A leaked internal memorandum has turned a spotlight on growing tensions and crossed wires between the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Cape Town’s metro police over law enforcement in the city, including the response to land invasions.
The memo by the SAPS Western Cape legal services, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, strongly suggests underlying political conflicts between the national government, which controls the police, and the Democratic Alliance government in Cape Town.
It complains that local law enforcement is overstepping its mandate. The city responded that moves to expand its policing role were sparked by the SAPS’s “serious shortcomings” and failure to serve the city adequately.
Among other issues, the SAPS memo questions why city law enforcement and officers of the newly-established provincial law enforcement arm are assuming crime investigating powers.
In February, the Western Cape government introduced several hundred provincial law enforcement officers, as per the 2019 election promises of Premier Alan Winde.
The memo also challenges proposed Cape Town by-laws that would give law enforcement officials the power of search and seizure, which national police argue is not their mandate.
“The South African Police Service ultimately remains responsible for policing functions, such as crime prevention and the investigation of crime,” the memo says. “Nowhere in any legislation are these functions delegated or assigned to any other institution, department or body.”
The document also questions the involvement of non-police officers, including the city’s mayoral committee member for safety JP Smith, in search and seizure operations.
“The involvement of non-police members … renders such an operation invalid and evidence obtained during such an operation is considered to be unconstitutionally obtained,” it says.
The relationship was further strained when an undercover police officer was shot dead by a Cape Town law enforcement official in January.
According to the police, the officer was searching two robbery suspects when law enforcement officers arrived. Before he could identify himself, shots were fired.
Mounting protests and illegal land occupations, resulting in the deployment of public order police, have also given rise to mutual recriminations.
The SAPS memo said the city’s law enforcement and anti-land invasion unit had reneged on an agreement on when and how to conduct evictions, which it said had resulted in violent public protest.
The DA hit back at the police complaints, with the mayoral committee member for human settlements, Malusi Booi, arguing that the SAPS is not helping the city deal with illegal land occupations and the erection of shacks on vacant land,
Commenting on recent anti-land invasion operations in Kraaifontein in the northern parts of the city, Booi said the police “are not servicing us as the city of Cape Town”.
“The mayor has written to the president, I’ve had a meeting with the minister of human settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu, where we said the police are not assisting us,” Booi said. “It’s a political issue because they source their mandate from the national government.”
Asked to comment on the memo, Western Cape SAPS said the document was an “internal, draft correspondence that was compiled for a specific purpose at a determined time”.
“In the course of executing the mandate of the SAPS such discussions are imperative, especially when we interface with other role-players within the law enforcement space,” said police spokesperson Novella Potelwa.
Reacting, the city disputed the memorandum, saying the matters it raised had come up in previous discussions with the SAPS.
“The truth is that none of the extraordinary measures the city is engaging in to expand its policing capacity would have been necessary if not for the serious shortcomings, which remain unaddressed, in the SAPS and which we have raised through appropriate channels over several years,” the city’s media communications department said.
The city said it would not comment further. “Instead of perpetuating the show of bad faith, the city will do the responsible thing and engage the SAPS through the appropriate internal channels.”
During the announcement of the national crime statistics last week, the SAPS said violent crime in the province had “stabilised”.
Only one more murder had been reported during the 2018-2019 financial year, bringing the total to 3 975 homicides.