Cele ‘politically excited’: Police unions say ‘talk show’ imbizos won’t end Khayelitsha shootings

Police Minister Bheki Cele.

Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Johnnie Isaac
  • Police unions have blasted Police Minister Bheki Cele for repeatedly holding community meetings that do not seem to reduce crime.
  • They feel police officers are left out and have no say in what is needed to improve the situation.
  • The police say they have made a dent into the crime wave with the arrest of an alleged mastermind in a series of mass shootings in Khayelitsha.

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) has blasted Police Minister Bheki Cele for what it termed his increased use of community meetings as a political tactic, saying no real solutions have been announced to combat mass killings in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

Cele arrived at the Desmond Tutu community hall in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, on Monday for yet another open mic session with residents to hear their complaints about crime.

With Cele’s convoy and a fleet of police vehicles from different units parked to guard the occasion for the duration of the meeting, residents complained that they only had a mobile police station, if they needed help.

Makhaza is located on the eastern edge of Khayelitsha, and it takes officers a long time to travel from other police stations to the area for urgent situations.

To help the police, a group of volunteers patrol the streets, very often under the darkness of load shedding.

READ | Mthokozisi Ntumba killing: Cop acquitted of murder aiming to sue Bheki Cele and NPA

Residents said they lived not just with crime, but also with potholes and they did not even have addresses to help the police locate their homes easily.

Development in the area has been haphazard, with shacks tightly packed against each other and unemployed people rapidly setting up home on vacant land.

Residents said they had to travel as far as Harare police station to report crime and sometimes it was closed because of load shedding.

The police said they were making a dent into the crime wave daily, but the residents of Makhaza said more needed to be done.

Some hinted darkly that they were so frustrated that they might start dealing with criminals themselves.

Western Cape police commissioner Lieutenant General Thembisile Patekile was annoyed at hearing that Harare police station was not open 24 hours a day. He said he would investigate the issue immediately, as well as why the police station was not using its generator.

In the meantime, he promised that the mobile police station would be moved to the more convenient community centre as soon as possible. The hold-up was finding a connection to water and ablution facilities.

A mobile park home police station would also be delivered by 1 November, residents were told at the meeting.

The road leading to the hall where the meeting was held provided a glimpse into how residents live. The traffic lights did not work, so motorists raced haphazardly through intersections to avoid being hijacked.

Popcru’s Western Cape secretary-general Pat Raolane criticised Cele for not also listening to ordinary police officers who were on the front line of the fight against violent crime.

He said:

With the minister working alone, it is seemingly unclear who he expects to do [the things] he promises the community at these imbizos.

Raolane said Cele was supposed to engage workers first through the two organised police unions Popcru and the SA Police Union (SAPU) to address their concerns and limitations regarding combatting crime in the Western Cape.

“This should be the first imbizo – to organise tangible strategies and solutions to curb the scourge of crime.

“Cele is being too politically excited in that his imbizos have yielded no tangible plans and results and are merely a talk show for the communities involved, without any real actionable responses,” he added.

Raolane said one cannot decrease crime without addressing the working conditions of police officers.

“Load shedding plays a huge role in the police’ s inability to do their jobs, as many stations are without generator capacity. As such, everything must be done manually, which is a taxing task in that often case numbers can’t be generated timeously for necessary investigations and arrests to take place at the time of the reported crime,” added Raolane.

He said:

Human error also plays a part in this as the police are overburdened, with detectives – who are generally expected to handle 80 dockets each – now handling an estimated 432 dockets at a time.

Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, said imbizos were not a “fix all” but were part of a process to promote proactive policing and community policing.

She pointed out that the police had made arrests in connection with the mass shootings, and said the police used a “station accountability plan” to provide services to communities, which included crime prevention and the investigation of crime.

Most recently, a kidnapped Parow businessman was tracked down in Makhaza and rescued, while the alleged “mastermind” behind mass shootings in Khayelitsha was arrested.

At the Makhaza meeting, residents were told that the accountability plan had, for example, changed to not just target individuals for the possession of drugs, but to shut down entire drug houses.

“Both Minister Cele and his deputy (Cassel Mathale) host these community engagements, which seek to address policing shortcomings and build trust between communities and the police through improved service delivery,” Themba said.

She added that sometimes these were arranged in response to major crimes.

However, Popcru said Cele should let national and provincial commissioners do their jobs together with intelligence agencies, as his involvement only slowed things down.

The union called for tangible solutions, such as roadblocks, to crack down on crime.

“It is, therefore, necessary for crime intelligence to be involved at district and cluster level to model the problems and ascertain the causes of crime and come up with solutions” Raolane said.

He added:

Visible policing is necessary. It is also necessary for law enforcement to be deployed to hotspot areas and not be confined to just chasing homeless people in the province.

According to him, Popcru’s 16 000 police officers feel they are not always respected by civilians because of limitations, which includes the poor maintenance of patrol vehicles.

SAPU’s national spokesperson, Lesiba Thobakgale, said community meetings should be accompanied by strengthening the community policing forums’ relationship with the police.

“It’s a fact that the police are understaffed, and that should be dealt with swiftly.

“Resources are needed to fight high levels of crime, ranging from human capital to physical resources,” Thobakgale added.

SAPU said it was confident that the reintroduction of specialised units like murder and robbery units, among other things, would bring crime down.

“The collapse of Crime Intelligence and lack of leadership should be dealt with in order to strengthen pro-active, rather than reactive, policing,” Thobakgale added.

Police officers were also angry about the high rate of police murders and wanted people arrested for cop killings never to get bail.

“It should be declared treason as it is a crime against the state, and the state should protect police officers as they serve the interests of the state,” said Thobakgale.

– Additional reporting Nonkululeko Lekoma

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