Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The appointment of the colourful KwaZulu-Natal transport and community safety and liaison MEC Bheki Cele to replace Jackie Selebi as national police commissioner has, at least, put the issue of fighting crime back in the national spotlight. The IFP has robustly stated that we would have preferred a non-partisan career policeman or policewoman to have been appointed. But as Mr Cele has been appointed we must, for the sake of the police service and SA, wish him well.
Mr Cele has come into this new position with ‘guns blazing’, so to speak. Unfortunately, he is standing by his maiden statement that police should "shoot to kill". Section 13(3)(b) of the South African Police Services Act says: "Where a member who performs an official duty is authorised by law to use force, he or she may use only the minimum force which is reasonable in the circumstances."
When a politician steps onto the scene of a national emergency, he knows to strike boldly – to say something new in a display of power to get the job done. But the fight against crime doesn’t need a politician, it needs a policeman. A career policeman with greater experience would affirm the truth captured in the SAPS crime report for 2008, that "When the police start implementing a new strategy, criminals will endeavour to adapt to the new circumstances".
Can we afford to have criminals adapting to a "shoot to kill" policy?
Rather than deterring crime, could this policy raise the bar on the level of violence accompanying crime in South Africa? Have our veteran police considered this possibility, and could that be the reason why Mr Cele’s predecessors have not gone in this direction?
Did Mr Cele carefully consider the statistics and best practice before choosing this stance as the new National Commissioner? If he is acting on experience alone, one must pause to question why the crime statistics for KwaZulu Natal during his time as MEC for Transport and Community Safety do not inspire much hope for our national fight.
During 2007/2008, KwaZulu Natal recorded a 9,1% increase in car hijackings, a 30,5% increase in robberies at residential premises and a shocking 92,9% increase in robberies at business premises. Under the MEC’s watch, the province experienced a 27,4% increase in people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The seriousness of organised crime was personally brought home to me again last week when my grandson was abducted in Durban by drug lords.
My grandson, a recovering addict, was being assisted by a pastor and close family friend, and who is experienced in this field. He rang me to tell me that the drug lords were demanding R1000 for my grandson’s release. We contacted police commissioner Hamilton Gedi who immediately saw to it that the drug lords were arrested. Sadly, all too often, such criminal acts end in tears for the victims families instead of for the perpetrators.
Crime continues to blight South Africa. Although we want to present the image of the strong, confident and beautiful country we are to the world in the run up to the World Cup, we should not be distracted from the seriousness of our crime problem. In fact, I contend, other countries will respect us more if we are honest about the problem and plainly spell out what we are doing to resolve it. Nor should we be blind to the multiplying effects of crime such as the negative stereotyping of immigrants which fuels xenophobic attacks and the determent of foreign investment and capital.
There can be little doubt that the responsibility for the unhappy state of affairs must lie at the top. The ANC has long been accused of a lukewarm acknowledgement of the crime problem and of much policy dithering. Some experts have gone as far as to say that the government has no credible plan to combat crime at all. Rather than tackle criminals, the impulse of the ruling party has often been to attack crime "whingers", as one Minister of Safety and Security memorably referred to the victims of crime, advising them to emigrate. At least, the rhetoric has changed. That is a start.
There is little doubt in my mind that the violent crime which is blighting the quality of community life in South Africa nowadays is, in part, a consequence of the breakdown of the rule-of-law during the armed struggle. Government statistics indicate that violent crimes such as murder and (reported) robberies have decreased in recent years since they peaked in the late 1990s. The rape and assault rates, however, show no signs of such a slowdown. Car hijackings and cash in transit heists have actually been on the increase.
There is no denying that crime has had a pronounced effect on our society. Although crime rages most in our townships and informal settlements where much of it goes unreported, middle-class South Africans in their numbers have steadily moved into gated communities, abandoning the central business districts of many cities to the criminal elements and urban decay. Many emigrants of all races from South Africa also state that crime was a big motivator for them to pack up and go. Crime against the farming community has further exacerbated the problem of food security.
Crime has cut right across the familiar categories of race and class and, in doing so, it has elicited a fairly uniform response. It has blunted our emotional response to the victims’ suffering while our criminals have created a firm impression that human life is not valued in South Africa as much as in some less violent societies. The violent nature and the widespread acceptance of the reality of crime have made the less extreme forms of anti-social behaviour, such as drug-peddling and vandalism relatively tolerable. One only needs to turn left onto Adderley Street from parliament to often see young children using tick or other substances. It is a tragic scene mirrored across our nation’s towns and cities.
There is much to be done, but first of all, we need a more profound rebalancing of the justice system in favour of the victims of crime.
The key theme of all our criminal legislation has, since 1994, been around the prevention of miscarriages of justice. Law and order policy continue to be focused on the offender’s rights rather than on protecting the innocent. In the meantime, the worst criminals have become better organised and more violent. The petty criminals are no longer the misguided villains of old, but cold-blooded drug dealers and substance abusers without any residual moral sense.
To boost their ranks, our broken society has produced a group of young people who are brought up without parental discipline, without proper role models and without any sense of responsibility to others. The latest study by the South African Institute of Race Relations (July 2009) informs us that overall, between 2002 and 2007, the proportion of children living with both parents dropped, from 38% in 2002 to 34% in 2007. In the same period, the proportion of children living with only mothers increased by 9%. Those living with neither parent increased by 14%.
None of us wants a return to the old authoritarian prejudices of apartheid. What we and our people, most of whom are socially conservative, do want are rules, order and proper behaviour. We want a society of respect. We want a society of mutual responsibility. We want a community where the decent, hard-working and law-abiding majority are in charge. We want a society where those who play by the rules are rewarded and those who do not, are duly punished. Adding to the existing police service personnel or making cosmetic alterations to the criminal justice system will not bring about a moral revival which I believe is the prerequisite to a society of mutual respect.
At the level of local government specifically, we need to strengthen communities by promoting an ongoing dialogue between local people and local leaders. The filling in the middle of the cake – that layer we call civil society has become more thinly spread since 1994. The liberation struggle galvanised an amazing array of community associations linking residents, faith-based and cultural groupings as well as youth and women’s clubs. They all pulled our society together.
Today their proliferation and health must be nurtured, not suppressed, as it sometimes happens. By turning our back on the civic initiatives around us, we give criminals, be they murderers or drug lords, even less reason than they have to respect human life.
I am confident that local initiative can help combat crime. In addition to decentralising the police service, police forums can provide a major opportunity to bring the police, local authorities and public closer together. Community policing is a big part of the answer to the incipient anarchy, although, I would add, we are opposed to the establishment of street committees because of their association with vigilantism in the struggle era. We, in short, must have a police force that is non-aligned, that takes policing decisions on policing grounds and that protects people’s rights under the Constitution. Such a police service must also be better resourced and we welcome Mr Cele’s commitment to increase the numbers of police by 20 000 members.
Finally, as we have so often stated, we desperately need decentralised policing: policing with strong local roots. This has proven successful in the New York Police Department (NYPD) and British constabularies.
The IFP has advocated that our police services acquire technical assistance from these police services, too.
Where neighbourhood policing has been rolled out in the UK, public perception about combating anti-social, or yobbish behaviour, as the Brits call it, has risen, as has confidence in the police. The success of the programme has been based upon the notion that it listens and responds to local problems. This notion, of course, presupposes mutual respect. I believe success in inculcating a modern culture of respect could lay the foundations of success in so many other aspects of our nation’s life. Not everything is a question of resources and wealth – as Mr Cele is just about to find out.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP