Our country’s crime levels have been so high for so long that we have become a nation almost resigned to living in fear.
Even the most shocking and violent crimes hardly make the news. But last week, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde drew a line in the sand when he launched his safety plan for the Western Cape. For Winde, a safer province is non-negotiable and he’s willing to be held personally accountable if he doesn’t succeed. One of his commitments is to halve the province’s murder rate in 10 years. This task is at once both seemingly impossible and completely essential.
The province will be allocating a billion rand a year to the dual approach of fighting crime and preventing violence. On the crime-fighting front, this will fund an additional 3000 law enforcement officers and 150 investigators. The law enforcement officers will be deployed where and when crime happens while the investigators will be tasked with preparing dockets for prosecution, to ensure legitimate arrests lead to convictions. Both will focus strategically on areas of concentrated crime and use technology to achieve maximum “bang for buck”.
The murder rate in the Western Cape is now 60 for every 100 000 people. Yet murder and other violent crime is concentrated in a few specific neighborhoods. Murders in the suburb of Bonteheuwel, for example, dropped from 44 last year to just 1 this year as a result of such concentrated effort. But alone, such targeted initiatives cannot ensure sustained results, as criminals can move to other areas.
It has to be recognised that achieving a safe Western Cape will be a process, not an event. Violent crime is one of the most complex challenges of the Western Cape. Tackling it requires not just a law enforcement but also a violence prevention component to address the underlying causes of violence. This means giving children, families and communities alternatives to violence – such as opportunities to form loving relationships, play a sport, gain a skill, get a job, or start a business. This requires sustained interventions on multiple fronts, some of which can only be expected to yield significant results a decade or two from now.
Winde’s violence prevention programme is multi-faceted with every provincial cabinet minister having a safety priority with accountable, transparent metrics, aimed at the long-term eradication of crime. For example, Social Development will implement a programme to provide support to at-risk children and their caregivers in the first 1000 days of a child’s life, recognizing that the incidence of criminality is much reduced in individuals who’ve had their developmental needs met from conception to age two. A significant drop in crime levels in the United States in the 1990s was found to be substantially the result of abortion being legalized 20 years previously, meaning many unwanted children who would have embarked on a life of crime were never born in the first place. The point is that if we want a sustained drop in crime, we need to take a long-term approach and implement i nterventions now, even if we’ll only reap the rewards a decade or more hence.
Social Development will also roll out parenting programmes for high-risk families, aimed at curbing substance abuse and gender-based violence while the Education Department will implement innovative programmes for learners and educators to reduce violence at schools. Sports, Arts and Culture will increase access to after-school programmes that channel children’s energy into sport, art and other positive activities. It will also focus on increasing opportunities for youth aged 18-24 to access first work opportunities. The Finance Department will focus on increasing job opportunities and tourist safety, while the Agriculture Department will focus on rolling out the rural safety plan. Transport and Public Works will focus on road safety, using technology to reduce the high number of road deaths.
Winde’s plan involves a collaboration between province and the City of Cape Town, which has a law enforcement mandate. This enables Winde to get around the fact that control and budget for policing in SA is 100% located in national government.
In most countries, policing is largely devolved to local or provincial levels, as optimal crime-fighting requires local knowledge and coordination. South Africa is the exception. Here, the budget and control of policing is located in the national government for reasons that made sense back in 1994 when ANC-IFP tensions in KwaZulu Natal Province were a strong argument against giving legitimate control of force to either party there. Those conditions no longer hold, and the DA has long been calling for control of policing to be devolved – at least to those provinces and metros with the requisite capacity to implement effective policing.
Winde will continue to push for localized control of policing, but his safety programme shows that the province will not be held hostage to SAPS shortcomings or political considerations and will be forging ahead regardless. In DA-led Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba has taken a similar hard line against crime. His administration has trained and is about to deploy an additional 1500 metro police officers, which will double the metro police force. A safer SA requires action and accountability. This is the DA difference.