28 August 2017

South Africa: Where's the Strategy in SAPS' Anti-Gangsterism Strategy?

Photo: GroundUp
(file photo).
opinion

SAPS' second attempt to present a strategy to the Portfolio Committee on Police on how it aims to tackle the scourge of gangsterism seemed to deliver even less than the first.

The first presentation on its anti-gangsterism strategy was halted even before it got started. SAPS agreed it was not ready to present, due to a "breakdown in communications" with the Committee, and was sent on its way.

This week, SAPS clearly didn't have very much more to say. There were a few facts, some figures, but nothing that approximated a strategy to stop the serious problem of gangs.

The hearing was billed as a briefing to the Committee on the Anti-Gang Strategy and was meant to cover three provinces, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

The role of socioeconomic conditions became the focus of discussion.

However, Committee discussion inevitably focused on the Western Cape because that is where the gang phenomenon is said to be out of control. MPs heard that in the Western Cape SAPS had made 3,892 gang-related arrests between April 2016 and July 2017. The number of people arrested for drug possession and abuse stood at 5,434 in the province for the same period. No figures were provided for how many of these arrests had resulted in successful convictions.

SAPS did have a figure for convictions for gang-related crime in Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats. Two. It reported that between April 2016 and July 2017 two arrests had been made. The suspects were charged with murder and both had received life sentences. Bishop Lavis has seen a surge in gang-related crime.

In Mitchells Plain, another area in the same province known for high gang activity, five people were arrested and found guilty of murder charges during this period. They face a total of 118 years in jail.

SAPS is hoping to identify police stations n the Western Cape to prioritise gang-related crime by introducing improved intelligence gathering. The aim is to develop a database of identified active gangs and gang leaders and focus on "daily hotspots".

According to SAPS, they have identified 73 gangs operating in the Western Cape alone, stating that "they will monitor the gang leaders that are known.

Addressing SAPS, Chairperson of the Police Committee Francois Beukman (ANC) said, "we need to deal with this gang issue. It's affecting thousands of lives. Schools are being affected too."

The role of socioeconomic conditions became the focus of discussion, with MP Ahmed Shaik Emam (NFP) saying telling the Committee it was a lack of understanding of the socioeconomic conditions by police that allowed crime and gangsterism to thrive, especially in the Western Cape. He said he had observed that in poorer communities crime levels spiked when people had money, for example after payday at the end of the month.

Speaking to GroundUp, Beukman said "of course socioeconomics is one of the conditions that plays a role [in crime]." He questioned why Parliament had not been briefed on how many gang-related convictions they had had in Hanover Park and Manenberg, poorer areas of Cape Town with serious gang problems. There are reports of students in these areas not being able to attend school for fear of being caught in the crossfire of gang warfare.

Deputy National Commissioner Lieutenant General Fannie Masemola told MPs at the Committee hearing that "the phenomenon of gangsterism in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal is a major cause for concern in the security and social platforms."

The briefing follows the call for an implementation of a National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy made by Cabinet in 2017.

Lt-General Masemola said, "[this] was necessitated by the growing phenomenon of gangs and gangsterism-related criminal activities in the same three provinces".

At the time Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said the Anti-Gangsterism Strategy is aligned to the National Development Plan to ensure that all South Africans feel safe and their communities live free of fear.

This article first appeared in GroundUp.

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