Top level talks on how to fight crime scourge

By Boyd Webb and Graeme Hosken

The political involvement in Friday's meeting by top police brass on ways to tackle violent crime is seen as a vote of no confidence in the South African Police Services' management.

Analysts also say they believe the meeting was an attempt by Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula - who flew back from Burundi to attend the meeting in Pretoria - to redeem himself after his recent utterance in Parliament that some believe led to a drastic rise in violent crime in the country.

Senior police and Safety and Security officials on Friday admitted that crime, especially murders and violent robberies, had not "decreased as much as we would have liked".

Nqakula, National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, MECs and the country's provincial police commissioners, along with top SAPS officials from head office in Pretoria, were locked in yesterday's meeting to discuss how to combat "disturbing" crime trends.

Among the crime trends discussed was the massacre of South Africa's policemen and women over the past couple of months, including the Jeppestown shooting of four policemen gunned down by heavily armed robbers.

Institute for Security Studies analyst Dr Johan Burger said these killings possibly sparked "new developments" in the way the political and operational crime-fighting structures would interact in future.

He felt Friday's meeting was the first "wind of change" that would blow through the crime-fighting machinery.

"It's clear that that incident upset the minister very much," said Burger, a former assistant national police commissioner turned academic.

But he said, the killings should also be seen in relation to Nqakula's earlier "unfortunate statement" when he told South Africans complaining about crime to leave the country.

"He (Nqakula) is the political head and must take some responsibility. In that sense one can expect him to call in police management to ask them to perform more effectively.

"But I think he is also doing this to save face after the statement he made in Parliament, in spite of the justification and the excuses he later made," said Burger.

But Burger said the timing of Nqakula's decision to get involved in operational policing was a little strange. "It's a vote of no confidence in police management.

"It's also holding police management responsible for the high levels of crime and the almost hysterical reaction by the public following the latest incidences of violent crime."

Burger said this move should be seen as an attempt by Nqakula to "take his foot out of his mouth" following his utterances in the National Assembly during his budget vote last month.

"This was unfortunate timing because not long after he made that statement we had this sudden increase in violent incidents, especially in Gauteng but also in the Cape along the N2... It certainly can be linked," he said, adding that it led to a public perception that the police seemed to be "incapable of effectively" dealing with crime.

Burger said Nqakula's presence at the meeting could be viewed as an attempt by him to be seen to be getting more involved in the fight against crime.

DA leader Tony Leon in his weekly newsletter said he believed it was government's lack of desire to prioritise crime fighting, its centralisation of policing powers and the lack of real policing experience among its top structures that largely led to the apparent increase in crime.

This is a view echoed by Burger, who also expressed concern at the lack of real policing experience among SAPS heads.

Burger said the government needed to come up with an overarching crime strategy that tackled the root socio-economic causes of poverty, but at the same time there should be some control over the migration of people into the cities.

However, police hit back saying they were doing everything in their power to combat the recent "surge in violence".

"Our capabilities at fighting crime is evident by the decrease in crime," said Selebi, adding that they still had a lot of work to do.

While there had been a decrease, it was not the decrease of between seven percent to 10 percent that they were hoping for, he said.

"We know what people's perceptions are and we are doing something to change it.

"We are going to be holding high-visibility operations over the next six months to combat serious and violent crime," said Selebi.

Nqakula added: "We want our country's criminals to know that we are going to be on their necks.

"We want the public to know that we have not forsaken them and will do whatever is necessary to ensure their safety," said Nqakula, vowing that extra police would be deployed on the ground.

He declined to comment further on where the policemen would come from, but did say that the operations would include cordon-and-search operations, as well as roadblocks.

Both Selebi and Nqakula appealed for the public's support, saying that they needed the country's communities help to fight crime.

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