Building safer communities

Community Safety MEC Alan Winde and Premier Helen Zille brief the media.

Building a safer Western Cape requires help at all levels, which includes having a trusted police service, judiciary and prison service, says Community Safety MEC Alan Winde.

He was speaking at a two-day conference on fighting crime, held by the provincial government and the Department of Community Safety, in Observatory, last week.

Premier Helen Zille and Police Minister Bheki Cele were among those who spoke at the conference about how to make the Western Cape safer.

Ms Zille said the conference had brought together all three spheres of government to tackle the critical issue.

“The two topics for people in the Western Cape are jobs and safety,” she said. “Of all the new jobs created in South Africa for the last 10 years, 60% have been in this province. If we can combine this with a safer province, we can create thousands and thousands of new jobs for currently unemployed people, because investors stay away from unsafe places.”

Mr Cele said the police service couldn’t function without strong community partnerships.

“The ultimate priority of the police is to make sure that South Africans are safe, though the South African police need to work with the proper understanding of the environment where people reside,” he said.

He said people living in areas without adequate housing, lights, roads and other basic services were more likely to turn to crime.

“Policing should be part of the overall progressing and development of the human being,” he said.

But Ms Zille said crime was not limited to areas without infrastructure.

Mitchell’s Plain, Elsies River, Gugulethu and Langa had high crime even though they got basic services from the City, she argued.

The province’s population had grown by 30% in five years, she said, and no city could prepare for urbanisation on that scale. It would be an insult to poor people if the perception existed that informality led to criminality.

Mr Winde thanked Mr Cele for bringing back the police gang unit earlier this month, saying it had already started making arrests.

He praised the role played by more than 17 500 neighbourhood watch members and 1500 community police forum (CPF) members in fighting crime in the province.

“The safety affects the branding of the region when it comes to marketing this region as a place to do business,” said Mr Winde.

Professor Rajen Govender, an associate professor of sociology at UCT, said caring for young people was the first step to building a safer, less violent society.

He said his research had found that children who were victims of emotional and physical violence were more likely to commit acts of violence.

Professor Doctor Wilhelm Schmidbauer, head of Bavarian State police in Germany, spoke about how each German state had its own police force with its own laws, training and administrative structure, and citizens were encouraged to volunteer and were given intensive training supervised by the local police.

Matodzi Amisi, from the Centre for Learning on Evaluation and Results at Wits University, said the public service did not allow space to innovate. There needed to be a commitment to do things better as well as smoother relationships between policy makers and external researchers.

Roegshanda Pascoe, chairperson of the Manenberg Safety Forum, said the conference needed to hear the voices of the people on the ground.”Why are they afraid to listen to us, but we must listen to them and still clap our hands to make them feel good and we still have unanswered questions and are unhappy,” she said.