In the fight for more police resources, Gugulethu takes back its streets

  • Marike Keller

“Who must die for the police service to do their job correctly? Just because a poor lady died… this is not fair, a person died here. I feel the South African law is neglecting me as a person, is neglecting us as the family”

Nlhanhla’s* pain is as raw today as it was a year ago. It’s been more than a year since her niece was murdered and she is not any closer to receiving justice. She desperately wants and needs the perpetrator to be caught and convicted for closure.

On 21 June 2016, 22-year old Sandiswa was found in a bush near Nyanga. She had been raped and repeatedly stabbed to death. The suspect: her ex-boyfriend, a notorious gangster previously convicted of murder.

With no formal investigation taking place and no feedback being given to Sandiswa’s family, Nhlanhla’s relentless determination saw the case being passed from one incompetent investigating officer to the next, bouncing between Nyanga and Gugulethu police stations. The third officer finally gave her some distressing feedback in August 2017, more than one year following Sandiswa’s death: 1) the DNA evidence was never sent to the forensic lab and was still sitting at the Nyanga police station, and 2) the two previous officers requested the wrong information to retrieve Sandiswa’s phone records. Within one month of the new investigating officer taking over the case, he had identified three numbers from her phone records and had sent in a request to find out who they belong to, to determine who she had spoken to on the day she died.

Following that last conversation, Nhlanhla hadn’t heard from him again. When she called him towards the end of October 2017, he revealed that the docket had been taken away from him and that he was no longer on the case. He didn’t know why. And to this day, neither does Nhlanhla. She has tried on numerous occasions to ascertain the reason and the current state of the case, as has Sonke Gender Justice, by attempting to reach the investigating officer for comment.

“Under which grounds was it taken away? Why, as the family, was I not informed?

Who must die for the police service to do their job correctly? Just because a poor lady died…this is not fair, a person died here. I feel the South African law is neglecting me as a person, is neglecting us as the family”.

Unfortunately, her story is like many others’ who live in unsafe and under-resourced communities, with little or no police action to solve violent crimes.

The Western Cape has been identified as one of the most unsafe provinces in South Africa. A third of the country’s murders have been reported at Western Cape police stations. During the 2016/17 year, murder increased by 2.7%, sexual assault increased by 6% and robbery with aggravating circumstances increased by 1.3%.

Nyanga specifically, is known as the murder capital of South Africa, with 281 murders being recorded in the year ending March 2017. Additionally, 356 cases of sexual offences and 1498 cases of robbery with aggravating circumstances were reported and recorded at Nyanga police station in the previous year alone.

The distribution of police resources in poor versus rich areas is still a bitter aftermath of apartheid’s legacy. Police precincts serving poor, predominantly black communities with high levels of violent crime in Cape Town have fewer police officers compared to police stations servicing wealthy, predominantly white areas with low levels of violent crime.

The Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry Report stated that “the residents of the poorest areas of Cape Town that bore the brunt of apartheid are still woefully under-policed twenty years into our new democracy and are often the police stations with the highest levels of serious contact crime.” More specifically, the Commission found that Nyanga and Gugulethu, who have the highest and sixth highest murder rates in Cape Town respectively, also fell into the ten most understaffed police stations in the Western Cape. It recommends that the inequitable and irrational allocation of police resources be rectified.

Despite the report, and its recommendations, having been released in 2014, little action has been taken at national level by the Ministry of Police. As a result, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and Equal Education (EE) launched a court application in March 2016 against the Minister of Police and Acting National Commissioner in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000, to compel them to review the inequitable allocation of police resources and action the Commission’s recommendations. In September 2016, the Nyanga Community Police Forum, represented by the Legal Resource Centre, joined the SJC and EE in this Equality court case. Their campaign and court application is ongoing.

It is little wonder then that cases such as Sandiswa’s are handled poorly and fall through the cracks. But we cannot remain idle while violent crimes continue to soar in our most vulnerable communities and human lives are taken daily.

That’s why, together with community members and partner organisations (the Social Justice Coalition, Equal Education, Mosaic, Medecins Sans Frontiers, and the Treatment Action Campaign), Sonke marched to Nyanga police station on 28 November 2017, to draw attention to the high rates of GBV in the Gugulethu and Nyanga communities, and to reiterate our urgent demand for government to adopt and implement a National Strategic Plan on GBV. Our memorandum was drafted following an engagement with the Gugulethu community members on their safety needs, and calls on local, provincial and national government to improve the safety of its citizens, particularly in informal settlements, by providing better street lighting, better police response and resources, safer sanitation, and more.

Together with Nhlanhla, her husband, and more than 700 people in attendance, we successfully handed over the memorandum to Mr Don Sauls, Acting Director of Safety Promotions and Partnerships from the Western Cape Department of Community Safety. We will follow up with his department on 26 January 2018 to provide feedback to the Gugulethu community on the demands that they made.

We demand justice for Sandiswa and her family. We demand justice for all families who have lost a loved one. We demand equitable allocation of police resources. We demand safe communities. Not only during 16 Days of Activism, but also beyond.