Cele cops an ultimatum from Zille: fix Cape policing or else
Premier sends list of demands to address the 'crisis of police under-resourcing' in the province
Helen Zille is not going down without a fight in her last eight months as premier of the Western Cape.
Her chosen opponent is Police Minister Bheki Cele, whose in-tray now contains a 40-page letter from Zille about the “crisis of police under-resourcing” in the province.
It’s a bag Zille has repeatedly punched since she took over as premier in 2009. And she made it clear at a provincial legislature media conference on Wednesday that there are now no holds barred in her quest to force Cele’s ministry to fulfil its constitutional mandate in the Western Cape.
If Cele has not responded “satisfactorily” to Zille’s demands within 30 days, an intergovernmental dispute will be declared, she said, and the issue could end up in court.
Characterising the police as “the weakest link” in the Western Cape’s criminal justice system, Zille said the provincial government found itself in a “quite bizarre” situation in which it was transferring funds to the national Treasury to help the police do their job.
But she said even though the Western Cape had made an “extraordinary offer” to help the police with resources, “we cannot fix the gaping missing link”, which was a shortage of officers capable of investigating crimes, gathering evidence and helping to secure convictions.
Zille’s demands included:
Extra police for the Western Cape;
Confirmation that “critical police posts” identified by the Public Service Commission would be filled within six months;
Deployment of the extra police to the priority areas of gang crime, rail safety, attacks on schools, protection of infrastructure and ambulance crews, and public order;
Acceptance of the Western Cape’s offer to pay for the recruitment of extra police reservists; and
Acceptance of the offer by the Western Cape to send in its own staff to help with police station administration work.
She backed up the demands with reams of information based on an analysis of crime in 2017/18, when murders in the Western Cape rose by 12.6%. Nearly a quarter of them were attributed to gang violence.
Community safety MEC Dan Plato, who will take over as Cape Town’s mayor on November 1, said the value of extra police had been proved by the fact that crime had fallen by up to 70% in areas where the police had set up temporary base camps this year in response to an explosion of gang violence.
But Zille said conviction rates for gang-related crime were as low as 2% in some precincts, and there had been no convictions for 40 arson attacks which had destroyed 175 Metrorail carriages in Cape Town since 2015.
“The need to address our under-resourcing crisis has been confirmed by the Public Service Commission recently,” she said.
“This crisis is exacerbated by the lack of uptake or retention of police reservists, coupled with the huge spike in violent attacks to our transport infrastructure and with respect to land occupations.
“This has left SAPS personnel in this province overwhelmed and demoralised.”
Zille sent Cele a long list of efforts the provincial and Cape Town governments had made to assist the police – “we have stretched our constitutional mandate of oversight and partnerships to the limit”, she told the media conference – but said there was “an intractable problem with categories of crime that require a specialised policing response”.
She pointed out that 83% of SA’s gang-related murders happen in the Western Cape; and 45% of the province’s murders, 56% of attempted murders, 57% of firearm offences and 44% of drug offences occurred in just 26 “gang-related” police precincts.
“The crime stats further confirm that the Western Cape has 36% of all drug-related crime in the country, and the highest increase of 9.1% overall in this category,” she said.
Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town had one police officer for 560 residents, compared with the national average of 1:369. In the Khayelitsha suburb of Harare the ratio was 1:745, more than twice the national average.
Economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde, who is the DA’s choice to succeed Zille if the party retains the province in next year’s elections, said tourism was taking a beating due to the fear of crime.
“A cursory poll of tourists by the Western Cape government found that 42% of respondents rule out a holiday destination because of a perception of crime,” he said.
“Tourists spent between R20bn and R30bn per year in the province, so even a 1% drop in visitor numbers due to perceptions of crime could cost the economy R200m a year.”..