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It is apparent that traditional policing and “business as usual” will not have a meaningful impact on crime, says Riah Phiyega.
One of the things that I find most rewarding about my role as national commissioner is the opportunity I am afforded to see various parts of the country I love: South Africa.
I get to interact with people from all walks of life. On one particular day, I travelled south of Joburg to the sparsely populated area of De Deur, near Vereeniging. The purpose of my visit to this predominantly farming community was to mark the occasion of the signing of an agreement with the Department of Basic Education to address the problem of policing in schools.
While there, I also learnt that, on the outskirts of De Deur, there were growing informal settlements. Alcohol and drug abuse, together with poor social conditions, have seen an upswing in cases of assault and murder. Service delivery protests have also become commonplace.
Two months ago, I found myself in deep rural KwaZulu-Natal, in a town called Bergville. It was a hot day – there was no shade and none of the luxuries that we take for granted, such as air conditioners. A large group of young girls at the Bambazi High School were over the moon when they realised that I was visiting them, together with the KwaZulu-Natal commissioner, the head of spiritual services and the head of Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences.
We were there to talk about a rather sensitive cultural matter: ukuthwala. Despite varying cultural definitions, my reason for being there was to deal with the illegal aspects of this practice.
For example, ukuthwala, under the guise of traditional marriage, leads to young girls being taken, against their will, as wives by men, some old enough to be their grandfathers. This practice occurs in rural parts of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.
We had called together the school children, community and traditional leaders, and the police, to discuss this matter with the intention of finding solutions. My heart was torn apart as child after child narrated experiences of sexual abuse and harassment. In addition, we learnt of the negative effects of short-term loans, the drug called “whoonga” and resultant crime.
Unlike their urban counterparts, these girls have no one to assist them and their families to deal with abuse. Given their background and remote situation, there is little support available from the private sector. Despite there being a police station, the area is just too huge for the few forensic social workers to provide adequate services. This is compounded by the absence of reliable public transport, while access to higher courts and counselling services is severely limited.
Counselling services were available from the police station in Ladysmith, about 60km away.
Rural KwaZulu-Natal is not alone with its challenges. Take areas such as Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, where police stations serve sprawling townships and informal settlements. Unemployment in the area is rife; taverns and other drinking holes mushroom everywhere and the use of drugs is on the rise. The consequences are seemingly inevitable: the incidence of assault, including murder, continues to increase.
The scenario is similar in Thabong, outside Welkom in the Free State, where stabbings seem to be most prevalent in areas around the drinking spots that have proliferated. Just a glance at the number of knives the police collect in that area sends shivers down my spine.
In the Western Cape, the pattern is no different. Socio-economically challenged areas such as Nyanga, Langa and Manenberg are notorious for every conceivable form of social ill, most frequently attributed to the abuse of “tik” and alcohol.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that, over a comparatively short time, crime has been displaced from the central business districts and urban areas to poor, marginalised communities.
The majority of people affected were those who could not afford to build high walls or hire private security companies. These were mostly areas where there were no CCTV cameras to support the metro police with the enforcement of by-laws and no ready access to the services offered by the SAPS in urban areas.
In analysing this further, we examined our 1 135 police stations and established that the precincts in which a high percentage of the crimes occur lie in peri-urban and rural areas.
Our analysis shows that there are 290 precincts countrywide which contribute to about 70 percent of the crime. Initiatives to address these findings have been put in place and results are starting to show.
To complicate matters, protests countrywide continue to be a major challenge and are consuming resources that are meant for visible policing. In this regard, we are looking into beefing up our public order policing resources.
Furthermore, with our crime combating and prevention efforts being concentrated in urban and developed areas, crime is being displaced to less developed and rural areas. We shall be focusing our efforts on finding innovative and cost-friendly solutions to improve our policing efforts in rural areas.
Also, there is a need for us to conduct a qualitative analysis of the primary factors driving violent crime and what can be done about it.
We cannot overemphasise the importance of partnerships in our fight against crime. I am going to be meeting community policing forums and many other policing partners as I believe that they have a key role to play going forward.
I am a firm believer that someone, somewhere, somehow knows something about crime in their community. Acting on such knowledge is pivotal for our success.
Towards that end, we need to enhance the relationships we have with communities to fight crime effectively.
As I reflected on these issues, it became apparent that traditional policing and “business as usual” would certainly not have a meaningful impact in reducing crime.
So I’m taking resources away from the head office and provincial offices and reassigning them to police stations where they are most needed.
This will include the hiring of a deputy station commander who will focus on administrative governance and supervisory issues. The station commander will be freed to focus on core policing issues.
I’m also creating capacity from uniformed personnel for detective work. This will be complemented by retired detectives who will be brought back on board to assist with the caseload, and to help with mentoring and coaching functions.
The SAPS must never remain a static organisation.
It must have the operational agility to respond to ever-changing dynamics, in response to internal as well as external demands.
* Riah Phiyega is the national commissioner of the SAPS.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.