Community Safety needs a paradigm shift

By Kate Lorimer MPL, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Community Safety

Note to editors: The following speech was delivered during the 2018/2019 Budget Vote for the Department of Community Safety

Madam Speaker, the prospect of change is upon us in Gauteng.  It is time for a paradigm shift in how we do things.  Year after year at budget time, those of us in the opposition benches struggle to think of what to say.  Why?  For two reasons: Firstly because the budget is a fait accompli presented to the various portfolio committees after the fact.  We ask the public to attend meetings and give their input, but it changes nothing.  No department changes its budget after it has been presented to its oversight committee, no matter how valuable or credible the input may be.  This province only approves its annual budget 2 to 3 months after it has already been implemented.  This legislature and the citizens of Gauteng are purely a rubber stamp for a “done deal” presented by the executive and their departments.   In the proverbial sense it closes the stable door after the horse has already bolted.

Secondly, we struggle because nothing ever changes in terms of programmes or strategies or targets or the inevitable blinkered thinking.  Departments don’t seem able to critically evaluate the success and added value of their programmes and targets and then make necessary changes.

Well, next year there will be a change, the ANC will be smaller and sitting on this side of the house and the opposition will be sitting on that side of the house and will be governing Gauteng either in partnership or with a complete majority.  Then, as in the Western Cape, we will ensure that the committee inputs and the budget debates are concluded before the start of the new budget year.  This ensures that only an approved budget is implemented.  Input from committees into the budget process will be encouraged and critically evaluated with a view to including them in the budget before it is presented for approval.

The department of Community Safety will also experience change with a change in government.  More focus will be placed on fewer more meaningful interventions that fulfil the constitutional mandate of the Province to improve community police relations through improving police performance.

There must be a change in attitude towards the issue of missing women and children.  Between April 2017 and May 2018, 472 children under the age of 16 went missing.  Unfortunately 4 were found dead and 32 ranging from 3 years old to 16 years old, have never been found. 32 families have no idea whether their children are alive or dead. Sophiatown, Soshanguve, Benoni and Daveyton are the areas where most children have not been found.  This should form the basis for specialist interventions in these areas.

Between January and October 2017, 597 women were reported missing and only 151 were found.  Where are the other 446 women?  These shocking figures were revealed in an answer to a question.  If they are true they paint an horrific picture of life for women in Gauteng.

All the efforts of the department should be focused on implementing measures that assist the SAPS to do their job better and to ensure that cases of missing women and children are prioritised and publicised and that specialist task teams are created to ensure these cases are properly investigated and shepherded through the court processes to ensure convictions.

In many cases people known to the family, or family members are implicated in missing persons cases.  Often a history of domestic violence has been recorded.  When are the Department of Community Safety going to change the way they think and understand that a manual system of tracking domestic violence cases does not add value?  Until one tracks offenders and victims electronically across police station, cluster and Provincial boundaries, the SAPS will not be able to be truly effective in tracking down potential suspects in missing women cases.

If we do not change how we look after SAPS members, their performance will be affected due to burnout and even fewer cases will be concluded with successful convictions.

A recent question asked in the National Assembly regarding psychological debriefing of SAPS members claims that mandatory Multiple Stressor Interventions are to be offered to all operational members going forward. In Gauteng there is 1 psychologist, 12 psychometrists and 12 Registered counsellors available to conduct debriefing for members.  Bearing in mind there are probably around 26 000 operational SAPS members in Gauteng, this is a laughable figure.  Even when supplemented by another 216 Psychologists through POLMED.

When visiting the FCS unit in Katlehong recently, one of the complaints of the members was that they never received psychological debriefing even though they consistently have to deal with a high volume of extremely violent cases against the most vulnerable of victims.  This is unacceptable.  Investigators cannot work under such conditions and be expected to produce consistent convictions.  This matter should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Madam Speaker, it seems the SAPS does not know what it is doing as far as Gauteng is concerned.  First we are told Lt. General de Lange has been asked to leave, no reasons given! Rumours then abound that Minister Cele’s friend Mzwandile Petros is to be brought out of retirement and will be the Provincial Commissioner.  Now we hear that General de Lange will remain.  This type of irrational behaviour demotivates SAPS members and destabilises and undermines command. There is clearly a lack of leadership in the top echelons of the SAPS and the Ministry of Police.

So, change should not be made for change’s sake or because it serves a narrow political agenda, but rather because change will bring new opportunities, new ideas, a new vision and a new DA government.