The dream of a country free from fear

Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the DA’s Shadow Minister of Police, Zakhele Mbhele MP, during the debate on farm murders.
Section 205(3) of our constitution states that “the objects of the police service are to prevent, combat and investigate crime, to maintain public order, to protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property, and to uphold and enforce the law”. On all of these points, the SAPS is struggling and failing when it comes to crime in rural communities and the safety of farm-dwellers.
This is not because we don’t know what to do to improve safety and security in these communities; rather it is because the police service lacks the right leadership, both political and managerial, to address the problem. The SAPS is the key state institution for ensuring that all people live in safety, free from crime and violence, but is failing in fulfilling that duty due to poor leadership and skewed priorities that undermine the fight against crime on the ground.
The 2016 White Paper on Policing outlines that the police service must be rooted in a community-centred approach, a key demonstration of which is to be responsive to the vulnerabilities and policing needs of local communities. To quote the White Paper: “At local level the SAPS must be equipped to respond to the risks, vulnerabilities and policing needs of the disparate communities it serves.”
This echoes the DA’s longstanding call for the localisation of policing through greater autonomy for police stations. Because crime threats vary drastically from community to community, the SAPS approach of a centralised crime-fighting strategy often undermines the ability of police stations to respond to the very specific needs of their communities.
In this regard, there are multiple instances of SAPS failure to be responsive, both structurally and operationally, to the local policing needs of rural communities. During a visit last month to the town of Belfast in Mpumalanga with my colleague, Honourable Steyn, following another farm attack, we heard from the local councillor about numerous examples of how the SAPS is hopelessly handicapped to do its job:
• In a context where one ward can sometimes be as large as encompassing three towns, one police station has to cover a geographically massive policing precinct, involving long travelling distances, and usually covering multiple settlements.
• Outside of roads between and within towns, most vehicular travel has to be on gravel roads and sometimes on no roads at all. This terrain requires tougher, more agile police vehicles that can take hard knocks and won’t be rendered useless after it rains because they get stuck in mud too easily.
• The under-staffing and inadequate number of police vehicles means that when a suspect in custody has to be transported to another town for a court appearance, normal sector policing operations are deprived of cars and officers for visible patrolling and rapid response.
The SAPS is also missing a huge opportunity in the fight against farm attacks and other rural crimes when it comes to police reservists. The White Paper on Policing is clear that “the effective use of reservists contributes to strengthening policing at station level and the implementation of crime prevention initiatives.”
Currently, the reservist corps has shrunk, is poorly managed and almost impossible to get into due to inexplicably stringent eligibility criteria in the revised regulations. A larger SAPS Reservist Corps would act as a force multiplier to get more boots on the ground for visible patrolling and rapid response, plugging the gaps and helping to spread the workload.
There is no need for the situation to be this bad. This is what the DA would do to improve the safety and security of rural communities and reduce farm attacks:
Give greater budgetary freedom: Often station commanders are prevented from adapting resource allocation according to their specific needs because of centralised bureaucratic processes. The DA would give more discretionary management authority for these decisions to be localised so that stations could deal with problems more effectively – for example, given that policing precincts usually cover a large area, a station commander would be free to ensure the operation of a larger number and spread of satellite police stations.
Allow for local sourcing of equipment: Under a DA government, police stations would be allowed to procure equipment and services directly from approved suppliers based on station needs. This means that they would be sure, for example, to get the right kind of vehicles for their context, instead of being subject to decisions from higher up in the hierarchy that are ill-suited for their needs.
It also means that vehicles would not languish at a centralised SAPS Garage for weeks or months on end for repairs and maintenance while vulnerable communities are poorly protected by an under-resourced and under-equipped police service. They could get them attended to at a local mechanic within a shorter turnaround time.
Boost operational personnel numbers with a strong reservist corps: The DA would ensure rigorous vetting and training, coupled with strong accountability, to ensure that volunteer reservists’ behaviour and conduct is in line with the ethos and expectations of permanent SAPS members.
The DA stands ready to lead a national government that will fix the police service and ensure safety and security for all, particularly rural and farming communities. In order for us, as a nation, to harness the full potential of our people, we need safe homes and safe streets. As the ANC is increasingly paralysed by corruption, cronyism and poor leadership, the DA is becoming the hope of more and more citizens to realise the dream of a country free from fear.