Minister Schafer calls on Minister of Police to fulfil 2015 promise of gang unit
In 2015, Minister Nathi Nhleko made a public commitment to bring back the specialized gang units within the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Yet two years later, the recent flare up of gang violence in Lavender Hill has brought a desperate community to its knees. While learners were unable to travel to and from school without fear of being shot in the cross fire between rival gangs, parents turned to schools to show their distress.
Parents locked the gates of schools and prevented staff and learners at three schools in Lavender Hill from entering the school grounds on Wednesday, 24 May 2017. Four Schools were officially closed on Monday 29th May and Tuesday 30th May in the interests of learner and educator safety.
Schools only opened yesterday (Wednesday 31st May 2017) amidst a heavy police presence. Learner numbers were still low, but I am informed this has increased today.
For these schools to function - heavy police presence is needed. This is the sad reality these schools face today. The question however is how-long will this presence be there for? How long before new gang violence flares up in Lavender Hill or any other gang-infested community?
Have we reached the point where the failure of our criminal justice system is now directly impacting the opportunities and rights of learners to basic education? Without education these young children become only more susceptible to joining gangs - which will only worsen the situation.
As a mother and as the Provincial Minister for education, I share the parents' concerns and I support their fight for safer neighborhoods where their children's lives are not in perpetual danger, where learners can walk to and from school without fear of being targeted by gangs, and where they can learn in environments without fear or trauma.
I also support our teachers and their families who are traumatized by the fear of not knowing whether they will get to and from work alive.
The ongoing gang violence is destroying our communities, and the most frustrating part is that it is not within the control of the provincial government to stop the violence that is endangering our children and teachers in areas such as this. We can take measures to secure our schools, and we do. However, we do not control SAPS, nor do we have our own security force. Despite this, many of our educators and parents look to me or the WCED officials for security support, when a strong SAPS presence is in fact desperately needed to stabilise the area when violence flares up.
Last week I was informed by schools that there was one SAPS van patrolling the Lavender Hill area, and that when the van left, the shooting started again. This shows the impact of police presence.
It is quite evident that SAPS is not adequately resourced to effectively function. Based on the latest stats, the Western Cape is the most under-resourced province in South Africa with around 85% of our stations being under-staffed.
How do you protect and serve the people of the Western Cape when only 15% of police stations are properly capacitated?
The nationally controlled SAPS is South Africa's principal law enforcement body. Section 205 of the Constitution sets out the responsibilities of the National Police Service, our SAPS. Subsection (1) provides that SAPS must be structured to function in the national, provincial and, where appropriate, local spheres of government. Subsection (3) sets out the objects of the SAPS - to prevent, combat and investigate crime, to maintain public order, to protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property, and to uphold and enforce the law.
From the school context alone, it is evident that SAPS is not making any major inroads in preventing, combating and investigating crime, and that they are failing in protecting and securing our learners. This is mostly not because they do not want to, but because they simply do not have sufficient resources, both human and physical.
I want to make it clear that we receive very good co-operation from the SAPS in many places in the Western Cape, from officers who are doing their utmost under very difficult circumstances. I am humbled by their dedication and bravery and would like to pay tribute to the many SAPS officers we have working in troubled communities.
But, the few that are doing a good job cannot protect this province alone. The police need to be resourced and properly trained to deal with these very serious issues in communities such as Lavender Hill.
The WCED is doing all that it can to protect our learners while on the school property, by deploying additional security guards and City of Cape Town School Resource Officers, but we need SAPS to be visible in our communities permanently. In the past, a strong police presence has helped to minimise the number of incidents reported.
In other words: More police presence results in more teaching and learning, resulting in more opportunities for young and educated leaders.
So today I urgently appeal to Minister Mbalula and General Jula - please protect our learners, protect our communities and create a safe and secure environment for them as you are constitutionally mandated to do.
I am very aware of the impact gang violence has on our schools and I am heartened by the strength and commitment of many of our educators who have, during difficult times, ensured that they create a sense of normalcy in their schools so that teaching and learning continues.
I now call on Minister Mbalula to tell us when the gang units will be re-established, why they have not been, and to us how he plans to protect our communities.