FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Problems in the Cape Flats cannot be reduced to policing


One must admire the willingness and partnership of National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole and Police Minister Bheki Cele.

The two have not been shy to show their faces in troubled communities and to make commitments. One such commitment was made to the Philippi East, Cape Town community where 11 people were murdered over the past weekend alone.

Cele and Sitole promised the community that it would get a police station commander within 20 days. Cele said they would meet on Tuesday to come up with a strategy to deal with the spate of murders in several Cape communities.

All this is good. Unfortunately it does not address the heart of the matter.

The Cape Flats’ difficulties cannot be reduced to a policing issue. The complications go well beyond the purview of law enforcement. Gangs, drugs and violence are manifestations of the problem, they are not the source.

They are the embodiment of what the state has been saying all along about the challenge in South Africa being about poverty, unemployment and inequality. With the best will in the world, policing cannot make these three problems go away.

In fairness, the politicians and technocrats who ought to have visited Philippi should have been from the national, provincial and local government departments responsible for education (basic and higher); labour and employment, public amenities, health, arts and sports.

They should have asked what the plan was to improve education for the poorest in the community so that they are able to break the cycle of poverty in their families.

The labour and employment officials ought to have explained what the plans are to help the private sector and small businesses create much needed employment, while the arts; parks and sports should have been made to account for the lack of amenities that can help young people occupy their minds and energies with what is beneficial for them.

Apart from being a crime problem, drugs are also a health issue. Without a clear and focused programme to keep those who have not started taking them from trying to, and programmes to keep recovering addicts on the wagon, the drug pushers stay in business and the cycle of hopelessness starts over.

The people from the Cape Flats are crying out for a government that sees the human in this community, not just the criminal. What is required for these communities are strategies to restore hope and dignity of these communities and instill in the young and old alike, a new belief that a better life is possible.

This is not to say policing is useless. Far from it. Better policing will hopefully mean that the criminals will get their comeuppance, which is a good thing in itself. But policing on its own, merely kicks the can down the road.

Those who have no skills, who have no real job prospects, and those who have made a living from crime will not suddenly find other, more pious ways of living. If they cannot do that in Philippi, they will find other areas in the Flats to continue their operations.

Cele and Sitole mean well, I am sure. But one cannot arrest hopelessness by bringing in more boots and guns to solve a social and economic problem.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.