‘Squeeze gangsters’ out of communities

Deputy Police Minister Bongani Mkongi.

Areas like Hanover Park, Manenberg, Bonteheuwel, Mitchell’s Plain, Atlantis, Bishop Lavis, Bellville South and so on have become safe havens for hardened criminals and thugs that terrorise our societies and children, said Deputy Police Minister, Bongani Mkongi, at a media briefing last Thursday.

“One killing of a child is a killing too many. Our children are vulnerable, they cannot go to school, they cannot go to shops, they cannot go to churches due to the crossfire. No one gave birth to a gangster. On the Cape Flats, the link between youth and gangs is destabilising our communities and undermining development. We are calling on all parents to get involved,” said Mr Mkongi.

He challenged the community to ask themselves what type of communities they were raising.

“We need a multi integrated approach in fighting gangsterism in the Western Cape,” he said.

He urged communities to form part of community organisations that fight crime and encouraged residents to volunteer information to the police for which they would be rewarded.

Mr Mkongi said the plan of action to combat gangsterism included human development, social partnerships, community mobilisation, spatial design, and criminal justice processes, proactive policing and crime prevention, and re-implementing specialised gang units but he could not give the media a timeline.

The objectives of this strategy he said, were to disable, dislodge and weaken the capacity of gangs. “We want to squeeze gangsters and smoke them out of communities.”

He said that part of the solution to sway young people away from falling into the cycle of gangsterism and crime was to create programmes to develop them as well as have exit opportunities for them after they had done the programme. That he said, would involve all sectors, especially the departments of arts and culture and sport and recreation.

He also said the justice system needed to be reconsidered as sending a youngster to jail for a petty crime was an injustice to them and harmed their futures.

Mr Mkongi said gang bosses recruited young peoples because they were not likely to go to jail.

He assured the media that police were not losing the battle against crime but that there were loopholes in the justice system. He said that when police went into areas to make arrests or do a search, the drugs disappeared before they got there and gang members went underground.

“We need to clean up the justice system and make sure that it ends,” he said.

Mr Mkongi also said that a new police commissioner would be appointed but could not say when.

He said frequent changes to leadership created an unstable organisation.

When asked if the use of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) was still effective where making arrests of gang members were concerned, Western Cape acting police commissioner Lieutenant General Khombinkosi Jula said that it was that specific act which led to the arrest of 14 gang members between April and July this year as well as 120 more arrests since April.

Asked if the police had a back-up plan if all else failed, Mr Mkongi said: “Nothing will fail. We are committed to the fight, and we are not planning for failure, we are planning for victory.”

Bonteheuwel Community Police Forum (CPF) chairman, Graham Lindhorst said gang intervention needed to take place at schools, which was why the CPF had been visiting them as well as religious bodies in the area. He said school grounds were a breeding place for gangs and it was better to intervene while the children were still young.

“We need long-term strategies in order to combat gangsterism and that needs to include sports and arts and culture. Once we have these plans, we will forward them to government, which they will need to finance and not wait for them to come up with a plan,” he said.

Manenberg police station spokesman Captain Ian Bennett agreed with Mr Mkongi that sport should be introduced on the Cape Flats again but also said that it needed to be a continuous programme at schools from primary school level up to tertiary institutions and not just a once-off fix.

He said fun facilities children enjoyed such as performing arts had been taken away from many schools which made school “boring”. “Children attend school for many reasons – friends, girls, some for the food, and some for the drugs, and very seldom for education.

“Young people need acknowledgement and they get that in the gangs. They get instant gratification when they shoot people,” said Captain Bennett.

He said young people needed jobs and education to sway them from joining gangs.

“They need real jobs where they can get paid a salary, enough to feed their families and not a stipend which forces them to get money from external sources,” he said.