The South African National Defense force is not trained to enforce the law but to defend us from external threats," writes Sarah Summer from the Social Justice Coalition. File picture: Henk Kruger/ANA
The South African National Defense force is not trained to enforce the law but to defend us from external threats," writes Sarah Summer from the Social Justice Coalition. File picture: Henk Kruger/ANA

'Don't call in the army to the Western Cape'

By Sarah Summers Time of article published Jul 4, 2019

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In the Western Cape, like the rest of South Africa, policemen and women are not where crime happens, are not where they are needed most. 

10 of 150 police stations in the Western Cape accounted for 48% of murders committed in the province during 2017/2018. All 10 stations are in the predominantly poor and black neighbourhoods in the City of Cape Town and have less police service resources when compared to wealthier, whiter and safer suburbs.

Section 12(3) of the SAPS Act gives provincial police commissioners the power to reallocate police officers within a province to areas where they are needed. Unfortunately, across the country provincial commissioners have failed to exercise these powers. 

In the Western Cape this has meant that within the province police have not been reallocated in a rational, intelligence-led and decisive way to precincts that are in dire need of greater safety and security measures. The Philippi police precinct, which covers Hanover Park, for instance has 2 times less police per 100,000 people, but 19 times more murders per 100,000 people (over 4 years) than Sea Point. 

This is clearly irrational and points to an ineffective allocation of police service resources.

Now, instead of addressing this irrational and ineffective allocation, the Western Cape Provincial Government instead has fixated on the deployment of a military force, which has no civilian oversight and so no clear mechanism that allows ordinary people to ensure that it acts in a just manner. This push for the deployment of a military force instead of ensuring that people living in the province are served by an effective, responsive and intelligence-led police service is a dereliction of duty.

The time has come to focus on how to best use the police service resources deployed to the Western Cape to immediately attend to the relentless violence too many people are forced to endure. 2302 murders occurring in the Western Province between November 2018 and May 2019 is a painful statistic. 

Instead of seeing the Western Cape as a single precinct, Premier Alan Winde and the Western Cape Provincial Government should make recommendations to the provincial commissioner on how resources in the province and in the city today can be moved to protect the lives of the people most at danger. 

Earlier this year, Winde condemned this reasoning saying, “I disagree. All our people, Black, Coloured, Indian and White, deserve protection from criminal elements. To insinuate that because Sea Point only had 2 murders in 2017/18, its police should be diverted elsewhere, is an outrage..” 

Is it really better to demand that the defense force be brought into a community rather than to effectively deploy policemen and women to serve in areas with the greatest need?  Perhaps the defence force should be deployed in the suburbs while the police are reallocated to communities in need instead. 

The South African National Defense force is not trained to enforce the law but to defend us from external threats. They have been deployed to help police services in tasks like protecting infrastructure, but that is not the same as interacting with civilians. There are other options that recognise affected communities as neighbourhoods of families with children, grandparents and pets. The call for the army to intervene ignores the humanity of all the ordinary people forced to live in gang ridden areas.

When Hanover Park residents are shutting down their area out of desperation for action, while police in Sea Point are arresting black women for having car remotes in their bags, then the problem is not that the Minister of Police will not deploy the defence force into poor communities but rather that the South African Police Service is not centering the lives of people in danger. 

On July 4, the SJC, Equal Education and members of the Marikana community will meet with Premier Winde to discuss issues of the allocation of all safety resources within Cape Town and the Western Province, including that of adequate and effective public lighting.

The means to reallocate police service resources rationally are available to the provincial commissioner today. Sound recommendations for Premier Alan Winde on the need for such intra-provincial reallocations will be encouraged. The defense forces’ constitutional competencies are it’s constitutional competencies, instead of changing that, let’s get SAPS to meet its constitutional obligations instead.

* Sarah Summers, Social Justice Coalition.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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