Open Letter to President Zuma, Minister Mthethwa, Premier Zille and Mayor de Lille

To President Zuma, Minister Mthethwa, Premier Zille and Mayor de Lille,

Khayelitsha police stations occupy “a first position as far as national murder, attempted murder and aggravated robbery figures are concerned”. This is according to a SAPS Crime Intelligence Report contained in court papers submitted by Minister Mthethwa to stop the O’Regan/Pikoli Commission of Inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha.

Delaying or not fully cooperating with the Commission serves to worsen a spiraling crisis.  Every day at least one person in Khayelitsha is murdered. Girls and women live in permanent fear because at least two rapes occur every day. Most of the people who are raped are girls under 18. Many more people are stabbed, shot, robbed or beaten daily. No space is safe. Homes, communal toilets, churches, streets, schools, clinics, shops, and transport are all places where a criminal minority terrorise the majority of people living and working in Khayelitsha.

These are cases of extreme violence denying people many rights. These rights include the right to life, dignity, privacy, and freedom and security of the person – as well as the rights of children and of accused and detained persons.

Over ten years social movements and organisations have been struggling to get a reasonable plan from every level of government – but especially SAPS – to address crime, with little or no response. After marches, protests, memoranda, and the implicit threat of legal action, in November 2011 Khayelitsha-based organisations and their partners instituted a formal complaint with Western Cape Premiere Helen Zille. In the complaint they alleged police inefficiency in Khayelitsha and a breakdown in relations between the police and the community, demanding an independent and impartial Commission of Inquiry into SAPS, municipal police, the justice system, and the causes of crime.

The Constitution empowers a province, in particular the Premier, to appoint a commission of inquiry but stipulates limitations. In this case the inquiry is limited to SAPS provincially and the municipal police.

In deciding whether to appoint the commission, in early December 2011 Premier Zille asked SAPS to respond to the organisations’ formal legal complaint by January 2012. By August 2012, after numerous extensions, Premier Zille had still not received a substantive response from SAPS to the complaint, giving her no choice but to appoint the commission – which she did on 24 August 2012.

SAPS’s failure in this regard, in particular the failure of Minister Nathi Mthethwa, to engage the Premier or the social movements until more than six months after the formal complaint was lodged demonstrates contempt for the people of Khayelitsha in a manner unbecoming of an organ of state. This was partially remedied by the attempts of the new National Commissioner Mangwashi Riah Phiyega to address the issues raised in the complaint after her appointment in June 2012.

She did commendable work in a short time frame: she engaged with the Premier and the Khayelitsha organisations, appointed a Task Team to investigate the complaint, and proposed the formation of an independent policing panel to assist SAPS in coming up with strategies to correct service delivery deficiencies and the negative perception.

Regrettably the Task Team’s critical report and the Commissioner’s plan to deal with the Khayelitsha SAPS were never communicated to the organisations or the Premier. The public only learnt of it through Minister Mthethwa’s ill-advised legal action against the Commission.

The organisations understand that addressing crime is not easy and that the police cannot do it alone. There can be no doubt that safety is also about infrastructure such as water and sanitation access, street and area lighting, and housing and employment – which is why the City of Cape Town must participate.

However, the Minister and SAPS cannot hide behind this development imperative. Their constitutional duty is to protect the lives and property of every person in South Africa. They have a duty to prevent, combat, and investigate crime as well as to apprehend criminals.

Instead addressing the issues raised by the complaint substantively, the Minister has initiated a political and legal war against the Premier while people in Khayelitsha continue to experience extremely violent crime. Minister Mthethwa’s resistance and failure to cooperate with the Commission is morally untenable, legally unsustainable, and factually flawed. The O’Regan/Pikoli Commission of Inquiry is a crucial starting point to address violent crime.

We address three demands to President Jacob Zuma, Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Premier Helen Zille and Mayor Patricia de Lille:

  1. Minister Mthethwa must stop the legal action against the O’Regan/Pikoli Commission of Inquiry and put political differences aside to work in the interest of all people living and working in Khayelitsha;

  1. President Zuma must ensure the co-operation of all criminal justice agencies with the Commission; and

  1. Premier Zille, in consultation with Mayor de Lille, must explicitly include the City of Cape Town in the terms of reference of the Commission because social and infrastructural development will make communities safer and policing easier. Hearing evidence on the municipal police services are also necessary to ensure safety.

We dedicate ourselves to work with you for a Safe Khayelitsha and a Safe South Africa.

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