“This is our daily life… to have people shooting all around,” a mother of three said after six people were killed this weekend in yet another mass shooting in Site C, Khayelitsha, the third mass killing in the area since March.
The threat of being hit by a bullet or stabbed is ever present for those living in many poor areas of the Western Cape. In just the 30 months between June 2019 and December 2021, there were nearly 450 mass shootings (shooting of more than 3 people) in the province, with nearly 600 people shot dead and over 1000 wounded.
This tragic and traumatic state of affairs is not inevitable. The DA-run Western Cape and Cape Town governments are determined to get crime under control in these areas. And they are making real progress.
National government controls SAPS
Being in government in the Western Cape and Cape Town, the DA takes a lot of criticism for this high crime rate. Yet like Home Affairs, control of the South African Police Services (SAPS) is centralized in the national ANC government. Provinces only have oversight policing powers, while municipalities have by-law enforcement and limited crime prevention powers as metro police.
Western Cape Safety Plan
Nevertheless, the DA-run Western Cape and Cape Town governments are taking major steps to tackle violent crime in Khayelitsha and other murder hotspots. Their target is to reduce the province’s murder rate by 50% by 2029. Working together, they have trained and deployed 1000 extra Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (LEAP) officers to the 11 worst crime areas in Cape Town.
The provincial Khayelitsha Commission showed that SAPS tends to under-resource areas with high violent crime. The irrationality of this was confirmed by the Equality Court in 2018. But SAPS made little changes to policing numbers despite the court finding.
71 LEAP officers have been deployed to Site B and Site C and 80 to Harare in Khayelitsha. In these areas, there are LEAP officers on duty 24 hours per day, seven days a week. These LEAP officers generally have a good working relationship with SAPS towards promoting safety in priority communities and ensuring a clear safety presence on the ground.
This has already achieved a 40.5% reduction in crime in Kraaifontein, a 24% drop in Nyanga, 21% in Khayelitsha and a 14.5% decrease in Harare. These are all places that the Khayeltisha Commission identified as having too few SAPS police officers.
Some of these hotspots have now dropped off the “murder capital” lists that they have dominated for years. The Western Cape actually experienced a 7% drop in the number of murders in the final quarter of 2021 compared to 2020, while every other province increased, with the average for South Africa being a 9% increase – including an 18% increase in Gauteng.
The city and province will continue expanding their training college to produce yet more trained LEAP officers. In 2022, an additional 230 new officers will be deployed. Other municipalities can also make use of the training offered.
The province has budgeted for more CCTV cameras to plug the policing intelligence gap and Cape Town Metro Police have a unit monitoring and responding to issues detected by these cameras. The Western Cape is also the only province to have a provincial police ombudsman to provide independent oversight of policing.
This massive safety project is beyond the scope of the metro and provincial mandate, but the province and city have undertaken it nonetheless, to plug the gaps left by SAPS.
Chronic underfunding and under-resourcing
Despite the finding of the Equality Court, all 10 of the priority crime stations in the Western Cape have suffered a decrease in the total number of SAPS officers per station.
Gugulethu, for example, had 8 fewer SAPS officers per shift in 2021 than in 2020 because the station had to accommodate a decrease of 16 officers. This makes it even tougher for already over-burdened police officers, and so crime prevention efforts suffer.
Hamstrung by Pretoria
Western Cape MEC for Safety Reagen Allen is also pushing hard for the province to get its own gun destruction site, for dealing with the dozens of illegal firearms and ammunition that hauled off the streets by LEAP and SAPs officers.
Corrupt police in Pretoria failed to destroy seized guns and they were sold back to gangs in the Western Cape. Although the corrupt officers were convicted, the guns are still out there and linked to crimes. Quick and efficient destruction of illegal firearms is crucial to fighting crime and preventing confiscated guns from making their way back onto the streets.
This is another area where the province is hamstrung by red tape and decision-making in Pretoria, since only national government has the power to authorize a site. Again, there seems to be no sense of urgency in dealing with the matter.
The fastest way for the Western Cape and Cape Town to get on top of crime would be for control of SAPS to be devolved to the province and metro. In the bargains made to finalise the Constitution, however, policing became highly centralised, and the SAPS Act is even more centralised.
Federalism – the devolution of power to the lowest effective level – is a core DA principle. Federalism ensures decisions are made closer to the local people, communities and businesses they affect. The DA will continue to push for policing to be more devolved in the Western Cape. Meantime, within constitutional limits, DA governments are intent on performing functions for citizens where national government is struggling to do so.
The City of Cape Town is taking this same approach to passenger rail and electricity generation. It is working to bring independent power producers on board to reduce reliance on Eskom. And last week, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana gave Cape Town the go-ahead for a feasibility study into the city taking over passenger rail.
The DA is determined to get on top of crime in the Western Cape. Our governments are committed to working with national government to make this happen, and to filling in for national government where necessary. We are making progress and will continue to go above and beyond to make Khayelitsha and other crime hotspot areas safer. Efficient government saves lives.