There is no greater asset to police in the fight against gangs in the Western Cape than the communities gangs terrorize. So said provincial police cluster commander Major-General Jeremy Veary, speaking on the final day of the 35th Crimestoppers International Conference in Cape Town.
Veary, who is also the head of Operation Combat, a specialized police unit aimed at battling organized crime, says gangs have become as large as civil society structures within the neighbourhoods they operate in.
“We need strong social cohesion within those [areas] in order to build community counter-power to that of the gangs. The irony of the fifteen largest gangs that we deal with is that in parts of the Cape Flats they are the largest civil society structures; there aren’t civic organizations bigger than them, they have physically in membership the largest constituency.”
Veary acknowledged the role of strengthening ties with residents of the communities gangs operate in and the South African Police Service. He said police have a mandate to protect but also to collaborate with community members to eradicate gangsterism and find intelligent ways to fight crime.
“Despite all of the special things we may be doing, it will be for nothing [if community power] is not built. We are fortunate in our country to have our relationship with the community legislated in terms of … the South African Police Services Act. We’re obliged to liase with the community to promote joint problem identification,” he said.
On Wednesday morning, Veary said gangs easily recruit from schools and the community, and this is why police have begun diverting schoolgoing children’s attention by encouraging them to find pride in belonging to groups other than gangs. VOC