OPINION | Ian Cameron: Police devolution should be tested in Western Cape

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(Photo via Gallo Images)
(Photo via Gallo Images)

A history of ineffectual policing is on of the reasons that there should be a dry-run of the devolution of the police service in the Western Cape, argues Ian Cameron.

Federal policing in South Africa is the answer to restoring accountability and improving service delivery at the broken law-enforcement body known as the South African Police Service. Let's start with the victim perspective to give context.

Tasneem, an eight-month-old baby, was allegedly strangled to death by her father, who killed her 20-year-old mother, Chantelle Ash, in Limpopo. Earlier this month, a three-year-old girl was shot and killed during gang crossfire, not far from Cape Town. Not long after the remains of Siphokazi Booi's body was found in a trolley bin in Mbekweni, Paarl, in the Western Cape. She had been beaten to death, dismembered, and set on fire. 

Siphokazi Booi's alleged executioner was out on bail at the time of the murder; after having been charged with assault.


A 12-year-old East Rand boy, who was raped and abused between 2013 and 2017, is one of the thousands neglected by the DNA board due to its non-performance.

The alleged abuse and rape allegedly started when he was four years old until he was eight. In the court proceedings, the boy testified how he was chained to a chair in a dungeon and how, on one occasion, several people came into the dungeon and sexually violated him. His mother allegedly watched while they did this and took photos.

The boy's mother has been charged with rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child negligence and compelling or causing children to witness sexual offences, sexual acts, or self-masturbation. His stepfather faces charges of rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. But the damage is done, and there was no real attempt to prevent these tragedies from happening.

The South African Police Service DNA processing backlog was at just under 300 000 cases in August.

READ | SAPS DNA backlog grows to almost 240 000 cases

Picture an average of four pieces of evidence for each case. This means there are at least 1,2 million pieces of evidence needing to be processed. This, while the DNA oversite board has only met once this entire year. 

The DNA oversite board should face the parents of five-year-old Chantal Makwena in Rocklands in the Eastern Cape, who was bludgeoned to death with a stone after being raped and left to hang over the side of a broken toilet. Her killer was left to roam the streets for years because the very DNA sample that could have led to his immediate arrest was left untested. 

Hundreds of thousands of evidence samples might lose their integrity due to a poor chain of custody and might become unusable, leaving thousands of criminals to be released on our streets.

I think firearm campaigner Gideon Joubert sums the forensic system disaster up perfectly. The most recent scandal involves the SAPS's Property Control and Exhibit Management (PCEM) system, which the service provider, Forensic Data Analysts (FDA), switched off due to the police's chronic failure to pay their bill. And this is despite SAPS and SITA losing nine court cases against FDA consecutively.

Instead, the police wilfully ignored the warnings and advice of their legal counsel and used FDA's systems unlawfully for over a year.

But it gets worse.

Treasury made the required financing available and ring-fenced the money. All the SAPS had to do, was pay FDA. Instead, Cele refused to pay the bill with the money government specifically made available for that very purpose. And he did so twice. The direct result of which is the backlogging and potential compromising of 80 million pieces of forensic evidence affecting over 170 000 criminal cases.

READ | Police were ready to pay for system to track evidence twice but Cele stopped it, committee hears

Cele being sacked as police minister in South Africa could be a good thing, but the broader police system failure is too large for just one role-player's removal to make a national difference. 

Cele recently confirmed that more than 10 000 police officers, who are supposed to protect the public and uphold the Constitution and the law, have been charged with murder, rape, and assault since 2012. Of the 10 086 officers who have been charged, only 50 faced suspensions since 2012/13.

How can we expect to curb the gender-based violence onslaught with a criminally infested police service? Statistics show that 146 people, mainly women, become victims of sexual offences every day in South Africa, and approximately 116 rapes are reported daily.

In terms of firearms alone, thousands of cops have blood on their hands. The SAPS has lost more than 26 025 SAPS firearms in 12 years but continues with attempts to start the process of disarming law-abiding citizens. The police must stop the blame game and face the facts.

Missing firearms 

Between 2005 and 2017 (12 years), SAPS has lost, had stolen from them or is simply unable to account for 26 025 SAPS guns issued to police officers. This was reported as 18 196 guns between 2005 and 2011 and 7 829 between 2009 and 2014. Minister Cele's figures to Parliament in 2019 included almost 10 000 000 rounds of ammunition, of which more than 3.2 million rounds were missing in the Eastern Cape alone.

Recently, firearms stolen from a SAPS station in Mitchell's Plain, in Cape Town, were used by criminals and ended up being used to murder a child. 

Keep in mind that the SAPS Firearm Permit System (FPS) has been off for more than a year because of non-payment. That basically means the police are not accurately tracking the more than 500 000 firearms they are responsible for. 

All of this gives context and is just the tip of the iceberg when considering how broken the South African justice system really is.

Decentralisation of the South African Police Service should therefore be tested in the Western Cape to show that it can work and that people can make peace with the law enforcement that they vote for. 

Simply put, it is devolution from a failing national state so that voters who vote for competent government can get the services they vote for. That will at least be the case in the Western Cape.

READ | 'Disingenuous' - Cele blasts Western Cape government for 'lying' about cops not doing their jobs

For many years, the Western Cape has had the most vacant posts in the police compared to other provinces. A report by the Public Service Commission published in 2018, found that 85% of police stations in the Western Cape are understaffed. A year later, in 2019, the Western Cape police ombudsman indicated that the ratio of officers to the population in the Western Cape fell well short of the UN's recommendation of 1:200, with SA's ratio sitting at 1:383.

Grassy Park in the Western Cape has a police ration of 1:1800. How is that sustainable? 

The ANC cannot continually abuse policing and law enforcement in the province.

The City of Cape Town and Western Cape Government LEAP (Law Enforcement Advancement Program) initiative has already started to make a positive impact. Imagine if more tax money currently going to the national government could also be appropriately invested in bettering local law enforcement. 

Further deterioration on the cards 

We all know that governance in the Western Cape is far better than the rest of the country. A federal system will also assist in ensuring that money for policing goes to policing and is not wasted in another way. 

If devolution of the SAPS does not happen, it simply means that policing will further deteriorate and we will increasingly be reliant not only on community safety structures, but also on provincial and local government law enforcement structures that don't always have the same broad mandate that the South African Police Service does.

It could serve as a start to do similar structuring of other law enforcement and justice institutions that have been crippled by cadre deployment and corruption. 

Decentralising and ringfencing good governance apart from the national government is the only way to distance ourselves from a failed national government. 

- Ian Cameron leads Action Society's community safety drive and is an ambassador for the #SafeCitizen Campaign. Ian is also the founder of firearms.co.za.

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