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UCT academics lobby for more “evidence-based” strategies against violence in W-Cape

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Senior academics and members of the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Health Sciences have raised the alarm on the high rate of violence in the Western Cape. Over the weekend of the 12th to the 14th of July this year, 43 murders were recorded on the Cape Flats, despite the intervention of the South African National Defence Force in the police’s crime operation. Concerned academics from UCT have consequently formed the Trauma Advocacy Group (TAG) which aims to lobby government and civil society into an evidence-based approach that will successfully combat the scourge of violence in the province.

“The Trauma Advocacy Group was started approximately six months ago. It consists of 16 senior academics from the University of Cape Town who came together and engaged in several meetings,” said head of the Trauma Unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and member of the Trauma Advocacy Group, Professor Sebastian van As.

“We wanted to make a public statement on how concerned we as academics are at the increase of violence in Cape Town. There are a lot of short-term and long-term actions which we want the government to take and which we can assist with.”

Professor van As explained that the current rate of violence in the province cannot be allowed to continue if we hope to progress as a country.

“The effects of crime are much further reaching than just being physically dangerous. We’ve seen a record number of children being shot this year, admittedly mostly in the crossfire. However, there’s also an increasing trend of children being shot on purpose,” he said.

The professor added that many children sustain psychological damage and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders as a result of shootings and other forms of violence.

“We are a country in which 40% of South Africans are children. These children grow up in an environment where they fear going to school because they’re afraid of being shot or abused in any other way. This is going to affect society as a whole, massively, in the long term. If we do not set our priorities straight and we fail to create a safe environment for our children to grow up in, we are going to lose the battle.”

Among several issues contributing to the violence in the province, Professor van As mentioned the serious lack of visible policing in all communities.

“Police patrols are really scarce in many suburbs. I’ve been to Egypt, and in Cairo city, on every street corner you see police standing there”

“Many people want to do something but its important that whenever we take action, the action is evidence based. We, as academics, make the point of being willing to engage in collective effort to curb and prevent violence in a systematic way through the analyses of where we can assist and of the information received from different sources. We can develop a theory of change and monitor interventions.”

A list of “quick wins” have been proposed by TAG in a media statement released by the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences.

These include (but are not limited to) the following proposals:

  • The adoption by the Minister of Safety and Security of the recommendations put forward by the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into Policing and extending it to all hotspot areas.
  • The search and seizure of firearms and dangerous weapons with confiscated weapons being destroyed.
  • The closure of “drug houses” known to communities.
  • Enforcement of laws for the distribution and sale of alcohol (particularly after-hours)
  • Publishing crime statistics on a monthly basis for all police stations – including monitoring those murders related to gang conflict.
  • A monitoring and oversight team including community leaders, NGOs, development workers and academics to review the effects of the interventions made, at a community and metro level.

Long-term interventions suggested are increased gun ownership control, the adoption of global best practice for the control of access to alcohol, intelligence-driven undermining and dismantling of criminal syndicates and increased job creation as well as access to the economy.

TAG also calls for the government to engage in facilitating the development of community-based think-tanks – which they believe will serve as a catalyst in the enactment of long-term plans for sustainable social change and development.

*TAG is a group of the University of Cape Town’s academics, in the Faculty of Health Sciences, who are committed to decreasing violence and trauma using an evidence-based approach to making interventions. All members are active teachers, researchers and clinicians dealing with violence and its consequences on a daily basis.*

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