Inside the Khayelitsha SAPS charge office. FILE PICTURE: OBED ZILWA

Cape Town - It was virtually impossible to adopt conventional policing strategies against crime in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, a lawyer for the police said on Thursday.

Norman Arendse outlined to the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry - sitting in Khayelitsha - how police faced an uphill battle due to a historical distrust by residents, and infrastructural constraints in the area.

The lack of infrastructure, coupled with unemployment, was a breeding ground for crime.

“None of the strategies proposed by NGOs... will make a difference,” Arendse said.

“The only solution is to eradicate these informal settlements... the lack of footpaths, the lack of roads... the absence of lighting make policing virtually impossible.”

The police wanted to improve efficiency and build a constructive relationship with the community, he said.

“Where there are instances of ill discipline and misconduct the police would welcome the identification of such conduct in order that disciplinary action can be taken against these police officers.”

Turning to the acts of mob justice which NGOs claimed were a result of police inaction, he said these were pure acts of criminality and part of a “culture of distrust rooted in a history of disdain for those in authority, including police”.

Arendse made reference to how officers were put at risk daily because of this distrust, and because they were patrolling areas with no roads, footpaths or lighting.

Earlier, the main complainant, the Social Justice Coalition, told the commission grave concerns over the failure of Khayelitsha police to do its work were justified.

“During the course of these hearings we will set out to place evidence before the commission which shows beyond any shadow of a doubt that the community's complaints are justified,” advocate Ncumisa Mayosi said, speaking in Xhosa.

A list of why there was a breakdown in trust between residents and police was presented.

“Members of the Khayelitsha community routinely experience violations of their constitutional rights in their dealings with police,” Mayosi said.

Focus would be placed on how women and girls bore the brunt of violent crime in the area.

“Girls and women are often beaten and raped while walking to and from communal toilets or fetching water from communal taps close to their homes; while domestic abuse poses a threat to women in their own homes,” she said.

The police's inability to protect residents from harm had led to an erosion of trust and faith in the SA Police Service.

“The brutal acts of vigilantism that have claimed dozens of lives in recent years are a shocking end result of this erosion.”

Residents would testify about how the lack of police visibility had made it possible for criminals to continue terrorising them.

Mayosi emphasised that the aim of the commission was not to conduct a witchhunt.

“We are here to find solutions... this is not an attack on police. It is not about pointing fingers at specific officers and calling for them to lose their jobs.”

Earlier, evidence leader Thembela Sidaki told the commission proof would be provided that court cases against criminals were routinely withdrawn due to poor police investigations.

Sidaki was the first to give the commission, led by retired judge Kate O'Regan and advocate Vusi Pikoli, his opening remarks.

A full witness list would be made available soon, but Sidaki said it would include experts on crime data, representatives of community organisations, victims of crime, and their families.

“We shall also focus on children and the youth, who are vulnerable in society,” he said.

“We shall lead evidence of sexual violence and domestic violence.”

The commission began its hearings after two days of inspections in loco. It visited crime hotspots and police stations on Tuesday and Wednesday in a bid to see first-hand the circumstances the victims of crime lived in, and the conditions residents and police were subjected to.

Western Cape premier Helen Zille established the inquiry in August 2012 after receiving numerous complaints about police inefficiency in Khayelitsha.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa opposed the decision to set up the inquiry, but this was dismissed by the Constitutional Court in October 2013.