Vows: Mgcini Tshwaku, the MMC for public safety in Johannesburg, has promised to take measures to curb lawlessness in the metro. Photo: Luba Lesolle/Gallo Images
In a move likely to ingratiate the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) with Johannesburg residents before next year’s elections, member of the mayoral committee for public safety Mgcini Tshwaku is embarking on a new programme to curb lawlessness.
The EFF leader in Johannesburg is this week launching a tactical response unit that will see municipal police focus on violent crimes.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Tshwaku said although recent crime statistics from Police Minister Bheki Cele showed a slight reduction in crime nationally for the quarter 1 April to 30 June, crime in the city was still concerning.
Johannesburg Central, Hillbrow, Midrand, Alexandra, Honeydew and Ivory Park were some of the police stations that had a high number of reported cases of violent crimes.
“When we did public consultations people were crying about crime. The public said maybe the police are overwhelmed and strain on resources, so when we engaged with the district commissioners we told them the JMPD [Johannesburg metro police department] has three commitments which include crime prevention and combating.”
He said the JMPD has in the past failed to focus on crime prevention while paying attention to traffic offences.
The crime prevention and combating units, which have more than 300 members, will deal with search and seizures and increase their visibility in hotspot areas and will also have a tactical response unit dedicated to cash-in-transit heists, drugs and hijackings.
“This will be a force multiplier. We are going to get ourselves very close. We are going to arrest people, open our own dockets and cases will be taken to the police to make sure they are processed,” Tshwaku said.
Key to this programme has been the retraining of JMPD officers to ensure they are properly skilled, he said. To curb corruption, the city will soon have body cameras which in part will monitor the work of its officers.
“To be honest, we inherited a department which had low morale. We had to pick it up so it’s going to be a work in progress,” Tshwaku said.
“We have suggested to the head of department that we are going to reskill and retrain officers in batches. We also need to look at how we recruit law enforcement officers. There must be criteria they pass.”
Should the programme succeed, the EFF is likely to be credited by residents and this could translate into votes for the party next year.
The M&G recently reported that EFF leaders in Gauteng were facing mounting pressure to secure the premier position for Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who has allegedly got the nod from party leader Julius Malema.
The party is hoping to gain control of the province in next year’s elections.
It has already formed partnerships with smaller parties and the ANC in several Gauteng municipalities, including Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg, unseating the Democratic Alliance.
Tshwaku said the metro has also proposed flexible shifts and standby allowance taken from the budget by reallocating funds from unnecessary expenses, which include police parades and catering.
“We needed to coordinate much better in terms of information we get on the ground. We had a really nice efficient canine unit that is working hand in hand with SAPS [South African Police Service]. That’s why you’re seeing a lot of success in cash-in-transit and hijacking. Our officers are involved directly. They are central in terms of intelligence gathering.
“These units have been working but in isolation. We said to the guys, you are doing well with these cash-in-transit and these undercover operations and everything. But the citizens of Johannesburg are not seeing all these things, where are you working? Let us reorganise, reconfigure, dip into our 5 000 officers, let go and have a criteria.
“Let’s spend about two to three months interviewing these people, changing them or reconditioning them not to be focused on traffic and bylaws and say we are going to be combating crimes.
“We will be doing that. We do have the manpower but their shift system was making us not have the manpower.”
More than half the unit will be focused on Johannesburg central business district. Tshwaku said it will also work with community policing forums and patrollers.
He sent a stern warning to tavern and bar owners, saying there would be no negotiations with those operating illegally during the festive season.
Tshwaku said the unit would also work with emergency services under “Operation Nightlife” to ensure compliance with the law.
“The time of grooving late is going to come to an end. We are going to close these taverns. They must comply immediately without fear or favour. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t comply we will close you,” Tshwaku said.
“We are even going to come to Sandton. All areas of entertainment which do not comply with the law, we will close them. If your shop plan does not conform with the one submitted to EMS, you must know that we are going to close you.”
He called for assistance from residents, saying the metro police had the firepower but needed the eyes and ears of people to curb lawlessness.
Tshwaku joined the call by other political parties for the police to be decentralised, saying provinces must be able to have a say where police were deployed.
“We are the ones at the coalface to understand where the hotspots are and also demand accountability. A person will just come in and say ‘I don’t report to you, I report to the national’ and you can’t hold them accountable,” he said.
While emphasising that he had a good relationship with the provincial police, Tshwaku said the salaries of police officers need to be reevaluated.
“So I think as a local police to some extent, we must be given some powers also as JMPD or maybe as the municipal police to be able to have holding cells and have investigating powers to assist the SAPS [South African Police Service],” Tshwaku said.
“One thing we are fearing is that we are going to arrest a lot of people but we will depend on our colleague at SAPS to make sure they lock the people away.”