Durban - The struggle-era mindset of regarding criminals as heroes needed to end.
So said Safety and Security MEC Willies Mchunu on Friday during his opening address at a two-day Community Policing Seminar in uMhlanga.
“During the struggle, one of the most important things was for the attitude of the community to be shaped to regard a thief who goes into town to steal as a hero, because he was stealing from people who have and giving it to people who don’t. As soon as a police van came along that one road into the township, the shouting started – to tell people to start hiding everything illegal.
“Have we ever changed that mindset?” he asked.
Mchunu said every family in a community was likely to have a friend who was a criminal. “Sometimes a daughter or a son, if not a neighbour. Every family knows of at least one criminal… But we won’t report them.”
He said there was a time during the struggle that people said there would be a victory in their lifetime, now the same applied to the end of crime.
He also asked who in communities pulled criminals into line?
“Public protests are in the community, by the community.
“But when communities embark on these public protests, they then venture into illegal actions.
“The problem is – who is there in the community to say – you are wrong?”
Mchunu said people called for the police when there was trouble and expected them to make arrests.
“But the police get stoned and petrol bombed. In other words, it’s call the police to say come here and get attacked by our community.
“When police defend themselves there’s an international outcry. If a police officer dies, nobody talks about it.”
Just recently, a police officer was shot dead and another injured when they were called out to a robbery.
“I am sure there were bystanders. Not one came to the rescue of the police officer. She’s now buried, her colleague was hospitalised.
“Recently, again, a police officer was killed on the lower South Coast. Yes, we may not know what the circumstances were but it is highly unlikely that it had nothing to do with a member of the community.”
He told delegates it was an issue they needed to discuss.
Mchunu said there was no constitutional right for protesters to put up barricades, or stone cars on freeways.
“And yet they do it. Who in the community becomes the custodian of the law? In some areas there are complaints that police fire tear gas. Someone inhaled it and died. What are police supposed to do?”
Mchunu further called on delegates to discuss whether the government was on the right track, placing neighbourhood watches, street committees and community safety organisations under the banner of the KwaZulu-Natal Community Crime Fighting Association.
“That association gives us access to people who are not in the Community Policing Forums (CPFs).”
Mchunu asked delegates to debate whether the government was right or wrong.
Sharon Rajman of the Merewent CPF said she hoped to gain more knowledge on how to combat crime while acting as the eyes and ears of her community.
She praised the theme of the seminar: “Reclaiming our space from criminals through Community Policing”.