By Anees Teladia
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) will be launching an inquiry into violence in the Western Cape, assessing the root causes as well as measures to combat and prevent it. There has been an increase in gang related shootings over the past month, shootings which keep shifting to different communities and areas. 14 people were murdered in 24 hours in several areas over the past weekend. Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde said that 331 murders were reported in May 2019 alone and that national government needs to take its mandate seriously and address the worsening situation.
On Wednesday, six Anti-Gang Unit officers were admitted to hospital following an attack on the Unit in Samora Machel in Nyanga. The officers were tracking down a suspect who had reportedly been terrorising the area for weeks, when the attack on the Unit left the six officers injured. Five have been treated but one remains in a critical condition as of early this morning. This incident shows that criminals are becoming increasingly brazen – enough to attack police.
Police Minister, Bheki Cele has branded this brazen attack on the Unit and police as an “attack on the state”.
SAHRC Commissioner, Chris Nissen suggests that the level of violence and crime in the Western Cape requires a deeper understanding.
“It’s been very difficult for us in the past two years since we started the dialogue on how to combat and prevent killings in our different areas,” said Nissen.
“We thought hard about it and we decided that we need to get behind all of this. This isn’t just an issue of policing – it’s about how our society is constructed [through] physical and spatial development and peoples’ behaviour.
That’s why we decided to do an inquiry into the violence – to look at the root causes of the violence [and] to see what it is we can do as a society, in helping to prevent, curb and combat this violence.”
Nissen stated that the inquiry would not just result in another display of empty dialogue and research. He indicated that anything decided on by the inquiry would be binding.
“This inquiry will be holistic and will invite people [to participate]. All role players from government and communities will be invited to say what it is they think we can do.”
“There has been lots of dialogue, but the fact of the matter is that we can’t just sit back…we have to stand up.
Should this inquiry find anything that needs to be done, the decisions or the recommendations of the Commission are binding and can only be taken on judicial review,” said Nissen.
Nissen added that he recently visited an area in Cape Town where individuals were murdered by a criminal who had no issue with committing the crime in front of several witnesses. He expressed a sense of deep concern for the state of lawlessness and the apparent breakdown of local society.
Nissen emphasised that communities need to take some responsibility in combating and preventing crime.
“What has happened to our society? What’s wrong with our society?” asked Nissen.
“Is it only the police [that can do something]? What can we do? What can institutions do? What are mosques and churches doing? Every Friday and Sunday they have audiences to which they can talk.”
“Parents know if they see a gun in their house and when they see their children who don’t work come home with new shoes. Where do they [the children] get it from?”
“We know where the drug lords and drug houses are, but we keep quiet? The time has come. The police can do something and so can you.”
Anti-crime activist, Hanif Loonat argues that the state of crime in the Western Cape is unacceptable and that local government is, in fact, neglecting its duty – not only to the citizens, but to the police force as well.
Loonat indicates that these officials tasked with the job of protecting communities are being attacked due to a lack of respect for law enforcement entities in the province.
“There’s no urge by local government to ensure that such informal settlements are properly managed,” said Loonat.
“[Provincially] We’ve had for the year 2019, 331 murders and the year before was 304…I think that’s too many. These are the people that should be protecting us and should not be attacked by the very communities that are facing these surges of crime on a daily basis…there is a lack of respect for law enforcement entities.”