Editorial: Inequality in Cape’s unsafety

The Western Cape, and Cape Town in particular, is often called the most unequal places in the country. Whitewashed mansions cut into mountain sides and state-of-the-art houses in tree-lined suburbs are juxtaposed with dilapidated tenement flats or rows upon rows of corrugated iron shacks.

Apartheid spatial planning created these zones and often mirrors crime-rate inequality. People living in poorer areas tend to have to deal with higher murder rates and lower levels of police service than people residing in wealthier areas. This phenomenon was brought to the fore by two murders this past weekend.

The first was that of 12-year-old Ashwin Jones, of Uitsig in Ravensmead on the Cape Flats. Another name on the growing rollcall of gang violence victims. The other murder was that of Stefan Smit, who was killed on his wine farm near Stellenbosch. Details of his shooting are still unclear.

According to the Western Cape community safety MEC, there have been four murders on farms in the Western Cape this year. That fact has prompted his agriculture department counterpart to set up an interdepartmental task team to look into violence in rural areas: how it’s caused and how to tackle it.

Sixty-five murders were recorded in Ravensmead in 2018. Most of them were associated with gangs.

And yes, there have been interventions. The anti-gang policing unit was established to tackle gangsterism, but the momentum after the unit’s launch in November has since slowed down.

Community safety activists say other interventions are needed to address the systemic problems associated with violence: substance abuse, the breakdown of family units and marginalised and unemployed youth, which have for decades provided a breeding ground for street gangs on the Cape Flats.

In December, the Western Cape high court found the allocation of police resources was discriminatory and often on the basis of race and poverty. The case, brought by the Social Justice Coalition and the Nyanga Community Policing Forum, ran for more than a year.

Nyanga on the Cape Flats is often described as the murder capital of South Africa. There were 308 murders in the township in 2018. Local leaders say this is an inaccurate representation of the area because the Nyanga police station has to respond to crimes in neighbouring areas such as Crossroads, Browns Farms and parts of Philippi. This means police resources are stretched to their limits. Only 325 police officers are deployed to keep 202 332 residents safe in Nyanga, an average of 161 officers per 100 000 people. The United Nations’ recommended ratio is 280 police officers per 100 000 people.

Policing keeps people safe. Without it, people in places like the Cape Flats are stuck in a state of chronic insecurity, facing gangs who move into the space left by the state.

Local and provincial governments have little say over where the South African Police Service deploys its officers. But they do have a say about how employment, service delivery and social development programmes are run.

There is hope, however. The new MEC for community safety, Albert Fritz, says the “skiet, skop en donner” method of reducing violent crimes and gangsterism is not working. He plans to incorporate methods used while he was MEC of social development to deal with the underlying problems that create an environment for crime to flourish on the Cape Flats.

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