Inside Government: The Puzzle of Gangs, Drugs, Police and Politics in the WC | Western Cape Government


Inside Government: The Puzzle of Gangs, Drugs, Police and Politics in the WC

15 October 2015

inside government

Inside Government is a newsletter written by Premier Helen Zille.

The Puzzle of Gangs, Drugs, Police and Politics in the Western Cape

The news that the Western Cape is the most drug-ridden province with high levels of violent crime is cause for serious introspection by the Provincial Government.

As most people now understand, a Province’s powers in the criminal justice system are limited to “oversight” of the police only.  We have no other authority over the police, nor indeed any at all over institutions such as the prosecution authority, the courts, or prisons.

When we took office in 2009, I strongly considered scrapping our Department of Community Safety, because it raises false expectations that we can do more about crime than we are constitutionally and legally empowered to do.

My colleagues persuaded me not to. They made a powerful argument that oversight was a valuable and comprehensive function in itself, and that we had not begun to explore its potential.  We decided to give it a try.

So what have we done with our oversight powers?  Are we using their full potential?

The first problem we encountered with the concept of “oversight” is its vagueness.  What does it mean?  What activities may the provincial government undertake in the course of oversight?  In our first term of office it became clear that provincial oversight was meaningless if the police refused to co-operate (by withholding information, or barring access to various venues, for example).

So our first step was to pass the Community Safety Act in order to give form and content to the concept of “oversight”.  The Act enables the province to exercise its oversight powers by observing all police conduct, from crime scenes to detainment conditions; inspecting police stations; monitoring how resources are allocated; accessing information on request; and evaluating relations between SAPS and communities, including how efficiently cases and complaints are investigated and dealt with.

Now that our powers have been defined in a provincial Act, the police are compelled to co-operate rather than ignore or deliberately block us.  This has provided a firm foundation for steadily improving inter-governmental relationships with the police.  Some among the “top brass” of the Western Cape SAPS increasingly realise that oversight helps them improve policing services, rather than undermine them.

In terms of the Act, for example, we have introduced the exceptionally successful Watching Briefs programme.  This involves hiring post-graduate law students to monitor court cases and assess the quality of dockets and evidence provided by the police, as well as other matters related to police conduct in the management of cases.  This has exposed several significant weaknesses and irregularities, and resulted in some important disciplinary cases instituted against police officers for failure to perform their functions.

Fewer dockets get lost, and the conviction rate in monitored cases is steadily climbing. Oversight provides an important counter to corruption.  The best crime deterrent is the knowledge among would-be criminals that they will be caught, convicted and punished.

Other aspects of our oversight programme include training and resourcing Neighbourhood Watch organisations, and providing mobile safety kiosks where visible policing is most needed. Safety Kiosks have proved to be a valuable crime deterrent. They are staffed by the various municipalities we partner with in this initiative, such as the City of Cape Town and act as a nerve centre for other staff patrolling the area; while some of them have a CCTV capability to record crime.

At the apex of our oversight system is the office of the Provincial Police Ombudsman, a first for South Africa. The office was created in terms of our Community Safety Act, and is empowered to investigate policing complaints, subpoena witnesses, and make recommendations to the Safety MEC.  Advocate Vusi Pikoli was appointed at the beginning of the year as the Western Cape’s first independent police ombudsman.

The need for an Ombudsman became clear during the work of the Commission of Inquiry into the breakdown of relations between the community and the SAPS in Khayelitsha, which gave rise to multiple vigilante killings as community members took the law into their own hands.

The Commission produced an outstanding, balanced analytical report, with a set of practical recommendations to improve policing.  However, the national Minister of Police, Nathi Nhleko, has refused to sign the proposed Memorandum of Agreement to give effect to these recommendations.  Despite this, we are, on the whole, building a sound co-operative relationship with the SAPS in the Province.

Apart from defining and implementing our oversight powers, we have many crime prevention programmes, ranging from holiday activities for youth in partnership with 169 religious organisations, and youth-at-risk programmes such as the Chrysalis Academy.  This is a residential programme that combines the development of personal and technical skills in a disciplined, structured environment.  Graduates of the Academy are often deployed in safety projects across the province -- such as staffing the safety kiosks.

