Women help to maintain law and order in Ekurhuleni
Thokoza was the the first township established for blacks in the area previously called the “East Rand”, now known as Ekurhuleni. Some remnants of its apartheid past remain, such as the limited means to access and leave the township — this was deliberate apartheid town planning. On our way to the breakfast briefing by city manager, Dr Imogen Mashazi, we had to pass through a roadblock that had only female officers.
Chief superintendent, Nomawethu Mafa, of Ekurhuleni metro police department, was speaking at the launch of the Women in Uniform programme, created to challenge violence against women and children in communities. She said they were excited to see the campaign also seeks to raise awareness about the drive to recruit more female officers. The project is not only focused on the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD), but also the departments of emergency services and disaster management.
“It’s about all selfless women dedicating their services to the city,” the superintendent remarks proudly. The increased recruitment in these community safety departments will not only lead to increased productivity, but also to the creation of sustainable jobs.
August 1 was the beginning of Women’s Month. The campaign kicked off with the roadblock conducted solely by female officers. It was also the launch of the Women in Uniform initiative, a programme aimed at empowering and motivating female officers that will be maintained for the next five years. Awareness of issues relating to women and children requires intensification, and this is the role of a unit within the EMPD, whose mandate is the creation of such awareness campaigns.
Significant changes can be seen in the schools and the roads — it hasn’t been an entirely terrible 23 years of democracy. The auditorium itself looks newer than anything around it. Inside, navy blue caps are scattered around 10 tables filled with uniformed women, mostly from EMPD.
Nomzamo Phakathi is a young constable serving in the EMPD. She’s delighted at the opportunity presented in the city manager’s speech. She says: “It’s important to get an education but sometimes this is not possible, mostly due to finances, especially for working class folk like myself. Family responsibilities most times consume the income of young workers and therefore the opportunity to upscale oneself is often sacrificed for the financial benefit of the larger family.”
Government programmes such as these proposed here are much appreciated by Phakati and her colleagues; they promise to supplement their current qualifications with sponsored qualifications from the City. Most of the women at the event had received training in community policing at colleges. The bursaries may enable these young female officers to be deployed in senior management in the next five to 10 years.
Some of the young women officers expressed anxiety about having to serve as enforcers of the law in an area that is often dangerous for women, but they remain resolute in their goal of making Ekurhuleni safe. Many South Africans believe that things might eventually change, but the narrative in the media is marked by unusually high levels of rape and femicide.
It is essential that citizens feel safe in their country. The breakfast speakers emphasised that the integrity of the EMPD officers must be cultivated, as extortion remains a major issue that citizens face from law enforcement officials. Ways to impart ethical standard are continuously being reviewed.
It has been widely reported in the media that Susan Shabangu, Minister of Women in the Presidency, has not demonstrated much will to genuinely tackle gender-based violence. This has also been evident in the lack of solution-based programmes that involve communities and their community safety officers. In the absence of nationwide initiatives, local government seems to been finding solutions.
The scourge of vigilante justice is on the rise in some of Ekurhuleni ‘s townships. Community members, frustrated by the unresponsive system, often resort to mob justice to solve crime issues faster, as there exists a lag in the law, and evidence of corruption that makes communities feel that justice has not been served.
In this context, to be a metro police officer requires a strong character, as the job entails encountering people often filled with passion — it isn’t an easy profession at all. Because of this, sufficient knowledge of a potential recruit’s aptitude and emotional intelligence is necessary to prevent her being overwhelmed by situations encountered on the job. The department of human resources has already begun with recruitment campaigns at strategic places around Ekurhuleni.
Mafa insisted that male and female officers can do the same job, but urged female officers to exercise extra caution when working. There are various recruitment strategies to attract more female officers employed by the social crime prevention unit within the EMPD. For instance, the unit has exhibitions at high schools to attract young women ready to receive training from the City and become uniformed officers in community safety.
A few years ago the City went on a campaign to recruit more metro police officers. There are now 2 000 operational officers, of which about 800 are women. Mashazi has put a strategy in place to increase the number of female recruits, and aims to increase the amount of senior level recruits by 10% for each of the coming five years. This should, according to her team, help sort out the slow transformation plaguing certain departments of the City.
Anne Zimba is a local trader selling consumer goods such as sweets, snacks and cigarettes near the auditorium. She lives on Khumalo Road in Thokoza, and noted how the main street has become safer with the introduction of speed-bumps, which prevent drag racing bandits with a disregard for others’ lives from racing down the street. This for her is evidence of the effectiveness of the community safety departments.
But the increasing use of cheap drugs available to the youth has meant that petty crime is also on the increase as the “nyaope boys” rob people and steal household items to feed their habit. She hopes that the increased visibility of policing units will lessen the attacks. Mafa acknowledged the drug issue and reiterated that the EMPD is using all resources available to ensure that all community members feel safe in their homes, businesses and communities.
Thokoza has a history of violence and was caught in the middle of ethnic and political wars in the years preceding the elections of 1994. This situation was exaggerated by the existence of men’s hostels that served as barracks for labour in mining and industry. Today, these same dwelling hostels are filled with women and children and the violence has evolved to include increasing levels of violence against women and children. The empowering of various crime-fighting sectors will hopefully rid the area of this old, violent legacy, especially if community safety is placed in the hands of capable women.