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MESULI KAMA: Dan Plato is heartless & unsympathetic to poor people's plight

OPINION

On Friday, 5 March 2021, a group of activists from the African National Congress (ANC) and other leaders visited families of victims murdered in a gang drive-by shooting in Mitchell's Plain. During the visit to the bereaved families, we were shown visuals of innocent children in a pool of blood. Having seen such images, I have to fully agree with Rozario Brown that we have a crisis of gangs that are terrorising communities in the Western Cape and that not enough is done to guarantee the safety of our people.

The feeling that communities are on their own and cannot depend on the government to provide them with safety and security is justified, especially given the fact that the Western Cape contributes a significant amount to South Africa’s murder rate. Cape Flats police stations are majority in the top 30 murder precincts every year.

In order to address the persistent scourge of gangsterism, Brown asks that the three spheres of government make people’s safety a priority by, among others, availing more funds for safety projects and infrastructure. He is also calling for more police resources and visibility in the crime hotspots, as well as a more meaningful community involvement in the fight against crime.

The demands made by Brown are intertwined with ANC values and resolutions. For instance, to strengthen community participation in the fight against crime, the ANC at its 54th conference resolved for the formation of street, block and village committees, which it said would be key vehicles of social protection and transformation.
The conference called on ANC branches and communities to strengthen the community policing and community safety forums. The conference viewed the role of these committees as follows:

“These street, block and village committees must know exactly what is happening in each street in relation to violence against women and children, substance abuse, crime and be able to ensure that there are safe houses for victims, and that the police and social workers fulfil their functions.”

There is an urgent need for a widespread community mobilisation programme to establish these forums and the street, block and village committees, which would work close with police and other government institutions to rid the Cape Flats of gangs and drugs. It is time for the members of the communities to take back the streets from the gangs.

There is also an urgent need to review our systems of allocating our scarce police resources to address unequal distribution. I believe it is prudent that we start using the murder rate as a key determinant of deployment of police resources. We need to start deploying more police resources to the murder hotspots and not in the affluent areas.

Dan Plato, the former MEC of Community Safety and now Cape Town mayor, proved Brown’s claims correct that Democratic Alliance (DA) politicians simply do not care about the plight of the Cape Flats people. In his opinion piece, Police resources, good detective work, and solid prosecutions are what we need, which appeared in the Cape Argus on 9 March, he exposed the DA’s hypocrisy, deceptions and uselessness. It is for this that prompted Brown to call on communities to punish such politicians at the polls. Community activist Colin Arendse has already done a tremendous job to dispel Plato's untruths.

While the mayor argues that his government invested millions in the ShotSpotter technology, reality shows that there has been no value for money in that investment. The ShotSpotter technology was used in the City between 2016 and 2019 when the contract expired, and has been in the process of renewal since then. R31.8 million was in the process and led to only 67 arrests as a direct result of the use of this technology. It is clear that there is no value for money in this technology and that the government should invest resources on more effective tools, such as more CCTV's in the Cape Flats. When the five children were shot in Mitchell’s Plain, the police relied on CCTV footage in people’s homes to conduct its investigation. The challenge of shortages of CCTV cameras in the crime hotspot areas is real. No amount of spin can change that. Mayor Plato must be basing his argument on CCTV cameras in government buildings and in the city centre, as there is a serious shortage of these in the poor working-class communities.

No value for money in government investments in the fight against crime is also the reason for widespread criticism against Premier's Alan Winde's safety plan, as it is silent on addressing the root causes of crime. The biggest misstep of the safety plan is the lack of prioritisation of addressing the historical and structural challenges that give rise to violent crimes in the hotpot areas. It is not by mistake that the crime hotspot areas are all in the working class communities, where there is high poverty, unemployment and inequalities. These are densely populated communities with poor lighting, poor accessibility and lack of CCTV cameras. All these are responsibilities of the city and provincial government.

Moreover, when the premier announced a safety plan, he said R1 billion would be spent to recruit and train 3,000 law enforcement officers. Not only has the DA administrations both in the City of Cape Town and provincial government cut that number down to 1,000, but they have also missed planned targets for recruitment, training, and deployment of these officers. Only 500 officers have been deployed to date, the additional 500 who were supposed to be deployed last year, are yet to receive training. People are owed an explanation for this.

If there is anything to deduce from Plato's opinion piece, it is that he is heartless, uncaring and unsympathetic with the plight of the poor. He is an enemy of poor and marginalised people. Lest we forget he is the same mayor who went to Nyanga and blamed children for playing near the bridge that collapsed and killed children.

Mesuli Kama is the ANC caucus in the Western Cape legislature's shadow community safety MEC. You can follow him on Twitter on @Mess_kama.