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Reflections on the unrest in Diepsloot

In response to protests taking place in Diepsloot earlier today, Minister of Police Bheki Cele tagged along the newly appointed National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola in his endeavour to try and quell the potentially volatile situation that was brewing outside the Diepsloot Police Station, wherein community members were raising concerns over widespread criminality in the past months, and demanding more police visibility and better resources at the police station.

The Minister stated to protesters that they will immediately be deploying more than 50 police members, including 30 tactical response team (TRT) members, and 16 new vehicles to the area in ensuring that crime-fighting in the area is strengthened.

Under normal circumstances, the station had only 6 vehicles at the service of a community of around 350 000 people living in a mixture of informal and formal settlements demarcated into two wards; ward 95 and 113.

Needless to say, one can only imagine the extent to which police in the area must be overstretched in conducting their work.

It must from the onset be admitted that there are still challenges around the lack of resources, training and other inherent problems within the South African Police Service (SAPS) which the labour union continues to grapple with.

While POPCRU has and continues to consistently take up such issues around the limited staff capacities, the under-resourcing of police stations and their implications for service delivery since time-immemorial, the purpose here is not to dwell into them as they are well documented.

The point is that the issue of crime and violence in our country is not new; it is inherited from the pre-1994 era, but the strategies that have been put in place have not successfully dealt with the problem decisively.

Back in 1996 when the introduction of the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) which was centred around galvanising the whole of communities and government departments which were required to play an important role in dealing with issues of crime and violence, one would have expected to have seen extensive progress in line with is objectives, however, due to the fragmented approaches towards the safety and security situation in our country, not much has been achieved in this regard.

Somehow, there seems to be less recognition that law enforcement agencies generally do not deal with the underlying issues that cause crime. These underlying issues are dominantly socio-economic in nature, and should at best fall within the competence of government departments. It is in this sense important that all stakeholders, both state and non-state actors, play a role in fighting this scourge of crime.

We need an integrated, holistic approach to safety and security because we cannot arrest our way out of social issues.

At best, the Minister’s visit will only be able to stabilise the situation temporarily, but he and the police are definitely not going to deal with the underlying challenges of poverty, unemployment and other remnants associated with urban centralisation that continue to cause a lot of problems.

Ideally, any policy states the intentions of any institution, and in this instance, we should ask ourselves as to whether policies have been guiding decisions that are made? What is even more pressing in answering this question is the fact that this time around, the institution is broader than just one department; it is government as a while that should be making a commitment in taking up this integrated approach towards dealing with matters of safety and security.

The National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 notes that people living in South Africa should feel safe and have no fear of crime, while women, children and vulnerable groups should also feel protected and have confidence in the criminal justice system of our country.

It further notes that achieving this vision requires cooperation between all departments in the government’s justice, crime prevention and security cluster.

We do note, however, that within the Criminal Justice Cluster, there are still a lot of disparities and things that continue to undermine the operational obligations of the SAPS itself, many of which POPCRU will be taking up both in its upcoming Bargaining & Policy Conference later this month, but also at its widely anticipated Policing Indaba in later months.

No longer can we afford to take reactive approaches as it related to issues of safety and security, as these immediate reactions to events do not give space for proper planning both from a development point of view and from a leadership point of view. This is because the underlying issues in this country are well known to all of us. We all know that the factors driving violence and crime are economic in nature.

Our police men and women are overwhelmed because when remnants of these underlying issues start to boil up, they are expected to respond, all while the causal factors are not police issues.

This has been demonstrated with the situation in the Western Cape where even after numerous initiatives, gangsterism conforms and continues to be in existence.

Just like in Diepsloot today, the Minister often has roadshows in which he visits communities that have been ravaged by serious crime issues, but this hasn’t really helped in any way. These have simply been publicity stunts to say the least, because immediately after leaving the very issues remain intact.

How many times do we have to fail at these approaches in order to realise that we are not responding in the right way?

This is but one of the complex mix of issues that ultimately require conversation both by police and other government departments and agencies.

No amount of visits by any minister will change social situation.

Let’s engage…

Pic: Daily Maveric