De Lange happy to take top crime-fighting job

This week Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister Johnny de Lange effectively put his hand up for a cabinet role in a Zuma government.

De Lange was addressing the media in Pretoria on Wednesday in a dress rehearsal role as “caretaker” of the body tasked with reviewing the criminal justice system.

He is coordinator of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, a structure created by President Thabo Mbeki, aimed at building “a new realigned single criminal justice system coordinating and management structure, flowing seamlessly from Cabinet to each court with coordination and management functions”.

The body will not have executive powers but will be headed by an appointee from the executive branch of government.
It will be incorporated by legislation or protocol.

“If they offer me the job I will take it,” replied De Lange when asked how he saw his future after next year’s elections.

But he was quick to warn against “individualising” the overhaul of the criminal justice system, which he said should be considered a national project. “If you want to kill this thing, individualise it around Johnny de Lange, put me on a pedestal and say this thing won’t work without Johnny de Lange,” he said.

De Lange put the ANC’s stamp of approval on the new body by emphasising that secretary general Gwede Mantashe said that all policies of Mbeki’s government belong to the ANC. He added that he had given a briefing on the project to the ANC’s subcommittee for peace and stability headed by ANC national working committee member and prominent Jacob Zuma supporter Siphiwe Nyanda.

The Institute of Security Studies’ Johan Burger backed De Lange to lead the new body. “I believe that this new coordinating role requires someone who is very dynamic and I believe Johnny de Lange is that person.”

If De Lange takes the helm he will lead the implementation of the most ambitious law-enforcement project yet announced by the ANC government, which is likely to feature prominently in the ANC’s election campaign.

It will implement a seven-step plan to transform and align the various elements of the criminal justice system, which has been deeply conflicted and fragmented.

Performance criteria will be set for all key personnel to restore accountability. The plan will also introduce the vetting of cases at court level by a senior prosecutor working in conjunction with a senior detective to filter out cases that are not ready for trial.

This, De Lange said, would deal with the backlog of 70 000 cases in the regional courts, which are responsible for the bulk of cases.

The plan will also beef up the capacity of the courts and forensic laboratories using monetary incentives and staff-retention strategies.

The intention is also to facilitate a single, consolidated view of cases as they progress through the various arms of the criminal justice system, with the assistance of advanced information technology.

De Lange said that at the moment none of the various IT systems in use in the criminal justice system could “talk to one another”. He instructed the justice information system team members to prioritise those systems that would lead to the integration of the whole.

Key equipment used by police, including vehicles and radios, and computer equipment for forensic personnel will be modernised.

The plan also involves a strategy for stronger community involvement in crime-fighting, in line with an ANC conference resolution. It talks of introducing changes to community policing forums—including an expanded role in policing and parole boards—and is set to provide financial and administrative infrastructure to give them teeth.

In his January 8 statement as the new ANC president Zuma called for the re-introduction of street committees and more recently encouraged a return to these structures in a speech in KwaZulu-Natal.
Burger praised the crime plan, adding that if the government took the lead street committees could be effective as an element of sector policing.

DA makes its move
This week the DA launched a crime-fighting plan that is expected to be a central plank of its election platform.

The plan, launched by party leader Helen Zille in Johannesburg, embodies five key crime-busting strategies.

Among other things, the DA called for the creation of a statutory “directorate for victims”, which will monitor government’s response to citizens affected by crime.

It also wants a victims’ fund resourced from the earnings of past offenders.

Tax breaks and compulsory community service for would-be lawyers are also proposed.

On crime prevention it urges the reinstatement of disbanded specialised police units and an increase in police numbers to 250 000 by 2012.

It proposes a partnership between the police and the private security sector and the use of computer systems for case tracking and management.

With regard to crime detection and response, it calls for a crime information-management system to which the public would have access, the employment of an additional 30 000 detectives and a rural safety campaign, which would tackle farm murders.

It also called for new steps to help rehabilitate offenders, including alternative punitive measures such as reform schools and self-supporting “halfway houses”—a transitional mechanism to reintegrate convicted criminals into society—run by past offenders.

To improve prosecution and conviction, it argues for low lateral entry into the police by candidates in the private sector and longer sentences for offenders.—Sello S Alcock

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