Durban - Community Safety and Liaison MEC Willies Mchunu has called for national police intervention and a “total overhaul” of police management in the violence-riddled Wembezi township outside Estcourt.
Mchunu, who was in the area for a debate on political tolerance recently, said residents had raised concerns about the poor police response to incidents of violence, and the lack of or unsuccessful prosecution of alleged perpetrators.
Last month alone two people were murdered and seven others suffered gunshot injuries in alleged “incidents of politically motivated violence”.
Arrests were made in only two of these cases, while investigations continue into the remainder.
Mchunu said he had written to police minister Nathi Mthethwa “urging him to talk to the (KZN) provincial commissioner to look at management of police operations” in the area.
“I am calling for the change in management or to beef up deployment by bringing in police from national. Bring in personnel from crime intelligence, a new team of detectives and more visible policing.”
Mchunu also called for specialised task teams to conduct house-to-house searches for firearms and suspects.
Provincial NFP chairman Vikizitha Mlotshwa agreed, saying the situation would not change if the police personnel remained the same, and said what was needed were officers in management and on the ground who did not come from the area.
However, KZN police commission-er Lieutenant General Mmamonnye Ngobeni said a provincial task team comprising detectives, visible policing, crime intelligence and public order police had been established to investigate killings in Wembezi.
In response to Mchunu’s call for the overhaul of management in the Wembezi police station, Ngobeni said: “I have also taken the initiative to assemble a team that will conduct a climate study at Wembezi police station so that we can address shortcomings, if there any. I am satisfied that, as police, we have done everything that is within our control to address crime in the Wembezi area.”
Ngobeni requested the political leadership in the area address concerns about political intolerance believed to be behind the crimes, at an appropriate forum.
She also appealed to residents, local leaders and community-based organisations to work with police to address crime and to come forward with information to assist police in their investigations.
Mthembeni Majola, the IFP chairman in the Mtshezi Municipality, under which zone Wembezi falls, said police in the area were effective. He blamed the lack of arrests and convictions on people not coming forward with information.
Majola was present at the debate and said he was against the overhaul of management at the local police station, as called for by the MEC. He instead urged the people of Wembezi to let their consciences guide them and to do the right thing by testifying.
On November 22, the ANC in the area marched to the police station to voice their discontent at the slow pace of arrests for the latest spate of killings.
Councillor in the ANC-led Ward 1, Bongani Dladla, said although police had done some praiseworthy work, there had been a general dragging of feet when it came to making arrests.
He said although the march was organised by the ANC, they did not believe police were partial or failed to act in cases affecting a particular political party.
Ngobeni agreed, and said police were mandated to investigate law-breaking without fear or favour.
“In many of the cases brought to our attention, there were clear indications that the motive was not politically related.”
Mlotshwa acknowledged that some killings were labelled political just because the victim was active within a particular political party. He also warned political leaders not to exacerbate the situation by making statements which promoted political intolerance.
A spokesman for the police ministry, Zweli Mnisi, said they enjoyed good co-operation with the MEC and the commissioner, and any issues raised would be addressed.
However, Mnisi said he could not confirm the receipt of the MEC’s plea regarding Wembezi.
The debate attended by the MEC was one of many to be held throughout the province aimed at finding solutions in “violence hot spots” to work towards free political activity in the run-up to next year’s elections.