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‘CPFs are being targeted politically’

In the Cape Town Metro alone, there are 298 neighbourhood watches. Picture: File/ Ross Jansen

In the Cape Town Metro alone, there are 298 neighbourhood watches. Picture: File/ Ross Jansen

Published Apr 10, 2022


AS tension mounts between neighbourhood watches (NHWs) and community police forums (CPFs), the latter have lambasted the provincial government’s “political moves to delegitimise” and render them ineffective.

CPFs have also warned of a push towards elevating the neighbourhood watches by allocating a R6 million budget towards these groups that would further intensify division between the two structures.Accredited neighbourhood watches’ budget included support with starter kits at a cost of R1.2 million, R680 000 for training and R1m for funding their operational and administration costs.

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CPF funding has now been reduced to R5 000 per annum, a decision that the CPFs said was a “political drive” to phase them out.

They have escalated the matter to Parliament’s select committee on security and justice, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss what they have described as a demise of the forums in the province.

The recently renamed Department of Police Oversight and Community Safety said 151 CPFs exist in the Western Cape, with a more than double that number of accredited neighbourhood watches, at 415.

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Tygerberg Community Police Forum (CPF) Cluster Chairperson, Sean McCleland has asked parliamentary Select Committee on Security and Justice for an urgent meeting to discuss a move to deligitimise the structures. Picture: File

In the Cape Town Metro alone, there are 298 neighbourhood watches.

“Using funding like a carrot to a donkey has created corrupt misguidance of our communities. Bolstering funding to NHWs and decreasing of funding to CPFs is a clear indication of this,” said chairperson of the CPF cluster in Tygerberg, Sean McCleland.

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The provincial constitution said the CPFs are responsible for the funding of neighbourhood watches. McCleland said that if the CPFs believed the money was not being administered correctly then they have the right stop funds.

But this had since changed after neighbourhood watches now receive funding from the province.

“But the neighbourhood watches are now not accountable to the CPFs. When a neighbourhood watch doesn’t recognise a CPF, who do they work with? Who are they accountable to?”

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Some CPFs have been forced to find ways to raise funds to be able to function.

McCleland said the CPFs were used as a “tick-box” exercise by the department. He slammed the political agendas at play to nullify CPFs.

“There were numerous failed attempts at creating community safety forums to duplicate the work of CPFs which were established as a bridge between law enforcement and the communities,” said McCleland.

McCleland said this was evident in the training provided by the department which failed to empower communities to embrace and trust the partnership with police. Instead, it fuelled criticism between police and the CPFs in terms of compliance to the Western Cape Safety constitution.

“The training provided was merely on how to conduct meetings, minute-taking and the roles played by the various office bearers. Nothing on the primary (safety) function,” he said,

In a recent letter to the parliamentary committee, McCleland wrote that the root of the move was in the decision by the provincial government to establish its own Community Safety Act in 2013.

He said that act limited the CPF’s functions and rendered them powerless, in the establishment of community partnership programmes.

“The core focus on the CPF is one of compliance only,” said McCleland.

McCleland said the Extended Partnership Programme (EPP) strategy was used for CPF compliance. “The EPP tool was used to create friction” as information shared between CPFs and police was sometimes confidential.

He said this could have been perceived by some SAPS officials as a “leak of information”.

McCleland also said the department insisted on CPFs using the programme to guarantee funding. “But funding is graded unilaterally as if all CPFs have the resources available,” he added.

McCleland also alleged that although the information gained through the EPP could have been an effective

tool used to fight crime, the department had “no ability to store the information captured, therefore no complaints, issues or potential problems were ever recorded.”

This, he said, created a further divide in the partnership as CPFs felt complaints were not being dealt with, and matters were not used as discussion points at a provincial level.

McCleland said issues included police staff, vehicle issues, victim support, prisoner complaints, and station functions.

In his State Of The Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said CPFs would be re-established to improve relations and co-ordination between local police and communities.

But McCleland said the CPFs were set up to fail in their core mandate of being civilian oversight and as key partners inproviding solutions to crime issues.

CPF cluster chairperson for Mitchells Plain Norman Jantjies said the move towards bolstering the neighbourhood watches would create “disunity within communities” which would also have a knock-on effect on crime.

“The department sometimes works directly with neighbourhood watches and this creates disunity within our communities.

“It appears that the department is trying to collapse the CPF structures so that as communities we do not have the voice and platform to communicate and engage meaningfully on crime issues.

“A political decision has been taken at certain levels to marginalised CPFs,” said Jantjies.

He said the CPF would engage with the City. “If the City wanted to work in Mitchells Plain they will have to work through the CPFs. Even gangsters have a code of conduct when they work together. If we, as crime fighters cannot put differences aside we are not going to get anywhere,” said Jantjies.

According to the Nyanga CPF cluster chairperson Martin Makasi the department told them they would not receive “capacity-building” training.

“Although the president (Ramaphosa) talks about the importance of CPFs there’s no appetite from the department to ensure that they get the support required.

“We are just a partner that’s available but not needed,” Makasi said and agreed with other CPF leaders that the latest move to defund them was political.

“Crime does not have political colours. It affects everyone,” he said.

The Department of Police Oversight and Community Safety denied that it was “doing away” with CPFs and said it still recognised these forums but had shifted to working with a broader network of safety partners this included accredited neighbourhood watches and community safety forums.

“CPFs are called upon to continue with their safety partnerships with SAPS and other safety stakeholders,” said the department.

It said it had limited resources and would give each CPF R5 000 in this financial year.

Regarding the EPP, the department said it did not have the “fiscal or human resource” capacity to implement analysis of safety-related information.

Crime expert from the Stellenbosch University Guy Lamb said the CPFs worked well in certain areas but in others were “captured” by those with political agendas.

He said CPFs were effective in managing community disputes and had been helpful in preventing xenophobic violence in certain areas, facilitating dialogues and managing conflicts.