We are always looking for ways to refine and upgrade our oversight powers and we welcome suggestions on how to do this from wherever they come.

While oversight, on its own, cannot curb crime, it can reveal the reasons why we are losing the war.

Consider these statistics:

The national average for the distribution of police officers is one for every 328 citizens. The ratio in Khayelitsha is 1:556.  In the neighbouring Harare precinct it’s 1:878, in Nyanga 1:777, and in Mitchell’s Plain 1:427.

These are the precincts worst affected by violent crime, yet they are the most under-resourced by SAPS, despite our repeated requests to rectify this imbalance. Surely the areas that constitute South Africa’s “murder capital” should have additional resources, not fewer?

The picture becomes even more revealing if one compares SAPS recruitment patterns in the Western Cape during different periods over the past decade.  The table below compares recruitment during the years the ANC governed the province (2005 – 2009) and the years during which the DA governed the Province.


New Police Recruits
















ANC until May























The ANC years saw new recruitments averaging 1,259 per year.  During the DA years recruitment dropped to an average of 460 per year -- a 60% decrease.  The question is: Why?  I have always tried to avoid conspiracy theories, but while this question (and others like it) remain unanswered, there is profound cause for suspicion.

The trend is similar for police reservists. In 2009 there were almost 5,000, but at last count in 2012 the number had dropped to below 2,000. There is no indication that this trajectory will change, despite repeated requests from the Province.

Perhaps most damaging of all has been the disbanding of specialized units to combat drugs, gangs and, more recently, vehicle theft.   The latter case is further proof of the disastrous consequences of scrapping specialised units.  Since the specialised vehicle theft unit was disbanded, hi-jackings increased by 60% in one year.  The absence of a specialized SAPS response effectively gave the criminals free rein.

As the evidence of the need for police specialisation mounts, why do SAPS keep on scrapping these units?  This question also requires urgent attention.

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the fact that the national SAPS reject provincial oversight powers, and have opposed them with determination.

In July, National Commissioner Riah Phiyega (now suspended) wrote us a threatening letter questioning the constitutionality of the Police Ombudsman’s powers, and several sections of the Community Safety Act.

When I established the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, then Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa fought it all the way to the Constitutional Court -- which duly upheld provincial oversight powers. The Commission was able to start its work after a two year delay occasioned by the opposition of the national government.  They should have welcomed a province acting in terms of its oversight powers rather than attempting to block us.

The Commission proposed the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement that would ensure SAPS complied with the provincial Safety Department’s oversight responsibilities, and undertook several other initiatives to improve policing. More than a year later, this MOA remains unsigned.  Again, the question is: Why? It is beginning to seem as if the national Ministry and SAPS leadership actually want policing in the Western Cape to fail.

This concern was dramatically heightened this week, when a Crime Intelligence officer launched an application in the Cape High Court, seeking an order against SAPS for the return of electronic equipment and documents seized in a police raid on his private office.

The officer alleges that his equipment and documents were unlawfully seized, after three of his informers had provided him with sensational information asserting the involvement of high-ranking police officers in corruption, and of links between the drug trade, gangs, and politics in the Western Cape.

The case is due to come to court on 26 October.  Much of the most sensational evidence (the affidavits of the informers) will probably be led in camera because of the secrecy laws governing police intelligence.  But if the validity of the informers’ allegations can be established, it will answer many of the questions I have posed above.

Could it be that there is a deliberate political strategy, involving high ranking police officers and politicians, to ensure that gangs, drugs and crime continue to destabilise the Western Cape?

This has always sounded far-fetched, even to me.  And there are undoubtedly many committed, professional police officers working day and night to bring crime in the Western Cape under control.  But is there another inside agenda at work?

It is critical to answer this question for the sake of the people in this province who live under the reign of terror of the gang and drug lords.  And for all the committed police officers who are as baffled by decisions taken by their national leadership as I am.

Media Enquiries:

Michael Mpofu
Spokesperson for Helen Zille

Tel: 021 483 4584
Cell: 071 564 5427