criminals who are linked to murder – some of them more than one, two or three murders – and drug lords; you go and knock on their door, if they are not opening kick the door!”
These were the words of hard-talking Police Minister Bheki Cele when he visited the violence-torn Westbury community in Johannesburg on Thursday. He was a man ready for war to root out the criminals within that community.
Cele assured the residents that “all those people you see there, we don’t give them rubber bullets, we give them the real stuff”.
He was referring to the police parading at the community’s sport fields as part of those who would be deployed in the area.
A total of 141 highly trained officers from the SA Police Service (SAPS) tactical response team, national intervention unit and intelligence officers will be stationed in Westbury to fight crime.
“We are making call on them [drug lords] to come and face us, come and face those who are standing there,” he said.
But his statement came too late for Heather Petersen, a mother of six who was struck and killed by a stray bullet during gang-related violence.
The intervention also comes way too late for the 25 people that local bishop Dalton Adams said he has buried as a result of gang violence in the past two years.
It took the community standing up and protesting, through barricading roads with burning tyres, before government did something about the violence.
Westbury’s cries for help are well documented and turf wars for drug trade among gangs is big in the community.
These are among the issues that an efficient SAPS, one entrenched in the area and committed to serving and protecting the residents, would have known about and dealt with.
But reports that the police are in on the gang-related crime are serious concerns for the country, and that is where Cele should put more focus.
We cannot win the war against criminal activities in Westbury as long as the fundamental causes of such crimes to fester are not addressed.
Cele must rid the police service of criminals and ensure that all those who wear the blue uniform are there to serve and protect – a right enshrined in the Constitution.
Communities know who the criminals among them are, but need a trustworthy police service to report such crimes to.
The police deployment in Westbury is welcome, but this community, like all others across the country, requires a permanent solution to fighting crime, which has grown to unacceptable levels, according to the figures Cele released last month.