By Anees Teladia
With increasing calls from Western Cape communities for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to be deployed in gang-ridden areas, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) has appealed for a focus on applying pressure on national and provincial police leadership, rather than on demanding the army’s presence. The issue of crime and gang violence in the province is said to primarily reflect poor police leadership and ineffective resource allocation and distribution. Minister of Police, Bheki Cele and many other security experts argue that the SANDF is neither trained, nor intended, for policing. As such, the deployment of the SANDF to take over the job of the police service would undermine the purpose of SAPS and the key distinction that exists between the national defence force and the police service, according to the SJC.
“The defence force is a national defence force…it’s not for policing and is therefore not trained for policing and interacting with civilians as police are trained to do. It puts more danger into communities and on civilians,” said SJC general secretary, Axolile Notywala.
“We have the police resources – it’s just that these resources are not where they are supposed to be. It’s a failure of leadership in SAPS.”
Last year, the SJC took SAPS and the Minister of Police to court over the uneven distribution of police resources in poor communities. The Western Cape Equality Court found that the allocation of police resources in the Western Cape unfairly discriminated against poor people on the basis of race and poverty.
“….that decision is not made at police station level or provincial level [in terms of how many police are at each police station]. Due to an ineffective system, we have an unequal and irrational distribution of police services,” Notywala explained.
“Despite this system, however, the provincial commissioners are given the power to redistribute police within their own provinces…none of the provincial commissioners have ever used that section of the SAPS Act.”
Notywala expressed concern at the politics surrounding the issue of police resources and crime in the Western Cape, saying that while it might contribute to the problem, it is not the core issue.
There are several socioeconomic factors causing crime in the Western Cape and the situation is worsened by incompetent provincial leadership and poor planning.
“I think that this has also become a political blame game between the two dominant parties in the Western Cape – the DA and the ANC. I think it has an effect. The premier has made certain statements which are not necessarily speaking to the actual issue. He talks about the Western Cape not having enough police in the province and he talks about the police to population ratio, but he doesn’t investigate the inequalities within the province with the current police [distribution] that we have. Those are some of the issues that affect this,” said Notywala.
“I don’t think police at the provincial level understand the powers they have. They always look up to the national minister and the [national] commissioner and don’t have the confidence to act in the province as they can and should.”
“Police are sitting in police stations – that have less crime – and are not doing anything.”
SANDF not the solution
Notywala explained that the deployment of the SANDF in gang-ridden communities would not address the inherent problems in these communities, would undermine the entire purpose of the SAPS and would not be a lasting solution.
“Deploying the defence force is not a permanent solution. The defence force will not go to these communities and stay there permanently. Once they leave, these things will happen again. Deploying police and redistributing them will be a permanent thing. You need to deal with the many underlying issues in these communities – policing alone or deploying the SANDF will not resolve these issues,” said Notywala.
“We understand the frustration of people. People have had enough – but it’s not the right call. It would be a waste of resources because then why do we employ police?”